Archive for January 21, 2011

Posted: January 21, 2011
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Music – The High Street retailer’s secret weapon in the battle with e-tail brands

Is the shine wearing off the on-line retail gem?  Customer service has always been the Achilles heel of on-line retailers and it seems as though it’s a problem that’s not going away.

In November, Nick Robertson of ASOS and Mark Newton-jones from Shop Direct told delegates to the Skillsmart Retail Parliamentary reception hosted by the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Nigel Evans MP, that on-line retailers need to learn customer service from traditional retailers.  On-line customer complaints are high and margins are stretched when the e-tailers try to up their anti.  However, this week Mary Portas has been taking the High Street to task for what she says is “crap” customer service.  So, like most things, it seems its not that simple.

What this boils down to is the age-old marketing fundamental of playing to your strengths.  Internet retailers are never going to have the same opportunities to foster “Brandships” that a high street retailer has, so if the traditional players fail to leverage that now, I for one, won’t be sympathetic to their future cries of “unfair” when their business is left in the dust of the smart young things of e-commerce.

The Internet is a cold and impersonal place.  You have to work much harder than you might on the High Street to achieve anything close to that warm cuddly feeling you get in your favourite store.  To a customer, feeling “at home” with a retail brand is everything (actually, feeling at home with any kind of brand is the key to business success) but achieving this requires the ticking of a lot of boxes.  Some of these boxes are purely practical, like availability, delivery, ease of use, customer service, which is where the Internet brands can compete.  Sure they are failing on customer service right now, partly because the business model that remains viable when the levels of returns and complaints that this channel is prone to has yet to be found, but they’ll get there.  Meanwhile, the “trads” need to wise-up and start polishing up the soft elements of Brand Promise that are tougher for the e-shops to influence.

I’m thinking environment.  Sure you can make an on-line environment comfortable and inviting to customers and it’s not beyond our capability to even modify the on-line environment of a single e-retailer to fit different customer types, but the trads definitely have more scope.  My readers will know that I’ve been focusing on in-store music recently and that’s because its one of those great untapped opportunities of retail brand building.

Shoppers love in-store music when its right.  Give them what they want and they’ll visit you more often, stay longer, spend more and tell all their friends, or so the gurus at  tell us.  Retailers know they can influence behaviour of shoppers and staff with the right music and store staff say the right music makes them feel more energised, so you’ll take care of some of Mary’s customer service issues too.  Put all this together and you can’t fail.  But, the onus is on the words “the right music” and that’s where the work needs to be done.

It seems we all know music works, but the secret of quite how it does so are held by only a very few.  People like Bruno Brookes and the rest of the folks at Immedia Broadcast who have been creating bespoke live radio for some of the High Street’s biggest brands for the past ten years.  However, you don’t have to own a multi-million dollar radio station to add something extra to your brand or even drive sales, because with the right play-list a simple music stream will do both and that’s what Immedia are doing right now with their new Dreamstream offer.  Retail marketers need to disabuse themselves of the belief that they know what music works with their audience and hand the job over to the experts who know what “tailoring” really means, then perhaps we’ll be able to wave goodbye to the ubiquitous local radio station (that actually can do more harm to trade than good) or repetitive CD’s of nearly-bands playing covers and start hearing more in-store music that reinforces the brand and fosters real “Brandships”.  Then the High Street will really be able to show the e-tailers a thing or two about brand-building.

Posted: January 20, 2011
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The things our fathers didn’t tell us

Did Wickes commission the survey that revealed that Britain’s young men lack DIY skills, or are they just promoting it on their web site?  Whichever, it may have “got Wickes name on it”, but it seems to me that this isn’t news to their competitor B&Q who have been playing this card for a few years already.

The fact that B&Q’s older shop staff are intrinsic to their brand DNA can’t be an accident.  These are the people who grew up in an era when you measured a man by the weight of his tool box and he could fix, build or re-model pretty well anything.  It’s just a pity that the big orange sheds haven’t done more to build “brandships” around this theme.  Maybe now Wickes have shared this with us, they will.

Its definitely a generational thing.  Back in my other home in Prague, where society, despite its desperate scramble to become Western and “up-to-date”, lags a few decades behind the West in many ways, a remarkable and endearing Czech character trait is their reluctance to throw anything away.  Czech men, even the young ones, fix things.  Its not always a pretty sight, but there are things in every day use in most households, that would have been thrown out years ago by a faddy, fashion-obsessed Westerners who legions of manufacturers exploit annually with the introduction of new product models.  My Czech neighbour, who runs a business on a vintage PC with Windows ’97  just doesn’t get it.  Why should he upgrade when the things he has still work (albeit slowly)?

The Czech government had to introduce laws to stop drivers running ancient Skodas with drum brakes and three forward gears.  Every urban street has a communal car ramp where residents for years have worked on their Skoda 120′s and even today my guess is most motorists do their own servicing without questioning it.

My Czech brother-in-law needed a house, so he built one – I mean, himself, on his own – bricklaying, carpentry, services, the lot!  But to him that’s nothing out of the ordinary in a society that’s probably forty years behind us in many of its attitudes.  In fact, when Britain’s older DIYers finally retire for good, maybe our DIY sheds will be able to bolster its ranks with young recruits from Central Europe, who still know how to do all the handy jobs about the house that our fathers did?

Posted: January 16, 2011
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In successful companies employees dance on tables

You don’t need me to tell you, its tough out there.  Many businesses that I come across are struggling to adjust to the new rules of business and a few are still realising that many of the old ways of running a business simply don’t work anymore, but, old habits die hard.

I’m seeing a disappointing return to purely tactical focus and its hard to persuade the companies heading in this direction and whose priority is to pay this month’s wage bill, that  it’s a dead-end street.  A still more worrying trend I am witnessing though is towards whip-cracking.  Much as I sympathise with the desperation of managers who simply don’t understand why the approaches they have used successfully for years to build or run a business don’t work in the era of new model marketing, flogging your staff is the desperate last twitch of management that has already failed.  High-pressure tactics like this are doomed to failure in both the long and the short-term.

I overheard a conversation last week where a middle manager was bemoaning the loss of the “good old days”.  “I remember …” he said “… the days when, if I was out of the office for a day, I’d return to find my stuff all pushed to one end of my desk because someone had been dancing on it!”.  Extreme perhaps, but there are offices throughout England where the atmosphere is so dour and depressing that its hard to imagine that this kind of thing once happened in successful businesses.

My mind goes back to a quote by Tom Peters in one of his early presentation where he begged business leaders to ask themselves if there was a spring in their employees’ step as they walked across the parking lot from their car to the office each morning, saying “If there isn’t, it’s your fault!”.  His overarching point being that unless employees are happy and enthusiastic about their work, your business will fail.

How many organisations, who today are battling to put together a business strategy that works under the new rules, are paying attention to the absolutely vital element of employee engagement?  Without the backing and buy-in of employees, no business will stand a chance of delivering its brand promise, and when you fail at that you’ve just failed!

For those tempted to respond with “… but we never did any of this stuff before”, I’ll underline what I have said earlier and many times before – If you got away with this omission in the past, it was only because the competition (despite what you may have thought then) wasn’t that tough.  Now its “game on” and there’s no room for slack.  No business can afford this level of inefficiency and, believe me, trying to deliver a promise without having first secured the committment of your employees is inefficient in the extreme.

If you think its par for the course for managers to be hated by employees, forget it!  If you confuse respect for you as a manager with distant or non-existing relationships with your staff you need to take a reality check.  Successful businesses have always had figureheads who employees are happy to stand behind – Richard Branson, Bill Muirhead, Maurice and Charles Saatchi, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, Steve Jobs … I could make a long list, but you get the idea.  Developing and leveraging relationships like these are all part of the internal marketing task.  Don’t side-step the issue.  These internal “brandships” are the key to the “brandships” you have with customers and that’s what drives your business.  When you need all the help you can get to keep afloat, the last thing you should do is abandon your internal relationship-building, so double-check your marketing strategy to ensure you are doing all you can to get your employees dancing on the tables!