Archive for January 31, 2014

Waitrose Dubai. Courtesy of Kinnersley Kent Design

Posted: January 31, 2014
Comments: 1

Franchising in Arab markets

This week the John Lewis-owned, up-market, UK supermarket group Waitrose, against a background of abject Xmas-season failure for middle-of-the-road competitor Morrisons, announced contrastingly good results and adventurous expansion plans for 2014.  However, I’m sure the British press missed the story about them pulling out of Bahrain.  Its hardly surprising. Bahrain as a market held about as much promise for them as I suspect Bangladesh would, but it is nontheless a lesson worthy of note.

Like most consumer-facing businesses in the Middle East Waitrose was franchised, in this case to the Fine Fare Food Market group who already operate successful Waitrose stores in Dubai.  They were handing the day-to-day management of the Bahrain operation to their subsidiary Supa Save Bahrain in a convoluted arrangement that, by definition, guaranteed at least a few glitches.  The same business owns Cost Coffee and a few other retail franchises, but is probably most famous locally for the politics of its owner, which almost guaranteed a large proportion of the potential wealthy Arab market wouldn’t be beating a path to their local Waitrose’s door. The other significant consumer contingent, the Indians, would find Waitrose far too expensive and even if they could find the stuff they wanted in a Waitrose, which I doubt, would anyway be shopping at the Indian-owned Lu-Lu supermarket chain. With the French Geant and Carrefour and the home-grown Alosra (who have a really sorted model) well established and only 1.3million people on the island, at least half of whom aren’t economically active, whoever put six stores in the Waitrose business plan was wearing rose-coloured specs.

However, crap businesses are successful every day in these Middle East states, so there’s maybe an excuse for Supa Save’s optimism.  Here business acumen is nearly as rare as a work ethic, so you can become the darling of a sector while being very average and it takes something pretty special to actually fail, but fail Supa Save did, and spectacularly.  Apart from the number of stores there were innumerable quite obvious daily operational failures like absence of stock that made you wonder what was happening in the supply chain, so I found it typically ungracious and more than a little annoying to hear an anonymous local “senior businessman” state “This is an example of a foreign entity coming to Bahrain, going bust and leaving a trail of destruction behind them that local companies are left with”.  I get the impression that he’s probably an unpaid supplier, but someone should point out to him that this isn’t About Waitrose, but Super Save, who are a local business.

There is a point here though that any other Western franchisor might like to note and that is, despite the fact that most of the businesses here are franchises, with the obvious exception of AlShaya who set the world standard in what they do and a few big names like Chalhoub, few businesses know how to make the most of a franchise. I’ve just created a franchise package for a Saudi business who are doing the journey in the opposite direction – A Saudi business franchising to other Gulf countries. One thing that this experience taught me was that to achieve any level of success and to maintain the integrity of your brand, any franchisor operating in the Middle East has to take a straight-jacketed approach. You simply can’t leave even the tiniest detail to chance because believe me if there’s a chance of anything going wrong, it will!

In this respect maybe Waitrose were culpable in the Super Save fiasco.  In any other part of the world their franchise model may well be a success, but here, in hindsight, it probably wasn’t prescriptive enough. In fact I wonder how many would-be international franchisors with their eye on developing markets like the Middle East, Far East and India have a model that’s tight enough to succeed. Its one thing to hand a self-assembly business to a knowledgable, experienced Western business, but in these markets nobody is going to fill in the gaps in your do-it-yourself business instructions, they (and you) will just fall into them.

barclays premier league

Posted: January 28, 2014
Comments: 0

So, who do you think should sponsor the English Premier League?

So Barclays is planning on saving £40million a year by cancelling its sponsorship of the Premier League?  The reason they say is that they can’t see that they get any benefit from it. Sponsorship is a funny thing. I’ve been involved in a few deals over the years and its hard to measure the benefits.  Sure you can count column centimetres of editorial and the number of times your logo appears on TV and call it advertising, but really, half the time you are fooling yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that sponsorship doesn’t work, but when a three year agreement comes with a £120million price tag you have to ask yourself, are you getting your money’s worth? Now, this might just be a negotiating ploy by Barclays, seeing as someone at the FA dropped a hint that the price was going up for the next three-year contract, but, all the same what are they getting for that?

Yes I know they get their name on everything from plastic half-time drinking cups to the studio back-drop at the TV company who gets the rights to televise matches and sure, millions of people around the world will see it.  A few viewers might even get a warm feeling inside from knowing that Barclays are supporting their favourite sport, but does it actually make a difference to the number of people banking at Barclays or how much business they do with them? Frankly I doubt it. When you are watching football, you are watching football and when you choose your bank its going to be because they deliver the goods, which is why I thought the quote from Barclays about investing the money instead in better services for customers was, probably the most sensible thing I’ve heard from a bank in recent years.

As I have said, I have used sponsorship myself and may well do so again, but almost certainly on a smaller scale. I’m sure Barclays would be hard-pressed to find a sport better suited to their target market, which is something a lot of sponsors get wrong and it’s probably contributing to awareness, although as far as Barclays is concerned that is probably a job done and dusted already, but the incremental benefit they are getting from the deal right now is probably negligible. The only reason I can think of for not relinquishing the deal would be to stop a competitor getting it.  There are probably a handful of financial services businesses and a host of businesses in other sectors who would get more from the deal than Barclays, but they would have to have pretty deep pockets to stump up the £60million a year I’ve heard mention the Premier League are looking for.  These days actions speak louder than words and being a bit frugal with the housekeeping money, I’m sure would get the thumbs up from Barclays customers and customers of any other organisation who might be considering making an offer.

I’m sure we’ll never know what the new deal will be worth for sure.  All we’ll get is media guestimates and hype, but it may be that the writing is on the wall for these sponsorship mega-deals and probably not before time.  Meanwhile though, who, if anybody, do you think would get value from the deal?


Posted: January 26, 2014
Comments: 0

Are you ready for the social/CRM revolution?

The other day my twelve-year-old daughter was “hanging out” at home with a few of her school mates and I found them sitting around messaging each other on FaceBook.  Somewhere in the middle of my old fogey’s rant about “grown-ups talk to each other” (which was receiving the “what planet are you from?” look anyway) I realised that this was increasingly not true.

My mind went back to an article I had read a while ago bemoaning the fact that, rather than have a conversation, even with a colleague along the corridor, we are very likely, these days, to send them an e-mail.  Surely therefore social media is just the latest addition to the range of communications options available to us and, as with everything else, because its new, the young are the early adopters?

Now I could get into the debate about whether this is a good thing or not, but I won’t. The point I am trying to make here is that social media has, at least for a rapidly-growing section of emerging consumers, become the preferred channel of communication.  I’m not talking about a certain kind of conversation such as when you are making arrangements for a meeting.  Kids today talk about anything and everything on handsets and all those kids are very soon going to grow into full-blown consumers with no powers of verbal conversation, but lightning-quick thumbs.  It’s like the conversations old women used to have over the garden fence, or play-gound banter, but now its all over a network.  So social media is becoming the place where reputations are won and lost, and recommendations and introductions made and that means the reputation of your business or your brand too. Like it or not, like King Canute you are not going to stop the tide of change, its a fact, its real, get used to it, live with it and make it work for you.

Anybody who has anything to do with social media management, or is responsible for customer support or customer relations will know that social media has fast become the preferred communications channel for raising customer service issues.  Socialbakers tell us that in 2013 59% of all in-bound customer requests were channelled through social media. In Q3 last year alone UK telcos handled over half a million customer service queries over Twitter and nearly as many via FaceBook, but the prize for the percent of total queries responded to on social goes to the airline sector with 76% through FaceBook and 56% through Twitter.

No organisation can afford to ignore this phenomenon, but apart from having to adapt to the humbling experience of airing your dirty washing in public this also means you have to adapt business structures and invent process to accommodate three kinds of conversations you must now engage in on social channels – 1) promotional messages that you are instigating, 2) customer queries and 3) public conversations on social media, blogs and reviews.  So, who in your organisation is responsible for these conversations? Sales people? Marketing communications people or some new group designed for the task and how do you manage the process?

Many businesses just aren’t structured in a way that facilitates a quick solution to the question of ownership of social channels or individual conversation types.  Although the marketing department I have just created for a leading retailer and others I have built before, included the CRM department and customer service team, in many businesses one or both CRM and customer service sit in the sales team while social media management is seen as a promotional tool and is therefore parked in the marketing department.  If we were giving a prize for the brands who have risen to this challenge it would probably go to the airline KLM who are generally accepted these days as the state-of-the-customer-service-art.  It seems that like other social-CRM-wise brands, KLM have avoided the internal struggles entirely by out-sourcing their social/CRM function. However, the contact centres such businesses employ still have to spot those public conversations, manage the three conversation types and publish responses of course.

There are a host of familiar social media and CRM management platforms out there to help, but most are, or have grown out of, single-function tools like Buddy Media, Radian6 and  Contact centres have been getting by, by combining any number of these to create a total solution, until SalesForce came long and did it for them by acquiring these three to create a suite of tools that together provide something close to an end-to-end solution.  But that’s not the end of this evolutionary story by any means.  For one thing according to users/reviewers on at least, SalesForce Cloud is still ugly, painful and expensive and according to one industry commentator I spoke to this week “You’d have to be mad to try to run a contact centre on SalesForce these days”. Apparently solutions like this just don’t go far enough to accommodate the emerging multi-channel needs with the efficiency that a modern business demands, but help is on the horizon in the shape of a new breed of management platforms emerging in the shape of super-social-CRM solutions like Brand Embassy and their closest rival Conversocial that are truly seamless end-to-end solutions that aid efficiency, look great and have the capacity to deliver all you could possibly need.

Its all-change in the world of social media and if you aren’t in the game you’re not going to win.  How ready are you for the social/CRM revolution?

FF logo

Posted: January 17, 2014
Comments: 2

At last! A brand development team that know what they are doing

Just when you think things have reached an all-time low, as I did when the new Made in Britain logo was announced earlier this month, someone pops up to reawaken your faith. Few things make me madder than designers that call themselves “brand consultancies” or marketers who think that changing their logo is the same as “branding”, so when I come across real brand developers it feels like cause for celebration. The saviours in this case are the UK fitness chain Fitness First and their London design consultancy The Clearing.

Not only is brand development my thing, I’m into sport and fitness and I’ve also worked with international fitness chains, so this announcement wasn’t going to get past me.  According to Fitness First Marketing Director David Jones the chain decided it was out of touch with its clientele (nothing new for a fitness chain you might think) and their re-branding is their response. What makes this re-branding different is that it isn’t just the usual feeble change-the-logo-and-blag-it approach, but, it seems to me, a genuine attempt to actually change the “brand”.

Lets start by agreeing that a brand is not a logo, nor a product, but a community of people who share a set of beliefs, values and ideals.  If you are not sure about this you should take a look elsewhere on this site at some of the many times I have explained this perspective, or, better still, look me up (my e-mail is below) and I’ll explain it to you in person. Once you are on-board you’ll have to agree that consistency is key to a strong brand.  That’s not just consistency between the innumerable communications or points of contact, but between these and the brand promise – You’ve got one of these I guess?

Of the few businesses that it seems don’t labour under the mistaken assumption that a brand is a logo, too many believe its about making empty promises.  Not so The Clearing. Their founder Richard Buchanan told me (just as I do with Brand Discovery) “We help clients identify where the future value opportunity resides within their market and create a branded experience that aligns their offer with the needs & motivations of high value consumer segments”, which is a good start, but as I have said many times, you have to walk the talk!

Fitness First Ad #2

Richard pointed out that the new Fitness First positioning shaped a brand strategy that embraced every internal and external touch point and so it should.  This is what integrated marketing is all about and definitely the only approach to brand building that will achieve the consistency you need. An example of this can be seen in the way the Clearing worked with the Fitness First fitness teams to redefine their fitness philosophy and approach to training and the HR team to inform a new service-led culture.  As I have said many times, marketing is at the centre of a modern business and influences everything that everybody at every level of the organisation does.  Its the only way to build a brand.

Fitness First Ad 3

In the same way that the Full Effect Company tackles implementation The Clearing built a team of experts in the diverse disciplines required to deliver the strategy and imposed their own management process.  For instance, they brought in an interior design consultancy to deliver an environment and a digital consultancy to deliver the apps and online interface. Refreshingly, Richard went on to say “The logo, was just a small thing in the scheme of things. If the product and service isn’t right nobody cares about a logo – although we think this one’s pretty damn good. At the end of the day a logo is just another tool available to you to deliver your brand strategy”.  A man after my own heart!

Fitness First Ad #4

I call the relationships we have with brands “Brandships” because they are based on the same feelings of knowing and trusting that we use to choose our friends. Above anything else that’s about shared values and beliefs and I want to know that the fitness centre I choose shares my concerns about my health and wellbeing above their own bank balances.

The fact that the FF training philosophy and programmes have been remodelled to reflect customer needs is a big step for a fitness group.  The sector is, after all, normally associated with getting you to do stuff you don’t want to do and many centres have tended to use this as an excuse for not trying to deliver enjoyable experiences.  Its also a major differentiator.  I’m sure that the group will have great success with that, but the proof of the pudding … However, with the attention that The Clearing has given to things like HR and training, all of which have to be driven by marketing in any business, at least there’s a good chance they will.


Posted: January 14, 2014
Comments: 1

UK retailers learn, you are only as good as your NEXT big idea

The UK’s Xmas holiday trading figures are emerging and there are a few headline-making successes and failures already.  But the “surprises” that a lot of commentators are fussing about aren’t really surprises at all.

Take the department store sector.  We have five big names in the UK – House of Fraster, Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, John Lewis and Selfridges and everyone seems shocked by the news that M&S and Debenhams bombed while the others are hyped with Christmas cheer.  I don’t get it.  Its obvious why Debs and M&S missed the gravy train – they are boring and middle-of-the-road.  After clawing their way up from the pits a few years ago M&S stopped short of owning the sector and sat back on a formula that was making ground for them.  As we all know, sitting back and milking a formula never was sustainable and these days with the pace of change accelerating exponentially you rather have to be in a continuous cycle of re-invention. As I repeat in my seminars “you are really only as good as your next big idea” and Marks and Sparks don’t appear to have one.

The same goes for Debenhams. For those who don’t know them, Debenhams is a brand that has always looked uncomfortable in its own skin.  In fact it looks almost as uncomfortable as shoppers seem to find their stores.  And that’s understandable. Drab decor, cheap lighting and middle-of-the-road brands shoulder-to-shoulder with their own institutional labels that have neither the style of brands like Van Graff nor the price advantage of Primark. Debenhams were also on the critical list a few years ago, but looked to be making a recovery until they too settled for “doing enough to get by”. Just when you felt they were building up for a big re-birth everything stopped.  Now their constant price promotions bare witness to a brand that’s all out of ideas.

Their competitors on the other hand have stores that may not suit everyone, but certainly look full of confidence.  As John Hegarty is reported to have said “Don’t hide your differences, shout about them” and that’s one of the golden rules of brand development. Bland people and bland brands have few friends!  There is however a ray of hope for Debs in the form of a £50million investment by Sports Direct whizz and Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley.  Judging from Sports Direct the outcome may not be pretty, but it surely will be effective.

There’s  lot of discussion about the abject failure this year of the supermarket chain Morrisons. The Northern-owned company that made a name for itself as the “old-folks supermarket” and took on the old Safeway sites to achieve national coverage has been making ground lately on the back of a “food” specialist proposition (something like the Belgian Delhaize group) but still relies on an “older” clientele. One theory is that its absence from the multi-channel game is the reason for its struggles, but Morrison’s customers aren’t habitually on-line shoppers anyway, so what difference will that make?  I think Morrison’s, problems are far more fundamental – its not exciting enough to bring in the younger customers, its a mid-price operator getting squeezed from above by the likes of Waitrose and below by Aldi and Lidl and its customers are getting too old to make it to the shops anymore.  Its scope is also limited because their stores are too small for the inventory it has already let alone any expansion, hence, I suspect the “food specialist” proposition, but too big to fit the convenience store model that Tesco and others are counting on to save their bacon.

What this is all telling me is that the entertainment element of physical retail channels is as important as it has been in the past.  With on-line adding to the options of an increasingly fickle and impatient consumer retailers can’t afford to stick with a formula unless that formula is constant change.  I repeat, “you are only as good as your NEXT big idea”.

cheshire cat

Posted: January 5, 2014
Comments: 0

Want to get ahead? Behave like a sociopath!

I think as marketers we are all interested in Psychology … aren’t we? We have to understand the motivation of people/consumers to be able to construct our strategies and the more we understand, the better we are at our job. I find the subject fascinating, so I clicked straight away on the link that arrived in my mailbox this week to Kas Thomas’ article on sociophathy in BigThink.

Actually the chain of links tells a story itself.  Kas Thomas is discussing an article that he reveals is penned under the name M E Thomas by someone called Jamie Lund who until recently was teaching law at St Mary’s University School of Law in Texas, but is now the owner of the domain If this all makes you wonder whether any of what the various articles say is worth bothering with, believe me, you are not alone. I’ve always suspected that psychologists and psychiatrists were all pretty screwy anyway and this goes some way to confirming it. However, I have been engrossed in the definitions of a sociopath offered in these various writings and have found myself flipping mentally though my address book marking the entries of my friends and acquaintances who might fit the bill. Sociopaths have reportedly no sense of social obligation to other human beings. Beneath a charming exterior lies a rage that they believe they have the right to express whenever it suits them. They are not malicious, they just lack the equipment to understand how they are viewed by and impact on others. Apparently if you display any three of the following traits you are probably a sociopath:

  1. Callous unconcern for the feelings of others;
  2. Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, rules, and obligations;
  3. Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them;
  4. Very low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence;
  5. Incapacity to experience guilt or to profit from experience, particularly punishment;
  6. Marked readiness to blame others or to offer plausible rationalizations for the behavior that has brought the person into conflict with society.

My virtual thumbing through my list of contacts produced numerous racing certs and even more potential borderline cases, but maybe its just the circles I operate in. Actually, that’s not as flippant as it may sound, because as the article and a number of commentators point out, many of these traits are not only encouraged in modern society, but, as anyone who’s watched The Apprentice on TV will tell you, could be considered tantamount to essential to success in today’s business world.

I’ve come across loads of people whose single-mindedness has made them blind to the implications their actions hold for those around them.  Like the senior manager who I accused recently of “pimping ex-pats to further his own position”. However, if you are a business owner in need of success surely this is just the kind of individual you need running things for you? Well, perhaps not, because in my experience, which is confirmed within this collection of articles and comments, people who achieve at the expense of others, however charming they may be, tend to run out of road. I know of one such business leader who failed dramatically in his own ambitions when his entire senior management team resigned in the space of a few weeks.  So, unless your objective involves a very short deadline, you’d do well to avoid having a sociopath in your CEO seat.

Of course, the characteristic charm of a sociopath highlighted in the article means that as annoying as it can be to observers, provided the resignations don’t all arrive at once, he or she can usually lure a replacement victim into their plan and roll on with business as normal. However, there are all kinds of other negatives associated with having a sociopath at the helm. Sociopaths despite their tendency to fixate on their personal objective are surprisingly short-sighted. Their management style tends to be tactical, which is self-defeating in itself, of course, and their lack of that sixth-sense for the mid-to-long-term implications of their short-term actions can damage brands and destroy businesses.

I think, when I am building my teams in future it might be handy to have a sociopath close at hand, just to add an edge. Why not? Everyone has something to offer! However, I think the trick is, like owning a guard dog, while valuing their single-mindedness its best to keep them on a short leash.  The really scary thing about sociopaths though is that like secret drinkers, they are hard to spot. Even though one in twenty-five Americans are thought to fit the bill, their charm makes them attractive and popular with some, at least for a while.  What’s more if you had no sense of guilt and absolute conviction in your own beliefs and actions would you want to be cured?  Even if you get a whiff of suspicion about someone you encounter there’s always that nagging doubt. How many sociopaths do you think you know?

Dorset Cereals edit

Posted: January 3, 2014
Comments: 0

Dorset Cereals – A brand that has really come together

As Hannibal Smith of the A-Team was want to say, “I just love it when a plan comes together” and nothing gives me that deep feeling of satisfaction more than a really sorted brand.

An example of what I mean is the cereals brand Dorset Cereals produced (unsurprisingly) in Dorset in the UK and whose well-earned distribution has already extended to my local Bahrain supermarket.  I’ve always stressed to my clients that the secret of a strong brand (and incidentally the trick to building one cost-effectively) is consistency. Inconsistency is the biggest enemy of a strong brand.  In my Brand Discovery seminars I explain how this works using examples of the relationships we have with people around us.  If you get used to people and the way they behave in a particular environment and then encounter them in another where their behaviour is different you have an immediate double-take while you re-process the data you have accumulated on that person and realign your opinion of them,  Its the same with brands, but in those moments when you are reassessing your relationship the brand is vulnerable.  Its one of those moments when you, the customer, can be enticed by other brands to choose them.

No such problem with Dorset Cereals.  It’s not only that they have they managed to strike exactly the right balance between “contemporary”, “natural” and “traditional”. Their consistency is indelible from their totally engaging website to the language they use in every communication. Non of the boring “18 servings” for Dorset. Their matt finish, quality-looking muesli boxes proclaim “18 glorious bowlfulls”.  Snippets of information like “some of the best bits may have settled at the bottom of the pack so shake it before opening” and “Have you tried our Proper Raspberry Porridge yet? Its like a big fat hug from your favourite aunt …” add humanity to the product and the brand.  It’s just so easy to establish a relationship with a brand that has a clear personality. Last month I mentioned a simple line “Another great perfume produced in France by Zohoor Alreef” that I had added to perfume packaging to emphasise range and quality.  People really don’t pay enough attention to these small details when they are designing packaging, but this isn’t always the package designer’s fault, I find that this is usually because they haven’t defined their brand tightly enough in the first place.  That’s what I do with my Brand Discovery programme.

The really great thing about Dorset Cereals Muesli is that it is real muesli, as natural as the packaging and communications lead you to expect it to be, with minimum salt and no added sugar. A truly end-to-end brand that their competitors need to take notice of.  This is a plan that has truly come together and I congratulate their strategist, brand manager and marketing team for their showcase brand development.