Archive for April 30, 2014

magazine stack

Posted: April 30, 2014
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Custom publishing still rocks in the digital era.

Reports of the death of hard copy publishing have been greatly exaggerated.  Not only are magazines finding their groove even among the so-called digital converts, there’s a new growth sector emerging. Its called custom publishing.

I am an unashamed fan and custom publishing evangelist from way back. I discovered the merits of magazines over a decade ago, when I published a glossy for Philips Lighting as part of an integrated strategy that brought an unprecedented volume of qualified leads from difficult-to-reach targets in Central Europe. I’ve produced many, for different clients since and I see no reason to believe that the growth in digital has made hard-copy publishing any less useful to marketers. Like anything else though you have to use custom publishing correctly, but if you get it right there’s no end to the ROI.

Custom magazines (and I don’t mean the tatty rubbish that a lot of companies churn out) can enhance your brand perceptions immeasurably, engage your customers and, as I have proven many times, generate business. They can even make a profit!

Last year I published Saudi Arabia’s first retailer-owned women’s glossy for an fmcg company. We distributed 50,000 free copies and they delivered measurable sales and greatly enhanced our brand engagement, but that wouldn’t have been the case if the content hadn’t been high quality and tailored to our target and our objective. The trick is to resist the urge to produce a brochure, which is something the owners of the business I was working with last year found it hard to get their heads around. Your products have to be contextualised and woven into stories with subject lines that appeal to your target market, but you can produce product ads and include them in the same way that any magazine would carry advertising. Content themes should not just relate to your product groups or sector, but cover subjects that your customers and prospects are interested in and, most importantly, every theme should take every opportunity to relate back to your brand promise and support facts.

Recently however, custom publishing has upped its game with the launch of titles by Net-a-Porter, Swedish fashion brand Acne and others. These are necessarily as well turned-out as the brands they represent and their editorial policy extends the theory of custom content further. Their point of greatest difference however is that they appear on news stands and are paid for by their readers. This is a measure of a powerful brand community and something that can only make the community stronger. Our Saudi magazine readers, unfamiliar with the concept kept trying to pay us for our magazine, such was the value it held for them and therefore an indication of the value it brought to our marketing strategy.

Remember fanzines? Well, they aren’t dead either. British rock and jazz musician Jamie Cullum published his own hard copy magazine Eighty-Eight (Referring to the number of keys on a full-size piano). This has upped the fanzine game too with high production standards, classy graphics and its a perfect example of how it should be done. The content is entirely related to things that interest Jamie, much of it not elated to his music. A friend of mine called it self-indulgent, but its actually pretty clever. Being a member of Jamie’s brand community (a fan) means that you share something of his interests already, but also, because of that you want to know more about his other interests and maybe make them yours too. It’s all part of getting under the skin of a personality or brand and feeling a real kinship and when fans want to do that you know you are onto a winner.

I’m reluctant to recommend that everyone rushes into custom publishing despite the undoubted benefits it can bring, simply because people (even the publishers) usually get it wrong. Those I produce have succeeded because they have been fully integrated into the broader marketing and brand strategies. Throughout each publications there are connections to social media, on-line, store promotions, loyalty programmes and customer support that build brand engagement and deliver store traffic and sales. It has to be subtle. If you don’t get it right you’ll at best not realise the potential value and it could even work against you, but if you can find someone who knows what they are doing to lead you through the process it’s definitely a tool that most businesses should consider adding to their toolbox.

There’s an interesting article on this subject on Retail DIve


Posted: April 24, 2014
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Are you wasting your time with webinars and digital content?

I hate webinars. I avoid them like the plague.  They are invariably boring, badly constructed, amateur and do nothing to enhance the strategic position of the organisations involved. If you get a few sales as a result of one of these things I guess you could claim a tactical success of sorts, but overall the value of a webinar has to be very questionable. I feel the same about most video content. I just watched a video from a leading marketing industry figure who should have known better. It was just a basic talking head – Its always best to do something simple well rather than completely screw up something complicated – but for some reason the person concerned decided to conduct the entire thing looking away from the camera lens.

This is a technique that can work when there is an interviewer, but as a talking head fails miserably in one basic requirement – it doesn’t engage the audience. I’m afraid the whole thing made for very uncomfortable watching.

Yesterday I forced myself to sit through a webinar staged by one of my clients. It was a three-hander with the speakers in three different locations. The format, as most webinars are, was a sound-track with graphics. Now, I don’t consider I lead a particularly exciting life, but this was probably the most excruciatingly boring forty minutes I have experienced so far this year. One of the presenters was awful. Simply a bad presenter, a woman with a high-pitched voice and a strong accent that made it difficult enough to follow what she was saying. She was talking over a VoIP link, which was then further compressed to get it to me, By the time it was coming out of my speakers whole sections of her presentation was unintelligible.

The other speakers were better, but overall there was no story to the presentation and it came across as three individual and largely unconnected subjects. To make matters worse, the graphics were sparse, poorly designed and totally failed to emphasise the few points that the speakers managed to make.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the principle of video content (and I include webinars in that description). I think it’s definitely the way to go for many businesses, but in the hands of people who aren’t production experts it can be the loaded gun with which you shoot yourself in the foot.

I’ve been asking around and although a few people who have dabbled in content like this make tenuous claims for their events and videos, everyone I spoke to believes they could have done better and the more honest among them felt they failed to present themselves favourably. Surely, that’s the point? So, why do businesses keep doing this to themselves? The answer it seems is they see these initiatives as cheap to produce and consider that what they produce is industry standard. It seems the businesses that produce webinars see them as amateur and unpolished by definition.

Firstly let me dispel the myth about cost. If you do the calculations correctly you’ll realise that all the time and effort that goes into a webinar production  adds considerably to the hard cash you have handed out to produce and deliver it. Most people kid themselves about the cost of videos too. Consider the time and effort you spend scripting and preparing and you’ll realise there’s a whole chunk of resource you could have better deployed elsewhere in your organisation. Of course, if you don’t plan, script and prepare, you end up with a crap outcome, which itself represents not just a waste of investment, but a liability. Showing how crap you are isn’t the objective here.

Following the webinar, I asked my client why he hadn’t manage the contributors better to create a cohesive end-to-end presentation and he didn’t really have an answer.  The truth is, people don’t realise that this is what you have to do. The fact is people who organise these events are so grateful to have contributors on-board that know enough to talk for fifteen minutes, that they are reluctant and sometimes even feel embarrassed to make suggestions regarding their input.

The speakers at these events, be they your local councillor or Tom Peters, need a framework at least to write their content around and its your job as the producer to ensure that they get that and adhere to it.  The starting point for you is to decide what the overall message of the event should be and brief them accordingly. You can’t just turn up on the day for a jam session. It might work with the blues, but we are talking serious business here and these things have to be staged.

You need to identify the key points contained in your speakers’ presentations. If there are none (which is sadly often the case) you need to add them and make sure that those contained in each presenter’s piece link together to create an overall message across the entire event.

Any worthwhile presenter will have their own content – slides, videos etc. – but you can’t take it for granted that this will be of an appropriate standard. If you have to use graphics, you need to get your designer involved and re-work everyone’s content, so that it is cohesive and consistent. Most of all you have to remember that if you don’t have a live video feed of the presenters themselves your visual content has a very big job to do to engage the audience. Make sure it heavily underlines your key points and is graphically interesting and attractive.

Finally, choose your speakers carefully. Just because someone knows their stuff, doesn’t mean that that they can present. In fact I think good presenters are very rare animals and most people massively overestimate their own presentation skills. Once you’ve seen a really good presenter you’ll recognise the difference. The problem is that most of us go through our working lives never encountering one. That’s how rare they are.

A good producer can get around this problem by adopting a different format. I’m working on an approach right now that will resolve this issue. However, voices become very important indeed if you have no visual of the speaker and in these situations you simple can’t have voices that are just hard to listen to.

If all of this sounds a bit expensive and time consuming you shouldn’t be considering a/v content anyway. The trouble with the Internet is it’s like the Sirens in Greek mythology, It lures you to your on-line death by encouraging you to think you can do stuff you can’t. The trick is to know your limits and very, very few people are any good at creating webinars or content. You might say, That’s OK, people will understand, we are just a small business” but you are wrong. If your production isn’t polished and professional people will just think you are an amateur organisation and that’s not a good thing for any business.

There is good content out there, but its rare and I haven’t seen much of it. If you know of something that you feel hits the mark post a link in the comments below and let me see it.


Posted: April 13, 2014
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Are charities the new brand endorsers?

According to Aussie start-up mag Shoestring last week, Cavil and Co in Australia have released a piece of research that reveals that associations with charities persuaded three million of our Antipodean generation X and Y cousins to switch brands last year. Brands supporting charities is nothing new, but now that charities are becoming better organised and more media savvy, maybe there’s something in this result.

Since we realised that we choose brands that represent our own values and standards, just as we choose our friends, companies have been trying to find ways to convey their personalities in that vital fleeting nanosecond of customer selection. We’ve fine-tuned and honed devices like packaging and logos and continue to do so. We also recognised that just like people, brands are defined in part by the company they keep, so smart businesses have been reviewing their distributors and how they treat their product and trying to influence that.

On that same theme personality endorsements have played their part for a long time. Well-known figures have been recruited to represent products in a somewhat symbiotic relationship that provided brands with an instant expression of their values. George Clooney appeals to a certain kind of both men and women who clamour to align themselves with him by drinking his (Nestle’s Nespresso) coffee, women express their inner Julia Roberts (whatever that is) by wearing Lancome perfume. The list seems endless, but personalities are risky and, where actors are concerned often too mercurial for a brand that’s looking for a consistent and stable representation of their personality. Partnerships have also been forged with other brands that are associated with traits they aspire to. Struggling airline Gulf Air sponsored the McLaren team at the Bahrain GP last week, I guess in a desperate attempt to appear, fast, efficient and cool. From my perspective sponsoring a car that was visibly struggling and a team that has clearly lost its way might be a bit of a shot in the foot by the airline, but I guess beggars can’t be choosers!

Charities, may not be risk-free, but they are less inclined than rock-stars or actors to be found in flagrante delicto with an under-age hooker and they’ve certainly made great strides in defining their own brands in recent years. The trend was established by Anita Roddick’s The Body Shop way back, but its all hotted up now and all of a sudden it seems charities are the de facto alter-ego for many brands. From my perspective most brands entering into these kinds of relationships still need to learn a trick or two in fully exploiting them, but that too is a learned skill that I am sure they will develop with time.

Clearly Aussies have bought into this short-hand and I guess it can’t be bad for either the brand or the charity as long as both parties behave. Time will tell.


Posted: April 10, 2014
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Is Apple struggling because Jobs hasn’t been replaced?

You’ll probably know by now that I view brands as communities of people with shared values and beliefs. I won’t go into the whys and wherefores now, you can read my other posts for that. What interests me right now is how this translates into successful products and services.

My belief is that if you define your brand clearly, inform and engage your employees, help them commit and with a programme like my Brand Discovery programme understand the role they can play personally in delivering the brand promise, your produce products and services will match that promise. This is good because your actions are consistent with your words, customers know what to expect and because of this you’ll sell more and more easily. Simple!

Now, unless you’ve been living under a stone for the past few weeks you’ll have seen Samsung’s “The next big thing” campaign that highlights just about all of Apple’s mobile shortcoming. What you may not have caught are the leaked Applegate e-mails from January last year, between Apple’s SVP Phil Schiller and a senior manager at their advertising agency TBWA/Media Arts Lab. Basically its a ping-pong around the accusation that TBWA failed to come up with a suitable counter to Samsung’s slap in the face even though as Schiller points out (his words not mine) Apple is “… the worlds most successful tech company making the world’s best products”.

The inference here I guess is that TBWA had enough ammo they just had to fire it, but their finger froze on the trigger. (Putting aside for a moment that when I was working in agencies we were the one’s pushing our clients with new ideas and not the other way around) I don’t know who is right and wrong here, but the TBWA guy made some interesting points in his defence including the suggestion that part of the problem is that Samsung are right, Apple’s mobile offering has been very disappointing of late (I say this as an Apple fan, but your first responsibility as a guardian of a brand or officer of a company is to to be honest with yourself and not bury your head in the sand). Much to Schiller’s chagrin the TBWA guy basically suggested that Apple needed to re-think their product strategy (He also wrote an entire, long e-mail without using any capital letters, which causes me to wonder what he is doing in a job that matches him with Phil Schiller.)

Now, assuming Mr. TBWA is right (which may or may not be so) what could have caused Apple to lose their legendary cutting edge?

One of the most important tools some organisations have that help their campaign to bring its employees behind their brand promise is a charismatic leader. Not all organisations have one. They are rare, but Jobs was a great example. He lost no opportunity to remind everyone what Apple’s role in the world was and the promise it made to its community and he demonstrated every day how each employee could apply their personal skills and traits to delivering that promise.

His unconventional thinking spawned the same throughout the company and that produced the sometimes “whacky” and often ground-breaking products that were the steel in the brand promise. It was no fluke. When he was missing Apple struggled to focus when he came back they became razor sharp (almost) over night. It’s clear why he was held in such high esteem, he was in many ways the Apple brand and he certainly was a hard act to follow. And that’s the point. Maybe Apple has lost its focus and therefore its advantage simply because nobody can fill Steve’s shoes?

Sainsbury's store

Posted: April 8, 2014
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Try something new today.

One of my most important themes over the years has been that brands are built by employees at every level, not just the people on the top-table. In fact, it might even be said that the boardroom has less of an influence on a brand than folks on the shop floor.  It makes sense therefore that if you want to build a brand you start by getting everyone in the organisation behind a common idea of what it’s all about. That’s partly what I have been doing for businesses around the world with my Brand Discovery programme for the past few years.

I often refer to an interview with John Mackey, CEO and co-founder of Whole Food Markets and Kip Tindell, CEO and co-founder of Container Store that appeared in Time Magazine in 2008. In this they both explained that before they hired their first employee they each sat down and wrote out their values and promise to their customers. Because of this, when their new hires turned up for work on day one they were totally tuned-in and committed to playing their part in delivering the brand promise. Now it seems I have a new source to quote because last week Justin King, the outgoing CEO of UK supermarket group Sainsbury’s, announced to a Advertising Week Europe panel that he would be “more likely to fire a manager who scored badly on [their] Talkback [programme]” than for poor sales results.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sainsbury’s, theirs is a story of traditional grocer made good, bad and good again. At one time Sainsbury’s were the UK’s leading supermarket group by a long way, but the growth in competition, especially from Tesco, combined with equal measures of complacency and incompetence reduced them to a rudderless wreck of a business that looked for a while to be teetering on the brink of oblivion. However, in the nick of time they re-focussed, re-formed and are now, once again, a leading player in the UK supermarket sector.

Sainsbury’s resurgence however wasn’t brought about simply by a bunch of big-hitters sitting around a boardroom table, nor did their revised values and promise materialise, as if by magic, once they had written it down. The Sainsbury’s transformation came about as a result of a dedicated and determined internal marketing campaign that galvanised their entire work-force into a common action with a shared purpose. Like any initiative, Sainsbury’s internal marketing campaign needed KPIs and one of these is how “engaged” employees are. This is measured using questionnaires completed every year by every employee.  This is the talkback programme that King referred to.

Maybe I sound to some people like a broken record, but until I stop finding companies everywhere who fail to understand this fundamental of brand development I guess I’ll keep saying it. Brands are built from the bottom up. Its the employees, whatever their role and whatever level they are working at that make a brand what it is. If you are a business leader you have to agree with your employees what it is you stand for and decide between you how you are going to get there. This is the much miss-understood world of “internal marketing” that Sainsbury’s clearly have nailed.

Once your employees know where they are heading they’ll get you there. You still have to facilitate them by removing the obstacles to their progress, which represents another stumbling block for senior executives who fail to understand that they may be the head honcho, but sometimes that means being the assistant to their employees. My work over the past few years in the Middle East where third-rate managers act as dictators or slave-drivers and businesses lead a very precarious existence has taught me to value this ethic even more. Its no surprise that there are few worthwhile brands emerging from this part of the world. I urge businesses who haven’t caught up yet to take a hint from Sainsbury’s strap-line and “try something new today” before its too late.



Posted: April 7, 2014
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“Easy” customer insights for retailers

Like any business retailers benefit greatly from consumer and customer insights, but they are in the unique position of having direct contact with customers every day, so in some ways they have it made. Sadly though a lot of retailers don’t fully exploit that unique advantage.

In fact, I’ve found many retailers consider research to be a once-in-a-while exercise that they resort to only when times are bad or to help justify major policy decisions. Many fail even to recognise that traditional research is as much about measuring progress and trends as it is a snap-shot of your customer at a certain point in time. As such it requires a programme of projects stretched over time to provide real value. Most retailers also neglect to sufficiently manage the data they are already gathering through their EPOS, loyalty programmes and websites. Mostly this is because they don’t have a data and analysis strategy. If they did, however modest their efforts at analysis were, they would at least be getting some useful and actionable insights.

Against this background I was interested to see a report in B&T of a talk by Fiona Buchanan, the insights manager at Australian retailer Target, in which she reflects that “Its about time research was more than a one night stand”. Fiona covers retailers’ lack-lustre approach to research but, more interestingly to me, talks about the special value of an on-going customer feedback concept.

I have created a few of these for various retailers over the years and found them to be a great source of continual qualitative insights, but they also have the great added benefit of enhancing your brand perception and customer engagement, even among customers that don’t take part.

My “customer panels” have taken two forms. The first comprises a number of customers recruited using in-store campaigns. These panels meet monthly to discuss issues, products and the competitive environment under the moderation of an (ideally) in-house researcher. The agenda is controlled by the moderator to ensure the sessions are productive and the topics we want to hear about are covered and delegates air their views on given subjects and take away and report on product samples. I have also introduced non-customers to these groups for an extra perspective.

The second format allows for a far bigger sample, but limited depth with a similar agenda being pursued on-line. This is the format that Fiona talks most about in her piece. Whichever approach you take, customer panels definitely provide valuable additional insights and I can’t think why more retailers don’t adopt the idea.  These days no business can afford to waste time and effort with initiatives that aren’t optimised and here is a simple and very cost-effective way of gaining the insights you need to improve your efficiency.

Shopping Mall

Posted: April 2, 2014
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Adding on-line features to physical stores (and Malls) with BLE

Some years ago, before tracking technology could offer what it does today, I set up an experiment with a supermarket group in the Czech Republic to identify how customers moved through their stores and determine how we could influence this with layout, merchandising and the use of point-of-sale material. My personal experience as a enduro mountain bike racer meant I was familiar with the tags that race organisers used to monitor our progress around a route. These were far from the sophisticated GPS equipment used today and required the tag to pass beacons along the route to register, but they were the only accessible option then, so we fixed tags to shopping trollies and set beacons at key points around the store.

The tags, which were individually coded, registered the path of the trollies around the store on a map on a computer. Don’t laugh, this was state of the art at the time! We were all set to go when a government inspector turned up in Prague and closed us down, on the grounds that it was an invasion of customers’ privacy (I wonder what he’d make of how things have turned out!). He insisted that if we wanted to conduct this research we would have to get each customer with one of the tagged trollies to sign and authorisation form. After assessing the situation we chose to shelve the exercise and we never got around to re-opening it.

I’ve been fascinated with tracking technology ever since and have been involved in a number of programmes designed to optimise store layouts. Because of this I was drawn to an article by Devanshi Garg in iMedia Connection last week about Bluetooth Low Energy technology or “Beacons”. As you might expect Apple are working at the leading edge of this technology and it seems that if you add their iBeacon technology to the ubiquitous iPhone 5S you get the ability to track every nuance of movement by a shopper once they enter a store or mall and connect with them in real time. It’s easy to see how something like this could have implications not only for customer management, store design, merchandising and product selection, but pilferage too and it seems that the retailer American Apparel have already shown increases in revenue as a result of employing a version of this technology by RetailNext in their stores.

Personally, I am more interested at the moment in adapting this technology to send messages and coupons to customers as they enter a store or mall, but some of the adaptations already being talked about are so tailored as to be creepy. There are a host of companies offering different variations on the BLE theme Euclid Analytics being a prime mover.  The article in question talks of the ability to reference a customer’s on-line purchasing record and tailor messages accordingly and it seems Nordstom have already had negative feedback from an experiment that they conducted along these lines, but American Eagle have dived in and have a system using the Shopkick app already up and running in 100 stores. The other thing about this technology is that its cheap and accessible to even single stores.

I love this stuff. It takes me back to my Heath-Robinson tracking experiment with that supermarket chain and feeds my desire to provide physical stores with something more to help them compete with on-line retailers, but I have to admit there’s a narrow line to walk and a real danger, if the Nordstrom experience is anything to go by, of customer push-back. However, I have a client who is an ideal candidate for BLE. I’ve already given them a hint of what they can do with this technology and I’ll be presenting the full case to them in the next few weeks.

Balloons in Sky

Posted: April 1, 2014
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Are you letting your best ideas get away?

Innovation is the currency of business and you are only as good as your next great idea. As Tom Peters used to say, the shiny new product you take from the store today is obsolete by the time you get it home and switched on businesses have numerous generations of successors in the pipeline behind everything they have on a store shelf.

Over the years I had the opportunity to help a few companies organise their innovation process. Not as many as I would have liked because I still find it hard to get businesses to take innovation as seriously as they should, but where there’s a development process the results have always made it worthwhile. Last week I saw a short piece on LinkedIn from Marla Gottschalk in which she asks “Where did all those great ideas go?“, which is a reminder that coming up with ideas is actually the easy part.

Wherever you work you’ll recognise that implementation represents the biggest challenge to innovation and that’s all the more reason to have a process in place. Those I have created have followed a similar path. The seed of the idea comes from the brand model – another reason why I make my my Brand Discovery programme the first initiative in any business development strategy. The great ideas that drive and save businesses can come from anywhere in your organisation, but that’s not going to happen if employees don’t understand and buy into your brand promise. I once based a very successful business unit for a company on an idea put to me by one of their junior secretaries.

What could be a lengthy list of suggestions needs to be whittled down by eliminating those that fail to measure up at various stages in the process. You can define the stages as you like, but generally they will start with the outline of the idea. Each stage must have a set of criteria that the idea has to measure up to and those that don’t are ditched. I like to involve the originator throughout the process, helping them to manage the project if they are comfortable with that, rather than taking the idea from them and handing it entirely over to managers or specialists. I’ve had shop-floor workers presenting their ideas to senior managers at various stages in the process. An approach like this will not only assure you of a steady stream of ideas for products and improvements, but, as long as there is a remuneration scale associated with each stage, it will massively enhance employee morale and buy-in, which will strengthen your brand and make your business more efficient.