Archive for October 26, 2014

Du mobile logo

Posted: October 26, 2014
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When your brand promise isn’t delivered.

I talk a lot about the need for brands to deliver the promises they make, but an encounter this week with the Emirates’ two leading mobile operators provided a vivid illustration of just how far from doing this even some big firms are.

I set out to make what you would imagine to be a simple purchase – to buy a mobile internet connection. My first stop, because I already have a mobile voice connection with them, was Etisalat. That was a short relationship because having queued for thirty minutes I was told by the agent that they were out of stock of dongles. In this part of the world something like this is hardly noteworthy. As they say (and it is a phrase used to explain everything) “This is Dubai!”.

I moved on to the Du store where the queuing experience was similar. The Emirati agent also told me initially they didn’t have a dongle, but when I asked him to check he discovered they had (They probably had hundreds, but maybe it was close to the end of his shift or something!). I bought a dongle and a SIM but when I wanted to pay for a data package I was told that it wasn’t possible to buy credit in the store (which I later discovered was untrue because I could have purchased voucher to redeem on-line). Instead I was told to plug in the dongle to generate a webpage that would enable me to register a credit card and buy a data bundle. So, I paid up and went home to complete the process.

Plugging in the dongle did indeed generate a webpage, which required me to follow a three-part process to create an ID, register my card and then buy a data package.

Both Du and Etisalat offer data bundles at a fixed price, however when you read the small-print this is a blatant miss-sell by both of them. In fact whatever option you choose the credit you buy expires after 30-days regardless of whether you have used up all the data, so you aren’t buying data at all, but thirty-day access with a data limit. This means that you might pay many times the already (massively inflated by international standards) quoted rate per unit of data. Yes, I find this hard to believe too, but as a Du sales guy told me with typical arrogance “That’s the deal. Take it or leave it” and people just seem to roll over and get abused by these providers.

My problems didn’t end there though because when you create a profile the confirmation is sent to you by SMS and email. I need hardly point out how useless an email is to someone without an Internet connection, but the irony of this seems to have escaped the person who designed the process. Things became eve more surreal when I entered my mobile number. As I mentioned previously, by mobile connection is with Du’s competitor Etisalat, so when I entered it, it was immediately rejected as invalid. What Du want is a Du number and the only Du number I have is the data one, so I had to take the Du SIM from the dongle, find a handset that would take Du’s large SIM (I’m an iPhone user myself) and put it in that to receive the SMS.

I did this and turned to step two – register a card. I don’t have any credit cards, only debit cards – two for UK banks and one for a Bahrain bank which doesn’t have a security code (for some reason, but this is the Gulf). By this time I had realised that either nobody at Du thinks things through or it’s part of their mission statement to make their customer’s lives as unfulfilling and painful as possible, so I wasn’t surprised to discover that Du can register neither a foreign credit card nor any debit card (even though you can pay with both on their stores) – can’t register a card, can’t buy credit, dongle utterly useless.

Throughout this lengthy and painful process I was in touch with Du’s social media people. I had tried to reach their customer service people but I received notification from them that they would endeavour to get back to me within 48 hours (!) so I resorted to being loud in FaceBook to try and get some attention and the social media team responded. However, just like a third world operator Du don’t seem to have integrated customer service and social care (“social care”) and their social media guy couldn’t access any of the information I had provided in my original complaint to customer services, so, initially all I received from him were repeated messages asking for contact information that I had already provided.

The social media guys were however very reassuring, but totally ineffectual because they are reliant on other people taking action, which by this time I knew was never going to happen. So, a whole week after purchasing my Du dongle I still wasn’t able to buy credit without travelling across town to buy a voucher from their store, and even if I did make the trip I would have to do the same thing every time I needed credit (every month it seems because Du steal the credit that remains in my account at the end of each month). That’s clearly not even close to providing a service. Furthermore, when you go to the website to enter the code of your credit voucher you get a message saying that they will update your account WITHIN 24 HOURS! What bloody use is that?

The social media guy checked my original complaint to customer services and found it had been marked “resolved”. If you are customer service agent, this is a great way to keep your KPI’s looking healthy, just tick them off as they come in! The social media guy became as defeated as I was, but after a week I received a call from Customer services just to advise me that there was no way I could register a card and I couldn’t get my money back. The two conversations I have had with customer service agents introduced a host of other problems ranging from just plain unfamiliarity with the products and processes, simple inability of agents to coherently explain items and processes and inconsistencies in nomenclature that are extremely confusing. I also posted a complain on the twitter page of one of Du’s directors, but even this didn’t get a response, which explains a lot. If the directors don’t care, why should the employees?

The lessons of this experience are far too numerous to summarise here. Suffice is to say that Du are failing on pretty well every level to provide anything close to an acceptable experience, but then, there’s no incentive for them to do better because their competitors are just as bad. Du and probably Etisalat, have made the classic mistake of designing a platform and processes that work for them rather than for their customers. In this case the situation is exacerbated by lack of process, appallingly bad marketing (package design and explanation), low-grade employees and ineffectual training.

The absence of integrated social care is a bit of a give away too. Don’t Du know that 85% of customer complaints are now handled on social media? They clearly haven’t heard about the new generation of social care solutions like Brand Embassy

Which all brings me back to my initial point. Typically for this part of the world, Du seem to have invested all their time and effort in marketing communications that make a very attractive promise with no sign at all that they have done anything to try to deliver it. Of course, this isn’t branding at all, it’s a recipe for failure, but the complacency and cartel-like way in which the UAE telcos operate suggest that things aren’t going to change any day soon. I remember blowing a similar arrangement apart in the Czech Market when as part of a team working with a new third operator we took the market by storm simply by delivering what the market wanted. The two established operators were so cosy that it took them years to re-form and start to compete again, by which time we were nominated the World’s Best Mobile operator at the World Communications Awards and became the world’s fastest-growing third operator. Watch out Du and Etisalat, I’m looking for new challenge and if I don’t end up helping a telco shake up the UAE market, someone else certainly will!

Argos logo.svg copy

Posted: October 16, 2014
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See how Argos and Amazon demonstrate retail convergence.

It seems the UK retailer Argos is showing us all how its done with their new re-brand, but the most striking thing about Argos’ new look is it hasn’t involved redesigning their logo which they last revised in 2010. I hope this will finally bury the assumption of those design-shops-that-think-they-are-branding-agencies that branding is about logos!

They have also gone about this thing in the right sequence – something that most businesses I come across could do with taking note of. I’m pretty fed up with companies who want to just tell the world they have changed and make only cosmetic improvements. Branding is about culture change and usually business transformation and Argos have been making back-office changes for the past two years to ensure they can deliver their new brand promise. Good for them! Now they are ready to make their new promise to the world without fear of disappointing the customers they attract, which, as we all know is probably the most costly mistake any brand can make.

There’s an interesting dynamic at play here of course. A few years ago I was getting frustrated because so many retailers I spoke to didn’t understand the need to re-model their businesses. I was doing presentations highlighting the shift in the direction the sector was moving, to boards of big concerns and coming away amazed that in the light of the evidence they still didn’t see the urgency of the situation and preferred to hold back investment until change was absolutely essential. Now many of these same retailers are struggling, the process has become more expensive and costs are amplified by the need to move more quickly than had been the case at the time. In some cases, the bill is going to be more than they can afford. Are we going to see casualties – undoubtedly! Will we see the pattern of young, small, tech-driven retailers buying up big name retail brands , such as we are seeing in other sectors – absolutely!

On an advertising note, Argos’ new thinking is probably summed up best (as it should be) by their TV commercial which promotes the line “Get set, Go Argos” against a back-drop of The Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now?” (which I personally find to be a neat detail in the overall creative solution). This looks like a campaign with legs, which is just as it should be and I think their agency CHI can rightfully pat themselves on the back for what they have done so far to support the re-brand. It will be interesting to see how the theme is developed tactically, but Argos haven’t disappointed on this score in the past, they just need to turn up the volume this time.

Central to Argos’ new strategy is an increased focus on digital, which cements the relationship they already have with younger consumers and opens up opportunities for growth that their previous high street focus had denied them. However, while physical-store-based Argos are making moves to claim real estate in the on-line world the seemingly ubiquitous Amazon are heading in the opposite direction with their new physical store in Manhattan and a pop-up experiment that includes kiosks in Sacramento and San Francisco. Things are getting exciting in the retail world!

If nothing else I hope this emerging omni-channel approach will underline to some of the slow-to- get-it retailers out there that they can’t ignore the wider delivery routes any longer. There are a lot of retailers out there with a load of catching up to do and if they don’t get on to it pretty quickly they’ll just become more flotsam and jetsam in the wake of the omni-channel tsunami. I just hope , after so much procrastination, that their pockets are deep enough.

Its not even just about the obvious digital channels. There are more traditional channels that retailers have been ignoring for years and which they need to get involved in now that the retail battle is hotting up. I’ve just spent two-and-a-half years working with a retailer to piece together an multi-channel model that included direct marketing and telesales using data acquired by a very successful loyalty programme that we set up. It wouldn’t have been so effective without the e-commerce, social and mobile elements of course, but every channel was delivering viable business, which is a hint to latecomers to omni-channel retailing, of a possible route to gaining a foothold in the new retail marketplace.

As usual, the retail marketplace is proving to be the microcosm of the wider marketing world. The merging of disciplines, not just within marketing but across business generally, the blurring of boundaries are all indicative of the new, broader-thinking marketer and a reminder that successful businesses are now driven by marketing and marketing people. Business structures have to change to facilitate marketers who, in turn have to broaden their thinking still further and explore every opportunity to innovate. We’ve not seen the end of this coming-together of disciplines, it’s the only route to ultimate efficiency and that is the primary difference between a successful and unsuccessful organisation in the new world order.

Roel de Vries

Posted: October 14, 2014
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Are marketing services firms ever going to be able to offer integrated solutions?

This week in an interview with The Drum, Nissan marketing chief Roel De Vries decried the fact that his quest for an integrated marketing solution had forced him to coordinate the work of numerous specialist marketing services partners. Now, while I had thought that the role De Vries is objecting to is nowadays pretty much that of any Marketing Director, I have to say that marketing services firms tend generally to be insular and self-obsessed and the evidence clearly points to their inability to deliver a truly integrated solution – ie: do their job.  To my mind, the marketing services sector is generally missing the boat and have been watching is sail by for a while!

In the case of the large marketing services groups this is just bad management. They talk about integrated marketing, but their offer, as Roel De Vries has found is invariably a kit of parts provided by individual relationships with each of their specialist agencies rather than a neatly packaged, workable, plug-and-play contribution. In fact this isn’t integrated marketing at all. It’s wasteful and inefficient. The benefits are all with the agency group and as far as the client is concerned, it fails to realise most of the advantages of integration.

My point has always been that because agencies just don’t “get it” clients have had to take on the coordination role and so, like it or not they, by and large, now own it. Nevertheless De Vries has forced his agency TBWA into the light by creating Nissan United and in so-doing has shown the agency world a model that it needs to take note of.

For agencies to make the change will demand more than a quick fix of course, but the large groups have the basics required to be able to fall into line. Maybe all they need is the will? Their resources are usually pretty comprehensive and it would seem at first glance that all they need to do is build the bridges between currently siloed specialities. Smaller agencies though face a dilemma. Do they try to follow suit and fail by definition because by dint of their size they can’t hope to match the breadth or depth of resources offered by their larger competitors? Or, do they focus on one particular area and hope to be included by marketing directors in project teams designed to deliver integrated solutions through the coordination of individual businesses? There’s already a growing trend for small agencies to offer a part solution by puling together some of the more popular marketing disciplines and trying to package these as a 360 degree solution. Its not, of course. In fact it’s a compromise that no client should accept.  Clearly any agency that’s structured like this and chasing sole partner status is forced by commercial considerations to promote the solution they can deliver rather than that which is best for their client, purely because they are invested in a limited range of disciplines. Many are already taking the specialisation route and I think this is the right call, but, as I have always said, in the end the real spoils will go to whoever owns the strategy.

In my experience this depends on the size of the client business. Large organisations tend to have the resources to build and manage decent strategies, whereas smaller clients usually need help, which is where a small agency with a consultative approach can win. The fact that the larger clients like to create their own strategies may also have something to do with the unconvincing, piecemeal delivery of their agencies. Will that improve? I imagine that eventually it will, but if history is anything to go by the world will have moved on a bit by then and we’ll be debating why agencies are slow to have adapted to another need. Its easy to understand why the large agencies are slow to adapt their model. They suffer from the age-old problem shared with organisations in every sector. Large organisations are only manageable with processes and bureaucracy and processes and bureaucracy inhibit change. The business landscape has and is forcing the big groups to seek volume through mass therefore there’s increasing restriction and reducing scope for change.

You might think that small agencies therefore provide the answer, but most small agencies are so because their capabilities and vision limits growth and those that are visionary and skilful are snapped up by the big groups, usually, as has been the case with some of my agency clients, never to be seen or heard of again.

You have a right to be concerned that maybe the marketing services sector is perpetuating its own demise and you are probably right. One thing is for certain, Roel De Vries is going to be micro-managing his agencies (or, as he refers to it “herding cats”) for a while longer.


Posted: October 8, 2014
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The lie that is the advertising industry’s shame!

There are moments when I feel ashamed to be associated with the industry I started my career in and one such moment was the Clio awards ceremony in New York last week where Jerry Seinfeld, an astute observer of human nature, delivered the surely iconic line “I love advertising because I love lying”.

It wasn’t the line itself that offended me, but the response of the audience, who unlike Seinfeld have supposedly dedicated at least their business lives to the profession he was condemning. To whoop and applaud the statement that your life is a sham seems to me to be the response of a very stupid person. Yet, sadly (and maybe unsurprisingly for an advertising shin-dig) there was plenty of whooping and applause.

These whoopers and applauders are the people I left advertising to escape, but until this ceremony I had assumed had, since, largely disappeared from the scene, victims of clear thinking and responsible marketing practices. Not so it seems , but worse still the entire Clio thing apparently now panders to the advertising industry’s lowest common denominator.

Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely committed to the principle of the “big idea” and I’m passionate about quality of execution. To that extent I agree with the principles of the Clio award. What pisses me off is that the party has become the purpose. We are seeing creativity for creativity’s sake, often with no reference to the commercial value of the ideas and production values and the audiences at these events are looking and behaving increasingly like the pissed-up air-heads who stagger between the waterfront bars of Ibiza. We don’t need programmes that encourage or reward self-interested idiots to screw people over. In fact, if I were head of an agency whose employees were at these Clio awards I’d be scanning the videos to identify those who disgraced my business by applauding Seinfeld’s statement rather than hanging their head in shame and firing their asses!

The top line quote from Seinfeld’s speech however was the statement “In advertising everything is the way you wish it was. I don’t care that it won’t be like that when I eventually get the product being advertised, because between seeing the commercial and owning the thing, I am happy”.

And that’s the crunch ladies and gentlemen. That’s the cynical, stupid, short-term, road-to-nowhere philosophy that has and continues with increasing regularity, to bring businesses to their knees, and I’m glad that it does, if only because it proves there is justice in this world.

We should never forget that our role as marketers, even those in the increasingly marginalised corner of marketing known as “advertising”, is to help businesses deliver products and services that contribute something to people who need them. It is NOT to use our skill with words and emotions and take advantage of people’s trust and gullibility to screw them over.

It should be every organisation’s objective to deliver the promises it makes. Failure to do so, even with the best intentions, is a condemnation of your business skills. For a business to make promises with no intention of delivering is not only a clear demonstration of the abject failure of the marketers in that organisation, but the worst possible condemnation of the humanity of everyone else .

Any advertising person or marketer, who thinks it’s their job, as Seinfeld suggests, to lie should firstly stay well away from me and secondly get out of the business. And if you are dumb enough to think that Seinfeld was being ironic and it’s all a bit of grown-up humour, you are clearly too egocentric and stupid to recognise that the joke is on you. Seinfeld was clearly distancing himself from the shallow facade that the advertising industry seems intent on maintaining and ridiculing you and the shallow unprincipled world you like to call home.

2B Chill or Thrill

Posted: October 2, 2014
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2B launch a new category to challenge Red Bull

It may be a marketing success story, but I don’t think I have ever bought a can of Red Bull. Nor do I expect I ever will. Have you seen the contents? The stuff is toxic! It’s no wonder that responsible governments everywhere are introducing measures to restrict its sale. In fact, in the UAE they are talking about a law that will force retailers to sell Red Bull and the host of look-alikes (Some of which are verging on poisonous) in a separate section of their stores, like cigarettes in the UK. More power to their elbow I say!

However, for those who find that getting through each day is impossible on anything less that a blue funk of caffeine, sugar and half a chemist’s-worth of very nasty stuff, life is going to go a bit cold turkey once the legislators have done their stuff. What happens then for the Red Bull junkies between self-help group meetings? Well, there may be an answer.

Not so long ago an Austrian doctor called Armin Breinl, so the story goes, was introduced to the power of natural remedies at a conference that set him on course to develop two wholly natural beverages – one a stimulant, the other a relaxant.  The marketing guys got onto this and dressed up his concoctions to create a phenomenon in Austria and Germany that is filling the gap on the supermarket shelves created by the marginalisation of the so-called “energy drinks”.

This is powerful stuff (not the drinks themselves, although they are effective, but the concept) because it’s not just about a new canned drink, in fact its two, but, more importantly, it’s an entirely new segment that has achieved traction faster than an adrenalin junky.

I was at the Middle East and Asia launch at the Armani in the Burj Khalifa in Dubai last week. A glittering affair with an appearance by US Bollywood star Nargis Fakhri (No, I’d never heard of her either, but admitting so much on the night was a bit like “The King’s New Clothes” such was her connection with the Middle Eastern audience). Here the two new drinks were introduced to 500-or-so guests amid the spectacle of a drum band on a stage that Jon Bon Jovi would have been proud of.

2B Active and 2B Relaxed, as the drinks are called, are marketed together as a new lifestyle product and justifiably so, but getting the positioning right and the message across is a tricky challenge. So, how are they doing so far? I have to say the jury is out for me on that one.

They seem to have distribution in the UAE, at least the products are on the shelves of some of the bigger second-string store chains, but the key accounts are yet to buy into the concept and without them 2B would be just another, admittedly well-dressed, guest at the party hosted by a plethora of Indian supermarkets and gas stations in the UAE. There are another 26 Asian countries on the schedule for the coming months and if they are going to achieve momentum 2B has to face-off with global brands whose pockets and imagination are a bit deeper. For me the message isn’t quite together. The product is expensive too. Will the adrenaline-junky Red Bull consumer fork out the extra for a healthy alternative? Do they even care that it’s not actually going to damage their vital organs? Time will tell I guess, but this looks like a grown-up product to me, or one that will appeal to the largely sedentary Middle East consumer, for whom the occasional inference that the energy drink (The “thrill” in the “thrill and chill” concept they are promoting) might enhance your performance in the sack, might be the biggest draw,

The easy route would be to focus on the “thrill” twin because it’s familiar territory for consumers, but this neglects the “chill” half of the duo and the lifestyle story that the two combined represents. I get the feeling that the 2B people themselves are undecided on this as I am seeing messages whose emphasis wavers between lifestyle and active. I don’t think they’ve quite nailed the positioning yet.

There are other chilling drinks emerging of course, just as there are new, natural energy drinks around, but there’s surely something special about buying into a lifestyle that embraces both moods and there’s a danger that an opportunity to own that space and remove these products from direct competition may be missed.

But, it’s a bold venture and we can’t have too many of those. I wish them well.

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