Posted: December 15, 2014
Back in April Phil Morettini posted a really sensible piece on his PJM Consulting blog about managing the growth curve. I have spoken on this subject myself at conferences and seminars in the past, but, in recent times I’ve focussed on other subjects. Phil’s post made the rounds again this month and prompted me to revisit the subject.
While I like his approach, my take on the subject hinges on an additional observation. Critically, the shape of the growth curve has changed over time. As the introduction of new technology has accelerated, so too has the rate of change adding vastly to the potential agility of businesses. This all helps leaders get innovation to market quicker, which serves to steepen initial growth. However, it also enables followers to catch up even faster.
Think about what this means to you. With competitors breathing down your neck, the cost of all that research and new product development has to be recouped sooner than ever before. When competitive products arrive on the shelves things start to get tough, so the threat to your growth arrives sooner and you want to have your initial investment largely covered by then. When competition arrives sales will usually flatten and soon start to decline proportionate to the quality and number of the competitors.
What this highlights more than anything else is the need to maximise the efficiency of your organisation. An efficient organisation will have more great new ideas and get them to market quicker. It will also sell more in a shorter period of time and the key to efficiency is having a strong brand.
One of the most significant benefits of a strong brand is focus. A business with strong brands will have employees that fully understand the brand promise and the role they can play in its delivery. This means that innovations will be more appropriate with ideas that don’t accurately represent the brand being thrown out earlier. This in turn means time, human resource and investment are available to back the winners, quickening the pace of development of ideas and adding to the robustness of product concepts that go all the way. The last play in the product launch scenario though is getting it into the homes of consumers and anybody will recognise the role that a strong brand plays here.
One of the greatest assets of a strong brand is familiarity. People know its name and they understand the promise it makes. It won’t hold any bad surprises and consumers trust its consistency. It offers the reassurance that makes any new product that carries its logo more readily acceptable to existing customers, hence, fewer obstacles to the purchase.
The “knowing and trusting” aspect also manifests itself in the readiness of customers to recommend it. So all your existing customers banging your drum every aspect of your advertising at every stage of the path to purchase will be far more effective and bring a far greater return.
As a recent European survey revealed, the majority of shoppers around the world are not motivated primarily by price. This has come as a bit of a surprise to some people and a great many retailers in particular that I encounter fall into the trap of responding to competitive pressure by reducing prices. They get an immediate business up-lift of course, but it’s a fool’s paradise that ultimately introduces uncertainly into the relationship with customers and in the long term reduces both revenue and profit.
You should never forget that the keys to success are a) the consistency that fuels the feelings of knowing and trusting that drives both sales and recommendations. This also drives b) the efficiency that will enable you to get the right innovations to market quicker, at less cost, sell more in a shorter period of time whilst reducing reliance on expensive, traditional advertising. That’s how your brand influences the shape of your sales curve.
Posted: December 11, 2014
My post back in March this year where I explored the demise of Abercrombie and Fitch has proven to be one of my most popular ever. So, I guess it’s fitting that I should acknowledge the news today that the beleaguered retailer has finally managed to dispose of its founder and CEO Michael Jeffries. Does this mean they’ll now be able to fix their business?
Frankly, and not because the I owe them for the traffic that my previous piece generated on my blog, I hope it does. Having largely avoided American chain stores in the past I’ve been keeping an eye on this retailer as well as a few others and even bought stuff there. Maybe A&F have been making a few small changes along the way, or maybe the gym membership is paying off, but at least the stuff on their shelves seems to fit me these days!
I noted before that the business’s biggest investor had been trying to oust Jeffries for years. It certainly seems that he was a major obstacle to progress, so maybe, now that looks like a done deal, they can start to rebuild. However, I’ve seen this before – a young and vibrant management team forces out the founder of a business and then proceeds to send it bankrupt within six months, so onlookers have to be wary of the possibility that it was the conflict within that was causing the problems, while the founder’s reticence to change was actually serving to reduce the negative effects of the other managers’ efforts.
If that’s so, the clue would have been in the quote by Jeffries cited in the Retail Gazette article: “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
While this is presented here as a mistake, Jeffries was absolutely bang on the button. In fact he has been with some of the other so called “howlers” he’s been responsible for over the years. Maybe it’s just that people don’t like the bloke so they disagree on principle with everything he says, but the strongest brands are exclusionary, I’ve been saying this for years, so he wasn’t wrong there. Its also true that brands that try to be all things to all people fail. Again, as he suggests, being a panacea is just not something you can build a strong brand on. It may well be that A&F are aiming at the wrong group or not understanding their “brandships” well enough, but if this statement had been made by Steve Jobs, who I would argue was also exclusionary in his own way, we’d be hailing it as wisdom and printing it on bumper-stickers, so don’t let’s be too hasty in damning Jeffries for this.
Nobody could doubt that the next three years will be very exciting at Abercrombie and Fitch and I’d love to be involved with them as they lay the foundations of their future (Just in case anybody at A&F is reading this!) but you can be sure I’ll be watching the new initiatives roll out. Don’t waste this chance folks and definitely don’t become “vanilla”. Get it right and you could be featuring in editorial for all the right reasons for a change!
Posted: December 9, 2014
There was an interesting piece in B&T this week by Lauren Quaintance, who explores the battle that’s emerging between hacks and content marketers for ownership of the designation “journalist”.
These days it seems you can set up shop and call yourself anything. You only have to glance at the conversations on LinkedIn groups to realise that most of the people who call themselves marketers don’t have a clue. But while, practices like this can give a profession a bad name, frankly, there’s no point in getting het up about it, you just have to accept that there are rubbish “marketers” and there are bad “journalists” just like everything else.
There’s no doubt about it, content marketing is here to stay and I would argue that its not the shiny new toy that the industry makes it out to be. In fact, it’s little more than what many have called PR for years. The skills are the same they are just combined and applied in different ways. The main difference is that marketers, for better or worse, now have direct access to the media that matters and don’t have to go through PR people, who have always largely failed to understand their true role in the marketing process anyway and are now trying to defend their crumbing ivory tower.
This doesn’t mean that marketers are the best people to produce content, but then again neither necessarily are journalists. The thing is, as Lauren and others have said and I’ve written numerous times, the only trick to producing great content is that it is of interest to your target audience and is well written and produced. Now, you might say that most of the content out there fails on both levels and I would tend to agree, but that’s where the opportunity lies for brand owners and content marketers who “get it” to step up to the plate.
Right now the choice is between highly polished content that any business would be pleased to call their own, but which only the few can afford and stuff that frankly looks more like a high school project that isn’t going to do anything but harm to any business that puts its name to it. Neither delivers what’s needed, which is easily accessible and affordable content that represents any business that associates with it in the most favourable light. Content doesn’t have to deliver direct sales. That’s not its job and anyway I think we’ve pretty well proved that this is a route that will turn off more of the audience than it appeals to. As with marketing generally these days and for good reason, the emphasis with content has to be on building relationships. Sure, your content does have to be relevant and don’t let people tell you that there can’t even be a hint of salesmanship in some of it (but definitely not all) so it can feature your business and your product, but the most important thing is that it represents your values and beliefs and your brand promise. That’s why you can’t really even start to put together a content marketing programme without first having established a brand model such as those that I create with my Brand Discovery programme.
Right now, I am working with a group of journalists, fiction writers and film makers on a project that picks up on the foundations of my brand models to produce content that will make organisations look their very best, but that any business can afford. I’ll let you know how that goes. Meanwhile if you are thinking that content marketing can play a useful role in your marketing strategy you’ll need to have a brand model, a clear brief with clear objectives and create a project team that collectively has the skills you need to produce a polished result. Oh, and you’ll definitely have to have a methodology to ensure that your office doesn’t turn into the battlefield that Lauren Quaintance mentions!