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 experiences 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 of them 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.

Social media 2

Posted: March 31, 2014
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Is social “CRM” or “marketing”?

Since the beginning of time people in business have built silos. The classic two are “sales” and “marketing”, which have been the subject of battles won and lost for as long as I can remember. These days the complexity of business has increased and with it the number of potential territories and conflicts, but while we’ve been busy fencing-off these newcomers, the real momentum has been in a different direction entirely. So much for marketers leading the way!

The word of the day is “convergence”. Yes all the disciplines, channels and media are coming together in a new marketing model that requires a fresh perspective and a different way of working and sadly, all but a few businesses and marketers are late to the party. However, amongst the scramble to catch up there’s a new potential conflict to disrupt the nether-world of traditionalists.  This time the protagonists are “CRM” and “marketing” and the subject is “social media”. Now, I’ve just built a marketing department from scratch where CRM and all the other traditional marketing disciplines happily share social media with no conflicts, but I can see other businesses aren’t finding it so easy and its all because of a combination of the tradition of compartmentalising functions and the miss-labelling of social media. Such companies need to stop thinking of social media as a discipline and understand that it’s a communications channel and like a telephone anybody can pick it up. That includes the CRM and the marketing guys. Once you get that you just have to manage the conversations.

I also can’t get over the marketers who seem to think that by ignoring social they’re adopting a neutral stance. There’s no “neutral” position on this. Either you are in the game or you are not doing your job and while you are working out which it is you are allowing possibly the most accessible and potent communications channel out there to work against you. In The Drum this week Ishbell MacLeod highlights a report by Eptica that suggests that only 39% of companies respond to customer queries raised on Twitter. This doesn’t just mean that 61% of companies aren’t easily accessible, it means that that those companies are being labelled “non-runners” by their marketplace. In fact, according to MacLeod this is only the tip of the iceberg. The more you look into customer service responses the worse the picture becomes.

Social media is the communications channel of choice for a dominant and growing group of consumers who are judging companies on their social media behaviour and to make things a lot worse this behaviour is being highlighted in a public forum. Ignoring the forum is at best putting your business at a disadvantage, but to establish a social media presence and then fail to manage it is dereliction of duty on a criminal scale, so you can’t do this casually, you have to be fully engaged in social media.

There’s another great piece on this subject out this week. In this Vit Horky from Brand Embassy, who are pioneering what they call “social care”, picks up on the abject failure of companies to harness Google+. It seems, once again, companies’ inertia in leveraging Google+ is the product of their lack of decisiveness over who is managing it.

However if Vit’s very convincing argument doesn’t put this subject at the front of your mind you need to bear in mind that even being reactive to social media isn’t enough. I told you this social media thing is on a roll! Remember, social is where your market is meeting and conversing. You can be sure that your business is the subject of a load of conversations that you are not privy to. This represents as big an opportunity as it does a threat and marketers need to be on to this.

F&B retailers I have worked with have been using pro-active social media tactics to engage and build frequency and acquisition for years. Intercepting conversations on social media where your product is mentioned has proven fruitful territory for many restaurateurs, but if you’re not in the game you can’t win it and you need to be able to monitor and respond to social media chat to leverage this asset. Until now that has been the challenge.

That’s why I like Brand Embassy’s social/CRM platform. It not only picks up social media conversations that would normally pass you by, it allocates them to the appropriate person anywhere in the organisation and manages the response process. You only have to decide on your process and re-structure your department accordingly.

While we are on the subject I personally don’t believe that twenty and thirty hour response times are even close to acceptable in what is a live and immediate environment like social media, although I’m well aware (and deeply ashamed to admit) that there are marketers out there that seem to think that these kinds of response times and even longer, are acceptable even in non-social CRM interactions. A while ago I raised the matter of the retail group Halfords in the UK who on their e-mail response platform promised to response within fourteen days! If that isn’t customer abuse I can’t imagine what they think it its and I hope they have fixed that by now.

This also introduces the debate about the scope of a CRM operative’s role. Maybe social care operatives require training that will equip them to resolve an issue single-handedly, but that’s for a different post and a different day. For now, we just have to wake up and smell the coffee. Those who work out how to leverage social media first will be the winners.

Fire hose edit

Posted: March 26, 2014
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Predictive analysis – the realistic big data alternative to drinking from the fire hose?

I sympathise with marketing managers who believe that big data is more of a curse than a cure. After all, we’ve trotted along quite nicely for decades making decisions on the basis of hearsay, rumour and suspicion and now one of your competitors gains insights that help them steal your customers and all of a sudden its game change and we all have to start looking for real insights!

The source of these insights of course is data, and there are loads of data available to any business from all manner of sources that can help you understand your customers’ decision-making process. In fact, a lot of this data has been accumulating for years in some hard drive somewhere. It just arrived, was greeted with a shrug by some IT guy and put aside for a rainy day. Well – News Flash – it’s raining now!

Even the most ardent ostrich couldn’t deny that this is the age of big data. Yes folks, its time to dust off those hard drives and see what you’ve been missing for years! There’s no get out of jail card here. This is serious. If you don’t start working out for sure why you are selling or how, you are simply going to be consigned to the “where are they now” file. If your competitors know what makes customers tick and you don’t, you’ll lose.

So, here’s the problem. Big data is … well … BIG! If you haven’t been analysing the stuff that you have been collecting for years it will take you a good while to get up to speed anyway and then what? Data collection as well as its analysis has to be organised and even then you are only going to use a fraction of what you collect. In fact, according to Chris Matty in a piece in iMedia connection this week there is one CRM company out there that already admits that 40% of the data it collects is inaccurate and unusable. Imagine the time you could waste just working out what bits you need?

This is the source of the love-hate relationship that is emerging between marketers and big data. As the great Tom Lehrer once suggested, it’s a bit like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis – you know what it will take to survive, but its against all your instincts to get involved! Data analysis takes time. Lots of it, and expertise. Lots of that too, which means lots of money. Now we are getting to the point. How do you make all this data collection and analysis viable? After all if the process is all about selling more to make more, you don’t want to spend twice that planning your moves and you easily could.

So the race is on. Again according to Chris Matty, Reuters quote anticipated growth in data application to be around 45% per annum until 2015 and if you are in business, any kind of business, anywhere in the world, this is going to make a difference to you. Denial doesn’t work. If that’s your approach, forget it, you are good as dead. You simply have to find a way to collect and use data to your advantage.

Enter “predictive analysis”. Actually, its nothing new. The principle has been around forever and only last month I referred to it in passing in my piece on Tesco’s Clubcard (One of the secrets of DunnHumby’s early success was their approach to predictive analysis, primitive though it may seem now). Of course it’s a science like any form of analysis and it still takes time and resource, but nowhere near as much as tackling this the long-way around. However, if even this is too big an ask for your humble resources then Chris also tells us that help is at hand in the shape of consultancies that can plan and manage your data and analysis for you. In fact Chris introduces the idea of scoring your consumers in much the same way as you can credit score them now using external sources in the form of specialist consultancies. Who better to offer this kind of service then that a business like Experian, who have been managing data and providing credit scores for years and, through their Clarity Blue acquisition a few years back, have already worked on the application of data analysis in the marketing arena. They are not alone of course. Ex Experian Clarity Blue partner Tony Mooney now heads up SkyIQ and, of course, there are people like SapientNitro and Chris Matty’s own Versium to name just the obvious big players. There must be hundreds of smaller firms out there itching to give you a hand.

We all know that the shape of marketing will change dramatically in the next few years and data is going to be a major driver of that change. Whether predictive analysis is the answer to the volume issue remains to be seen. My prediction is that it will be right there at the centre of things within the next couple of years.

How predictive scores are changing big data by Versium CEO, Chris Matty is on iMedia. Read more.

strategy 2

Posted: March 25, 2014
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Owning your clients’ strategy is the route to agency success.

There’s an interview in The Drum this week with AMV BBDO’s Ian Pearman in which he highlights some of the core issues facing an agency in today’s world of very complex integrated strategies. This struck a chord because many years ago my Full Effect Marketing was prompted by my own thoughts on this subject.

In the early days I was focussing on marketing communications stimulated by work I had been involved in at Saatchi & Saatchi and the problems and opportunities I had identified and experienced there. It made sense to me that if all your communications were pulling in the same direction and focused on a simple, clearly defined message you would get a better return on your investment, but it quickly became clear to me that “communications” embraced a whole lot of things that rarely came into the sight-line of an advertising agency. Consequently my work started to expand to where today Full Effect Marketing recognises that the term embraces pretty well everything that an organisation does and drives strategies that go far deeper into the functions of the organisation. However, while I may be tackling hiring and training policy, designing a product or developing a process for billing customers, in this new, enlightened world it’s all now part of marketing.

The realisation that communications include behaviour outside of the direct organisation/customer relationship poses problems for clients and agencies alike. While Full Effect Marketing provides the methodology for strategising, as we all know, most failures happen in implementation.

An integrated strategy is necessarily complex and involves many disciplines, many of which would, in a traditional business be siloed. Full Effect Marketing seeks to overcome the negativity of silos by creating universal project teams, but finding and financing the expertise you require is challenging for many businesses.

Having, in response to this realisation, spent a few years playing around with the idea of employing a Marketing Director with the brief to produce strategy and expecting that person to assemble a team of internal and external specialists to affect the delivery, the indications are that clients are now largely looking for a single all-purpose agency again.  It makes sense for them. Its cheaper and more responsive, but it does rather abdicate responsibility and places the emphasis on the agency to come up with a solution to the resourcing issue.

Along with my direct clients I’ve advised many agencies over the years on their own business strategy and development and I’ve always pointed out to them that agencies that can develop and “own” their clients’ strategy earn the biggest opportunity. I felt vindicated when in 2005 Jim Taylor revealed in his book Space Race, that, at that point, the businesses that had benefitted most from the growth in integrated thinking were business consultancies and not advertising agencies. His rationale for this was that business consultants were already acknowledged as having the hard business and strategic awareness and agencies were seen as arty-farty, implementational and self-interested.

I agreed with Jim on that score, but didn’t believe that agencies should be rolling over and leaving the “good stuff” to the guys in suits and ties. Not only do clients value strategy more highly than implementation (which has been on the slippery commodity slope for decades) and are consequently ready to pay for it, whoever devises the strategy, is in the ideal position to cherry-pick the execution.

However, as I have already pointed out, modern integrated strategies involve more disciplines than any agency can expect to resource. To my mind this has always made the proposition of 360 degree delivery, one-stop-shop or through-the-line agency proof perfect that any agency referring to itself in those terms doesn’t understand the principle of integration, but what kind of model does work?

My agency clients all had inherent implementation skills and I have never proposed that these were ignored. In fact in most instances the approach to creativity, as one example, is a key differentiator between agencies. Likewise an agency with its feet in a specific area of implementation, such as promotions, DM, events or any of the digital specialities will come at strategy from a particular perspective, which may not always be the best thing, but certainly makes an interesting and educational experience for any client calling a pitch.

I have tended to encourage my agencies to distill what they are best at and focus on developing it to a point where they are a centre of excellence in that discipline while prioritising the development of their strategic capability. However there still remains the matter of resourcing all the other disciplines that you may require to implement a strategy. My view has been that the strategic lead agency should manage the entire strategy, not just those elements that they are delivering themselves, so I have encouraged the agencies I have worked with to seek strategic alliances with centres of excellence in the widest possible range of specialist skills. Relationships that my agency clients have entered into with other agencies range from strategic partnerships or trading groups to acquisition, shares exchanges and buy-ins.

Those of you who are familiar my Full Effect Company will acknowledge that I am at least consistent, as this is how we operate – a strategic core with an extended band of specialist partners, who undertake the implementation within an agreed code of practice and methodology.

Ian Pearman AMV BBDO editThis all leads me back to Ian Pearman’s comments in The Drum. Apart from giving voice to another pet subject of mine – the use or not of the term “digital” and the distraction this represents from what we are actually trying to do – Ian points to the trend among agencies toward a model such as I have described. I’ve always liked AMV BBDO and the fact that they picked up my old client Dixons in January gives me hope that the retailer will finally get its message together and out there. As long as the agency sticks with the thinking we seem to share I am sure they’ll continue to produce all the good stuff we know them for, but see what you think. Read the article.