transformation butterflies

Posted: November 12, 2014
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Avoiding the usual pitfalls in your transformation programme

Last week Rob Llewellyn published an interesting article on Pulse about his specialist subject, transformation management. We all know that most transformation programmes fail to some extent, either by just not delivering the kind of benefit to the organisation that warrants the blood, sweat and tears, not to mention the cost, of implementation, or even by actually bringing a business to its needs.

To illustrate the issues Rob used a great piece by Chris Bradley, Martin Hurt and Sven Smit that appeared in McKinsey Quarterly and added a useful eleventh point of his own to that article’s ten tests that you put a transformation strategy through to give you an idea of whether it will succeed. Rob’s addition was the consideration of whether your organisation has the resources to execute your transformation strategy in the first place.

You need all kinds of resources to make a strategy work. It’s not just about numbers of people, but the skills (hard and soft) and experience they possess as well. That’s why when I get down to execution, I assemble a team comprising my client’s people supplemented by specialists brought in from outside, but there’s still more to it than that because you have to also have management model that enables this mix of personnel to work seamlessly as one team.

Some years ago I partnered with Experian Clarity Blue on a project for Sky TV. The project was headed by Clarity Blue’s Tony Mooney who has gone on to become the CEO of Sky IQ. Clarity Blue were developing strategy based on complex data analysis and Tony and I frequently discussed the principles of the transformation that these strategies usually represented for the companies concerned. Tony’s view at the time was that the large corporations they were working with, by definition, lacked the flexibility or imagination to change. This is the same principle that prevents large organisations from innovating (a subject that I’ve covered in this blog extensively in the past). The larger the organisation the more dependent it is on process and process is the enemy of change and innovation.

Tony’s idea was to take the responsibility away from the organisation by creating a parallel universe. Duplicating, in effect, the structure of a business and using the alternative resource to bring the strategy to life, before finally re-introducing the original team to the transformed organisation and allowing them to run it. This is a simplification, but in Prague the innovation consultancy Creative Dock adopts a similar approach with some of its projects. I guess you’ll get the idea.

It’s my personal belief though that you can’t expect a business team to adopt a strategy that they haven’t been involved in the creation of with the enthusiasm or deliver it with the speed you need to maintain seamless progression of the business. My approach of a combined team of experts from within and without the organisation is designed to overcome this problem and affect a seamless transformation in the shortest time possible.

I recommend everyone reads the McKinsey piece. The ten questions it poses are valid and largely reflect the elements of my Brand Discovery programme. Including …

Will your strategy beat the market? which explores the need to be different one of the subjects encompassed in my “You are only as good as your next big idea” philosophy as does the McKinsey question “Does your strategy put you ahead of trends?”.

“Does your strategy tap a true source of advantage?” is about avoiding making promises that you aren’t equipped to deliver, itself a cornerstone of Brand Discovery philosophy. Improve and fill in the gaps in the resources you need to be a leader in your market, but don’t promise until you know you can do it. The Brand Discovery programme will help you with this all the way.

The new marketing #101 is about being smart with data. Collecting the right information and analysing is thoroughly. Its also about interrogating your business and understanding why stuff happens. Once of the most common causes of new business failure is over optimism, so be brutally honest with yourself, you’ll thank yourself later! Remember every business is unique and there will be things that you know about your market that nobody else does. Leverage these insights to your advantage and you can check off question 5 on McKinsey’s list..

Their sixth question is a source of challenge to many businesses that rely on process to make things happen on a day-to-day basis. “Does your strategy embrace uncertainty” emphasises the need for strategy to be flexible, which, as I have already inferred, is tough to achieve when you are process driven. In today’s customer centric organisations processes have to be flexible to achieve tailored responses to customer needs. This means a totally different approach to HR and a radically different training agenda, but it also makes giving employees the elbow room to deliver what you have employed and trained them to do. Don’t over process and ensure that any processes you do develop are flexible and constantly monitored to facilitate adaptation as the need arises. This is also touched upon in question seven “Does your strategy balance commitment and flexibility” which in turn reinforces the importance of good timing.

I question eight the article introduces the issue of optimism. This is a subject I’ve been exploring lately in connection with my work with start-ups and incubators in Europe. One of the greatest threats to the success of a new business is over-optimism. Every entrepreneur believes they have a gold-plated product and much of my work and that of the incubators and investors I encounter is concerned with testing the viability of ideas. A while ago I mentioned in another post that one of the incubators in the Czech Republic that I was talking to in the summer assessed 800 applications from entrepreneurs, but only found eighteen viable ideas among them. This is where an outsider’s perspective is invaluable, but the weaknesses in so many ideas become obvious when you take off the rose-coloured specs.

I love question nine. To me this is often the reason for failure of a strategy. Far too many CEOs are happy to talk about transformation, but in my experience, most are not willing to commit to execution. I am very often asked what parts of a strategy are optional and the answer to this is either “all” or “none” depending on your perspective. Every element will play a part in the success of your business and in today’s competitive environment no business can afford to aim for anything but the number one slot in their sector. To get there you simply have to be the best. There is no pretending, no quick fixes or Sellotape solutions. To be the best you just have to do the graft. People throughout an organisation will look to cut corners as the process rolls out and it’s the responsibility of the CEO to ensure that they are kept in line. The CEO simply has to be prepared to get stuck in on the hard stuff.

Finally question ten asks whether you have an action plan. In fact, the simplest initiative requires some kind of action plan, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody that a major initiative like a transformation programme needs one too. There are action plans and action plans and those that are most effective are realistic and have some kind of process attached to them. Some years ago a strategy that I created for a major organisation was brought to its knees when the guys from a top international consultancy firm came in to manage the transformation. They had a good enough management tool, but lacked both the ability to be realistic and the tenacity to keep the process rolling. Subsequently a good proportion of the potential benefit was lost.

If nothing else, I hope that together with Rob Llewellyn and the McKinsey guys I’ve managed to raise some awareness of what transformation involves. I especially hope that we haven’t put anybody off the idea of transformation. Most businesses I come across need it to some degree. In fact every business should be in a constant state of change if it is to keep up with the rate of change in the marketplace, but please don’t enter into such a process without understanding the implications of what you are doing and before you take your first step be certain that you have all your ducks in a row and make sure that you organise your transformation process around a detailed programme. It doesn’t have to be complicated, in fact the simplest processes are usually the best, just be sure that, like Brand Discovery, it covers all the bases.


Posted: November 1, 2014
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Why brands can’t afford to behave like chamelleons

An interesting article in The Drum this week set out to explore the reasons why supermarkets like Morrison’s have a chameleon-like approach to their brand. In fact this was really all about Morrison’s rather than “supermarkets like them” and deservedly so. Morrison’s are desperate to find their customer and have been running around trying to be a friend to everyone for ages. However, even previous to this they didn’t exhibit the discipline required to build a strong brand. In fact, this may have been the root of their current problems.

Although the article focussed on Morrison’s, there was some truth in the headline. This isn’t just about them it’s a common weakness among businesses in all sectors and stems from a fundamental failure to understand how brands work.

The recent success of budget supermarket chains like Lidl and Aldi has been used by many to argue that brands have no value and if you want to be a retail star you just have to cut your prices. In fact this isn’t so. Sure, price is a factor, but there are others including the inalienable fact that we are and always will be emotional about purchases and that’s where brands score.

Let’s just start with the “trying to be a friend to everyone” issue. Forget it! You can’t. It doesn’t work like this in any context. Even the most well-liked people have enemies and certainly not everyone likes them. Brands work the same way. You are always going to have friends, enemies and a lot of people who fall somewhere in-between. What you have to do is decide who you want to be friends with and court them. By definition, many of the things you do to befriend your chosen group will alienate others. That’s the way it goes.

There’s another factor too. Look around you. Its undeniable that people with the most vivid personalities have the closest friends and strongest friendships. Shy retiring violets don’t get a fan club I’m afraid. That’s another fact of life. Apply this concept to brands and the relationships I called “brandships” and its obvious that the more extreme your brand personality the more likely you are to attract loyal friends, but also alienate people. The question then becomes “What is most important to you, the depth or number of relationships you have?”. The answer generally is that the depth of the relationship or customer loyalty has to be your priority, because your ROI will be higher and companies that invest in relationships are most successful long term.

The worst thing a brand can do is be “woolly”. Once you have defined your brand and created your brand model (which should be an thorough and well-defined process like Brand Discovery, that accommodates all the variables) stick to it. Not only maintain consistency, but constantly up the intensity of the things that you do that are representative of your promise.

Morrisons’ problem isn’t that they don’t have enough brandships (customers). It’s that their business model is based on volume that the market just can’t sustain. It seems that they devised this model during their brief moment of success, when they were moving from a regional operator to become a national player by acquiring the vacant Safeway stores (Which incidentally failed for Safeway largely because they didn’t have the floor space a modern supermarket requires, so this may not have been the wisest move).  It was a bit of a false dawn, but compounded by their inability to keep up with and adjust to events in the rapidly-changing marketplace.

Maybe there’s only one way that Morrison’s are going to escape ultimate oblivion and that’s firstly to define their brand once and for all, then build on it. They need to do this using a dynamic internal-marketing campaign, during which they will begin to address the real issues of structure and practices and possibly even down-size. It’s not what investors like to hear, I know, but a slice of a smaller cake is better than no cake at all.

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.

You can connect with 2Bswirl, predictably, on FaceBook, Twitter , YouTube and Instagram. See what you think.


Posted: September 18, 2014
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Does “Made in Czechoslovakia” still hold sway, or should the Czechs start building their own national brand?

A senior Czech government minister recently asked me “What do you think the Czech brand is?”. I’ve developed a reputation over the years for telling it like it is and I didn’t see any reason to deviate, so my reply was that I didn’t think it was defined and that this in itself was a severe obstacle to the development of the nation. You’ll maybe know from my past rants that I find the subject of national branding fascinating, but the question is particularly relevant because, right now, there is a debate going on between Czechs and Slovaks over a proposal to bring back the combined trading brand “Made in Czechoslovakia”.

When the then one nation was liberated in 1989 the Czechs and Slovaks were quick to proclaim their differences and by 1993 they had become two discrete entities. There might be a point to this if either of them had the capability of building a national identity or brand, but twenty-five years after the Communists left town neither nation has achieved the focus required to make much of a mark on the world’s political or commercial map.

Both these countries boast numerous assets. They were always smart people and this is evidently re-emerging in some of the start-ups and innovations I saw during my last visit. However, someone once told me that this nation (as Czechoslovakia was), being at the intersection of so many trading routes, represents the most invaded real estate in Europe and from what I have seen over my past fifteen years of working there, history is repeating itself. This time though the conquering army is one of global corporations and with no recent history of professional politicians and a total absence of really good leadership the country has, once again, rolled over and, with no clear direction, the nation has allowed global corporations to write their own rules. Meanwhile, intimidated by the bravado of high-flying corporate executives, Czech politicians and civil servants have let them get on with it. So, now the corporates call the shots. There is no national identity, no national brand and the Czech people have done what they have always done – just accepted it. The trouble is there’s no future in this. The Czech and Slovak Republics have become Western franchises and as I write this there doesn’t appear to be any alternative on the table.

Surely this is what government is for? I’m not saying that there isn’t general acknowledgement among politicians of the problem. Indeed there are a few government-led initiatives running right now, but they are limited and restricted by the inter-departmental bickering and siloing that has become the hallmark of Czech politics. As result the initiative has been taken (again) by independent commercial organisations and a very interesting accelerator, JIC, in the Czech second city, Brno who are trying to put Czech business (at least) on the map. However, its all a bit paltry, given the size of the problem and it still doesn’t address the greater need for a national brand, which, if solved, would also make their job easier.

In the First Republic era Czechoslovaks probably came the closest they have ever been to being a proud nation. Their products had a good reputation and were exported certainly to the East and to a lesser extent Westwards and the stamp “Made in Czechoslovakia” came to mean something. The nucleus of this current branding debate resides in the belief that this old badge still holds sway in some parts. As far as I can see this is still just speculation, and even if it is true I suspect that the residual value isn’t great, but given that both nations have failed comprehensively to develop their own national brands and don’t appear to be close to actually getting down to replacing it with anything, it seems reasonable to consider reviving the only potential brand asset in the box. The Czechs on balance seem to be up for this, however, it seems there are sufficient amateur politicians on both sides of the border to mount objections and we’re back to the inertia that typifies development (or the lack of it) in this region of Europe.

Personally I think that the Czechs have sufficient assets to establish a clear and potent national brand of their own that will play a significant part both internally and externally in the future growth of the nation. There’s nothing like a strong national brand to get the people pulling in the right direction and once that happens the world is your oyster. It would help the Czechs achieve the consistency required to pull this off if they could keep a political party in power for longer than a few months and stop the incessant internal bickering, self-interest and obstinacy, but the recently appointed government appears to be making the most sense I’ve heard from any Czech government so far. If the remaining politicians and the people in general can demonstrate the maturity to put national interests above their own and let them get on with it, there’s a chance the Czech Republic might be able to move it forward. However, here is still a long way to go and I think its going to take an outside influence(r) to make real ground on this. This is a nation that has watched opportunities pass by with the regularity of a Prague tram for a quarter of a century already, so they will have to be uncharacteristically efficient and determined to pull it off.


Posted: September 15, 2014
Comments: 0

Are agencies forgetting the basics?

When it comes to communication “keep it simple” is probably the first lesson I learned on my first day in an advertising agency. It’s not so contentious, of course, every agency I have come across since seems to take it as golden rule and every marketing person I talk to recites it often enough. So why then don’t agencies practice what they preach?

Most people who know me are aware of the work that I have done over the years helping marketing services firms around the world (not just advertising agencies) stay abreast of the market and grow their business and the first step in every case (just as it is with every client I am engaged by) is to get them to define their promise.

Maybe it’s a symptom of the hard times the industry has suffered or the paradigm shift that has taken place as a result of the advent of digital and the massive increase in the competitiveness of all our clients’ markets. Many agencies have been left behind (which is kind of survival of the fittest, seeing as we are supposed to be the thought leaders around here) and even some of those who have managed to stay in business have shown their desperation to maintain revenue by adopting a “we can do anything” approach to new business. As a result I’ve witnessed some wholly inappropriate agency appointments and the consequential fiasco this has proven for all concerned, more times that I could possibly recall.

Seeing as we are talking “golden rules” there’s another. It applies to any business, not just agencies and isn’t confined to websites.  The rule is “Get your ‘promise’ front and centre wherever anybody is likely to encounter you”. That means, for one thing, on every conceivable landing page of your website. Again, it’s not a new idea, it’s what straplines are for, but I’m seeing far too many communications where this just isn’t happening.  Tesco were very good at this with their “Every little helps” and Philips’ “Sense and simplicity” was equally effective. If you’ve built your brand model correctly, your headline in each case will be an example of one of the facts or pillars that support your “promise” and any text will serve to connect the dots between the headline and the strapline. Its simple when you think about it. To ensure that this happens you’ll have established a rule for your advertising guys to comply with. Philips, for example, stated that apart from every headline illustrating how the subject of that communication (usually a product or service) was a manifestation of one of its pillars, it would always use the word “sense” or “simplicity” and both these words (or their derivatives) had to appear at least once in any body copy (I can hear writers whinging as I say it but if you are in this business you’ll have to learn to stick to the rules).

A quick surf of the web is enough to illustrate that agencies everywhere are forgetting these basics. They are neither reminding their clients and keeping them on track nor are they representing them in their own promotional material.

In fact, I think agencies are so busy trying to be everything to everybody that they frequently forget what the job is. It’s almost as though they are afraid to commit to one particular offer in case that’s not the one that’s wanted. We all know that to establish close relationships you will probably alienate more people than you attract, but the relationships (or more specifically in this case the “Brandships”) you establish will be all the more substantial and valuable because they are built on stronger traits. People with vivid personalities have their detractors, but they also have more, and better friends than the bland boring guy, who never offends anyone and it’s a simple fact of life that the depth (or loyalty) of brandships is more important than their numbers. So why do agencies disregard this?

Websites should be a very strong indicator of how good an agency is at its job and when I read Bob Sanders’ piece this week it reminded me of some of the dreadful examples of woolly agency sites I have witnessed recently. It’s one thing to have a philosophy, but if your website is a long and esoteric lecture nobody is going to read it and they’ll certainly not click to connect. If your forte is creativity your site should be creative, of course, but if it’s just creative and creative for the sake of creativity, again it isn’t going to work. You need to make it clear how that creativity is going to work for your clients. Sometimes I think that not enough thought r attention to detail goes into these things.

There‘s a simple promise inherent in every brand and it’s our job as marketers to help our clients define theirs and communicate it simply and effectively. If we do nothing more than his, we will have made a contribution, but if we can’t even communicate our own promise then no client in their right mind is going to ask us to work with them.


Posted: September 15, 2014
Comments: 0

Have you left it too late to start building your brand?

I’m a bit bemused by the complaints I am hearing from retailers that times are tough. Sure they aren’t easy. Life isn’t a bowl of cherries in any sector right now, but that’s just progress. In fact, if I were a retailer who was finding it tough, I’d think I’d keep quiet about it, because it only suggests that I wasn’t smart enough a few years ago to focus on developing my brand. Make no bones about it, we’re not going to get back to the days of milk and honey so you might as well be grown-up about this and see what you can make of what you have. And the thing is, there are loads of opportunities for retailers who invested in their brands and can now get their heads from up their backsides and work that to their advantage.

If its innovation you are after (and who isn’t) international markets have been opened up by e-commerce, while the new capability offered by things like Bluetooth Low Energy (Beacons) and mobile mean that physical stores can do stuff that e-stores struggle to achieve, so there’s no limit to the innovation that’s possible there.

With the struggle between retailers and manufacturers for brand dominance (that old argument about whose brand dominated the buying decision) now consigned to history, it’s clear that the retailers who stood their ground and invested in their brands have triumphed. If you are still unsure that this is so consider how Tesco and Waitrose own-label products are now driving easy revenue, gaining exposure for and further building the authority of their brands as they stand-alone on the shelves of other retail groups around the world.

I’ve always said that one of the most powerful arguments for investing in your brand is that a strong brand gives you more opportunities and as if to underline this Primark this week announced their expansion to the US underlining the concept of UK “cheap chic” in the age of disposable fashion. However, the really interesting story to my mind is that of down-market supermarket group Lidl’s decision to launch their fashion range.

Who would have thought only a few years ago, that a no-frills supermarket could make a success of a fashion range? But Primark have established the segment and there’s no reason to suppose that Lidl’s entry won’t be an outrageous success – as long as whoever is in charge of the Lidl brand ensures that the fashion products maintain and leverage its core attributes. Get this right and the fashion products will further enhance the brand, driving Lidl store sales and the products will gain early acceptance because of the brand. It’s a classic symbiosis.

It’s seemed just logical to me since the early days of own label that the name over the doors of retail outlets would turn into something bigger, embracing products that would, in turn, sit well on the shelves of other retailers, thereby providing revenue growth and further enhancing the authority of the brands concerned (both retail and product). Retailers who instead of cow-towing to their suppliers’ have taken the stance that they are the endorsers of the product brands and not the other way around,, are now firmly in the driving seat. Consumers accept the brands that retailers stock, seeing them as representing the core values of the retail brand. (“if its good enough for Sainsbury’s it good enough for me”). When that same retailer introduces own label products they are seen by consumers as the absolute manifestation of the brand (“If it’s a Tesco product I know its good value at that price point”) and this carries through to where they see these products on the shelves of other stores (“I’m not sure about this store, but these are Waitrose products, so I am assured of the quality”). There’s a double pay-off for the host brand too in that they inherit a little of the values of the bigger brand and can effectively short-cut the process of brand development (“I’m not sure about this brand, but they share the Tesco values that I believe in so I guess I’m safe here”).

Lidl's £4 scent

Is it too late if you failed to get to grips with brand development a few years back? We’ll, I guess not if you got your skates on, but the trouble is that if you missed the boat then you are probably lack the dynamism necessary to catch up, brand development, after all, is a transformation process and your progress depends wholly on your culture.