Posted: March 7, 2014
Rubbish in, rubbish out, or so the saying goes, so its hardly surprising that the success of a business revolves to a large extent on the way you treat your employees.
It’s not rocket science of course, happy customer-facing staff have always been acknowledged as the key to good customer relationships, but if you step back and take in the bigger picture the impact of employee relations is about more than the point-of-sale
An important focus of my Brand Discovery programme and where it mainly differs from the way other consultancies see the brand development process, is in how you share the objectives, vision and values of a business with employees. Since I was old enough to recognise how these things work its been clear to me that the efficiency with which an organisation brings its brand to life is pretty well entirely dependent on the relationship it has with its employees in every area and at every level of their business. Employees who enthusiastically embrace the business objectives, values and philosophy will pull together to produce products and services that make customers love their brand. Had I been in any doubt though I’m sure my thoughts would have been focussed by the experience of working in the Middle East.
Here the relationship between employers, who are mostly owners of businesses, and employees and even consultants at all levels is often dysfunctional. This is mostly a cultural thing and it is unsurprisingly most noticeable in Saudi Arabia, which is culturally and socially one of the most remote of the Arab states from the rest of the world.
Here, seniority within an organisation is not conditional on capability. You might think that this is the case where you work, but for all kinds of historical reasons there are people here who find themselves owners of sizeable businesses through no personal merit, many of whom wouldn’t command even a junior management role in a Western organisation. Yet, ownership of a business is frequently considered synonymous with superiority in every regard and owners impose a clear hierarchy, especially within their business where even Westerners are not considered their equal. As an employee, whatever your status, you are expected to do as the business owners wish, regardless of how illogical or ill-advised that may be. You may be the expert, but they make the decisions and to disagree is considered disloyal.
Imagine how this plays out in a brand-building scenario. Employees, particularly those further down the food chain, which includes a retailer’s critical customer-facing staff, are considered dispensable and the relationship is antagonistic, to say the least. Rarely does either party respects the other. The owner resorts to monarchical management and the employee won’t put him-or-herself out in the least to help the employer or the business. There’s clearly no scope in this relationship for building a brand.
It is against this backdrop that I read the announcement that the UK’s Iceland supermarket chain had been voted “The best big company to work for in 2014”, a title that they also acquired two years ago.
Iceland’s Chef Executive, Malcolm Walker commented “We have always lived by the principle that happy staff make happy customers, and happy customers put cash in the till”, which is most enlightened and great to hear. Stories like this remind me of an article by David Kelly of The Fast Company in which, way back in 2011 he extolled the merits of “Designing Curious Employees” or Time Magazine’s “Curious Capitalist” interview from 2008 with John Mackey founder of Whole Food Markets and Kip Tindell who set up Container Store when they both underlined how essential it is to share your visions and values with your employees.
There is simply no future in a business with a monarchical culture. It will never deliver what it should and it won’t respond quickly enough to change. So next time you are working up to a sales conference or presentation to employees you would be well advised to ensure, at the very least, that it includes more invitations to contribute than instructions on how to think and behave.
Posted: February 24, 2014
There’s a lot of talk about innovation being the key to business success, but so many businesses I see are still playing the old game and losing simply because they don’t really understand what this actually means. This week I came across an article in which David Kerpen interviewed Jason Fried of Seven Signals that reinforced the message I have been giving my clients for years – “You are only as good as your NEXT big idea”.
Think back to the days when business life was as slow as retirement might seem today and you’ll maybe remember the way businesses used to go through endless cycles of famine and feast. With the benefit of hindsight its easy to see what was happening. A business would come up with a product or a model that resonated with the market (in those days it was often a matter of luck) and they would milk it for all it was worth. They didn’t give a lot of thought to why they had hit this rich vein of success, they just scaled up and went for bigger numbers.
After a while (and in those days product development lead times were much longer than today) competitors would turn up and start making their life tough with similar propositions, improved in some way either cosmetically, technically or at a better price and from then on it was a slow slide back to the bad old times for the originator. At some point on the slide, usually when they had hit rock-bottom, they decided to do something radical and re-invented the business, maybe developing a new product and off they would go again.
Usually these improvements in fortune were the product of management changes and clear management styles emerged. There were what we called “transformationists” who, as the name suggests were the people who came up with the new stuff and engineered the revival of suffering businesses and there were “transactionists” to whom the business was handed over in order that they might perpetuate the new formula. This path of boom and bust was generally accepted as the way things were done. Transformationists and transactionists were separate and different and were hardly ever in the building at the same time.
Then things started to speed up and the cycles became so quick that barely had the transactionists got their feet under the desk than the tyransformationists were back in to do their stuff. True to Darwin’s theory a new breed of manager evolved, those who could both transform and manage on an on-going basis. Not before time you might think. And that’s basically where we are today except there was a missing ingredient.
It took a very long time for businesses to understand that the products themselves were rarely the reason for the success of the business. These were in fact a product of the real asset. Products were successful because they were new, different. As the world emerged from the austerity of the post-war period products began to capture the imagination of customers because they were fresh and exciting rather than purely practical. A new phenomenon emerged – throwing away something that worked and replacing it with something that looked better or incorporated an additional function. Increasingly it was innovation that was driving business and that was driven by internal culture and that in turn was driven by branding. Eventually businesses were only as good as their NEXT big idea and to stay on top they needed to be in a state of continual change and reinvention. In the intervening years businesses (ABB Brown Boveri being a case in point) reduced their product development time from years to months, switched-on businesses have big teams working on new ideas and as a result innovative new products are obsolete before you get them out of the box.
Kerpen’s piece reflects on this and makes the critical point that because the pace of business life is as fast as it is today no business can afford to wait until circumstances force them to innovate. Apart from anything else changes made under duress are fraught with compromise, so your chances of success are greatly diminished. The time to change is when you are enjoying success.
This is probably the lesson that businesses I come across find it hardest to accept. Fear of the unknown and fear of failing to squeeze all the juice from an idea or product still combine in equal part to make managers reluctant to plan ahead. Sure there are businesses out there with three or more generations of new products under development, but theses are the successful ones and successes are still the minority. Its no coincidence that the vast majority of new businesses fail within the average lifecycle of products in their sector.
You might argue that these one-trick ponies are the incubators of new ideas and to some extent you’d be right. We are developing a new progressive model almost by default. In the tech sector start-ups with a great idea are often snapped up by the big players, but this has its weaknesses. The great new ideas generated by these small businesses are a product of culture and once the business is absorbed into a big corporation, that culture is usually smothered. The big concerns are consuming new businesses with an ever-increasing appetite. Besides, you can’t rely on being snapped up by a behemoth, which is why my advice to start up’s is focus on developing your innovative culture. That, and not the product it created dictates your future.
Posted: February 16, 2014
I have helped more marketing services firms than I can recall achieve success they hadn’t previously considered possible, but if I were honest it hasn’t been rocket science. In fact the principles I have applied and the initiatives I have introduced have mostly been pretty straightforward. Often, the biggest challenge has been changing the mindset of the agency’s decision-makers and the key to my success, apart from my tenacity, I believe has been in avoiding the short-term opportunist approach that agencies seem increasingly to be adopting and creating instead a strategy for the agency that takes a broader perspective, like those they should be providing for their clients. All this is a bit of a condemnation when you consider, if nothing else, a marketing services business should be the fountain of new thinking.
Everyone wants to live forever. Especially advertising agencies and businesses of every kind these days are discovering the answer to the perennial question “If it ain’t broke’ why fix it?” is “Because, in this fast-paced, ever-changing game of musical chairs, what works today is almost certainly not going to work tomorrow and you don’t want to be still looking for the answer next time the music stops”. To sustain their growth a business needs agencies that are ahead of the game. I was therefore interested to see an article by Reid Carr from the agency Red Door in iMedia Connection last week that explored some of the challenges and dilemmas facing an agency these days when they consider their proposition.
Marketing is such a big subject, touching, as it does, every area, at every level of a business, that no agency could hope to cover all the disciplines required of a modern marketing strategy. My advice to any agency is “get over it!”. Reid highlights the proliferation of gimmicks being adopted by agencies in their quest for the mother load and it’s clear that too many have jumped on the integrated marketing bandwagon despite the fact that their lack of skills means they have no hope of delivering an integrated strategy. Similarly, loads of design agencies have decided to call themselves “brand consultancies” when they have no clue what a brand is nor the wit to create one. The missing ingredient in both cases is strategic capability.
There are two kinds of marketing services business – those that are implementers and others that are strategy-led and there’s no doubt that agencies that have made strategy their thing have a greater chance of sustaining relationships and business. However, the bandwagon-jumpers are out in force here too, with many agencies choosing to promote themselves as “marketing strategists” when at best they are only delivering communications strategies – different thing entirely. In his book Space Race Jim Taylor was pointing out, way back in 2006, that advertising agencies rarely understood marketing strategy and not a lot has changed. He demonstrated that marketing services agencies, despite being already in the district, had failed to own the strategy real estate, when clients started to adopt a more thought-through approach and the business consultancies had moved in, making it their own and leaving traditional marketing services firms to scramble around for profit in the “implementation” sector. These days, my competitors are often PWC, KPMG, Boston and the like. If I come up against a marketing services agency their proposals are likely to be weak and often naive.
The problem with being an implementer is that its commoditised. Once you get past the original concept the mechanics of a campaign are pretty … well… mechanical. However, there’s hope, because a smart client (and these are the ones you want) can tell the difference between an agency that is going to deliver their component of a strategy smoothly and seamlessly and one that’s going to muddle-through, make mistakes and waste your time and money as has often been the case in the past. They will also pay for it. I worked with a German agency who made execution an art form. They were expensive, very, very profitable and growing at an eye-watering pace until they were acquired by WPP who promptly killed the golden goose. But that’s another story. My point is that implementation isn’t just a poor-mans game, so you don’t have to pretend to be a strategist, but you do have to make your offer special and that’s the challenge. There’s no place for mediocrity in any sector of any market these days, so unless you are at least aiming to be best-in-class you are voting for the scramble for the Dutch auction.
A lot of my work is with marketing services firms who are happy to play the implementer, but know that they have to have a robust strategy to operate in, so they call me in to partner with them on pitches. Clients who issue half thought-out briefs get a total solution that they weren’t expecting with a great concept based on a sound marketing strategy that resolves the real issues.
I’ve been working with a creative agency on a typically narrow pitch brief that effectively asked them to devise an advertising campaign that would wallpaper-over the client’s business failures. The client believed (as so many do) that making, what was effectively an empty promise, was the solution. Undoubtedly they would gain some short-term benefit from a campaign that persuaded a few prospects to take a second look at the brand, but that wouldn’t last and they’d be back to square one as soon as everyone realised that nothing has changed. What’s more, we all know that crying “wolf” represents the start of a downward spiral that would prove difficult and maybe impossible for them to pull out of.
I persuaded the agency to offer their campaign to the client only on the proviso that the client fixed the real issues. Sure, its a bold step and maybe somewhat unusual for an agency to say to a client who loves their idea (and we knew they would because its awesome!) that they can’t have it unless… but it makes a few valuable statements about the agency, the contribution they could make to the future of the business and the kind of relationship that’s needed to really make a difference. Not to mention adding perceived value to the creative solution. The bottom line is that the client buys the agency because they love the idea and the proposition it contains is valid because I’ll work with the client to fix their internal issues.
Reid suggests that clients have learned the error of short-termism and, these days, are increasingly looking for long-term relationships with marketing services partners. I tend to agree, but if this is so and you are going to fit the bill, you’ll need the balls to be able to tell a client that what he is asking you to do isn’t going to produce the results he is looking for. After all, he’s, at best, a generalist, you are supposed to be the expert. That’s what he’s thinking of paying you for, so show him you can do the job! A client worth having will always respect you for it and, as I put to my agency clients, “do you really want to work with a client that doesn’t respect you and is going to force you to do things that you know are wrong?”
When Saatchi & Saatchi (The original one) were rocking and rolling their way to superstardom, we used to turn down invitations to pitch on a daily basis. In those days a weak Marketing Director or a company under pressure could take the heat off themselves by announcing that we’d been appointed to do their advertising. We recognised there was no merit for us in working with people who just wanted us to put our name to the same old solutions that had got them into trouble in the first place and every pitch we turned down added to our value. It also meant that the work we were doing was pretty-well always ground-breaking, news-worthy and effective and that made us even more desirable. We had the best clients and the best people.
Whether you choose to set out your stall as a strategist or an implementer you still need to distinguish yourself of course and as Reid again points out this is largely a matter of expressing your philosophy in a unique and distinctive way. For a marketing services firm with all that pent-up creativity this shouldn’t be a problem, but I’ve seen a few horrors in my time. If the best you can do falls into that category, I think the writing is probably on the wall and you should pack up and get a window-cleaning job. If you can’t do it for yourself then you aren’t going to manage it for your clients, but again this goes back to having a sound strategic base.
Growing an advertising agency is the same as growing any business. It requires commitment and integrity and a load of hard work, but, as those of us who have done it know, there’s a particular satisfaction in growing a business by growing businesses for others.
Posted: February 13, 2014
I was recently discussing with a retail CEO the need, his business has for pre and post awareness research to measure the effect of their new TV campaign. The campaign had been brought into the communications mix to raise brand awareness, so you would expect that he’d be interested to know how it had performed.
Sadly, this retailer doesn’t have traffic counters and was resisting the idea of post awareness research. Until I started challenging them their sole measurement of success was transaction data – the number of sales, the size of the basket and the revenue generated. The CEO attempted to justify this omission with the oft-heard, but nonetheless misguided rationale “If we aren’t going to get sales from it there’s no point in advertising”. Of course, sales volume and value are important measures of a retailer’s performance, but without a load of other insights this data alone could be at best a fools paradise and at worst, leading them in an entirely inappropriate direction.
Advertising, other than possibly direct marketing, isn’t intended to deliver sales directly. What advertising can do however, among other things, is deliver people who are ready to make a purchase. From that point it’s up to the stores, the product and the sales staff to close the deal.
The process varies, depending on your organisation, market and channel, but generally the first step is to establish awareness, then generate visits to physical stores, websites etc. where the prospect will get a feel for your brand and your offer. Next comes the request for more information and finally the sale. This is a chain of events. A filtering process, at each stage of which a percentage of the original entrants will drop out. The trick is to maximise the number of those entering the process and minimise the drop-out rate.
In this case the company concerned should check post awareness to compare it with pre-campaign levels. It should count the number of visitors received at each or at the very least a representative sample of stores, before, during and after the campaign. Then its records of the number, content and value of transactions makes sense.
Every chain has a weakest link. One where a disproportionately high number of people drop out. When you have identified and fixed that, all you will have done is revealed the next weakest link. But that’s the name of the game – refining your chain by addressing, one by one, the issues that make it weak. Its a bit like painting the Fourth Bridge, because there is always a weakest link and, in theory at least, you never get there, but you can get as close as you need to the perfect path to purchase. There’s a little more detail in the explanation of my “Sales Process Optimisation” tool.
Posted: February 9, 2014
According to William Husu, co-founder and managing partner at start-up accelerator MuckerLab, business plans are a thing of the past. I can think of a few businesses in this part of the world who will be pleased to hear that. They will be able to get back to throwing money down the black hole of disorganisation and chaos without me driving them crazy to keep to a plan. But of course, life isn’t that simple and although these bold statements make great headlines Mr. Husu’s, like many others, is a bit more over-simplification than insightful.
I’m all for Husu’s ideal of flexible businesses responding to market changes and opportunities as they arise, but he seems to be forgetting that in reality the fast-trackers he may be used to working with represent the tiniest segment of the new business sector. The rest, frankly, aren’t so smart or quick-witted that they don’t need a plan. So, maybe the question is, in these times of fast-moving targets and win-all-lose-all gambles what does a business plan have to look like?
Firstly, a scanty plan only works when the people driving the business have the skills and experience to be able to respond sensibly to issues that arise through the life of a business. It would be great to think that business leaders were all switched-on and clued-up to the extent that they could busk their way to global success on the basis of a plan drawn up on the back of an envelope, but in the real world that’s not the way it is. Secondly, investors may be ready to take a risk, but not one as big as that of a business with no plan. This would require absolute faith in the abilities and instincts of the business founders or leaders. Sure, as an investor I would need to be as certain as I could be that the people I was entrusting with my money could think on their feet, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a road-map in the first place. There is so much that can go wrong with any plan that flexibility, responsiveness and creativity are all pre-requisites for any leader, but as with any journey you start with a map and a route. Business skills come into play when you find the road blocked or spot an out-of-the-way attraction that may be worthy of a look-see.
A business plan today is probably little different from one of ten years ago. Maybe the emphasis has changed and perhaps there needs to be more emphasis on the vision and mission than there used to be, but you still need to set out in writing the mechanics and financials of the business; the former because it is a good discipline for you and the best indicator to your investors, partners and employees that the idea is do-able and the latter, apart from being reassurance to third-parties that you appreciate the implications of your practical plan (I’ve seen more financial plans with critical costs omitted than I could possibly count), as a bench-mark to measure your progress by. Sure, you’ll miss things and you can be certain that eventualities will arise that mean you have to modify areas of your original plan, but that is no excuse for not having one in the first place.
On the question of vision and mission. I’ve recently written an extensive plan for a sizeable business and in explaining the make-up of our vision and mission to the business owners I looked to the definition that other people apply to these two readily banded-about phrases. The disparity of views among people who you would expect to be of one mind, is pretty surprising. So, at the risk of adding to the confusion I’ll state my definition of “vision” and “mission”.
“Vision” to me is clear. It’s where you see your business in three or five years, or longer if you think its safe to look that far ahead. “Mission” is a list of things you have to accomplish in order to reach that goal. The list doesn’t have to be long. Five or six short-term objectives are probably plenty for any business to focus on, at least at the top-line level. You also need to remember that like everything else in business, these are not tablets of stone. Your vision may remain intact, but because of the ever-changing landscape of world markets the mission is almost certainly going to change. That’s why (and this is where I fear most businesses miss the trick) you have to revisit your vision and mission every year when your executive board are preparing their annual report, measure your achievements against your mission, remove those that you can tick off as done and add those whose necessity has emerged since last year.
So, while I get the broad principle that a written-down plan isn’t the whole story, I can’t buy the idea of setting out on a new business journey without a map.
Posted: January 31, 2014
This week the John Lewis-owned, up-market, UK supermarket group Waitrose, against a background of abject Xmas-season failure for middle-of-the-road competitor Morrisons, announced contrastingly good results and adventurous expansion plans for 2014. However, I’m sure the British press missed the story about them pulling out of Bahrain. Its hardly surprising. Bahrain as a market held about as much promise for them as I suspect Bangladesh would, but it is nontheless a lesson worthy of note.
Like most consumer-facing businesses in the Middle East Waitrose was franchised, in this case to the Fine Fare Food Market group who already operate successful Waitrose stores in Dubai. They were handing the day-to-day management of the Bahrain operation to their subsidiary Supa Save Bahrain in a convoluted arrangement that, by definition, guaranteed at least a few glitches. The same business owns Cost Coffee and a few other retail franchises, but is probably most famous locally for the politics of its owner, which almost guaranteed a large proportion of the potential wealthy Arab market wouldn’t be beating a path to their local Waitrose’s door. The other significant consumer contingent, the Indians, would find Waitrose far too expensive and even if they could find the stuff they wanted in a Waitrose, which I doubt, would anyway be shopping at the Indian-owned Lu-Lu supermarket chain. With the French Geant and Carrefour and the home-grown Alosra (who have a really sorted model) well established and only 1.3million people on the island, at least half of whom aren’t economically active, whoever put six stores in the Waitrose business plan was wearing rose-coloured specs.
However, crap businesses are successful every day in these Middle East states, so there’s maybe an excuse for Supa Save’s optimism. Here business acumen is nearly as rare as a work ethic, so you can become the darling of a sector while being very average and it takes something pretty special to actually fail, but fail Supa Save did, and spectacularly. Apart from the number of stores there were innumerable quite obvious daily operational failures like absence of stock that made you wonder what was happening in the supply chain, so I found it typically ungracious and more than a little annoying to hear an anonymous local “senior businessman” state “This is an example of a foreign entity coming to Bahrain, going bust and leaving a trail of destruction behind them that local companies are left with”. I get the impression that he’s probably an unpaid supplier, but someone should point out to him that this isn’t About Waitrose, but Super Save, who are a local business.
There is a point here though that any other Western franchisor might like to note and that is, despite the fact that most of the businesses here are franchises, with the obvious exception of AlShaya who set the world standard in what they do and a few big names like Chalhoub, few businesses know how to make the most of a franchise. I’ve just created a franchise package for a Saudi business who are doing the journey in the opposite direction – A Saudi business franchising to other Gulf countries. One thing that this experience taught me was that to achieve any level of success and to maintain the integrity of your brand, any franchisor operating in the Middle East has to take a straight-jacketed approach. You simply can’t leave even the tiniest detail to chance because believe me if there’s a chance of anything going wrong, it will!
In this respect maybe Waitrose were culpable in the Super Save fiasco. In any other part of the world their franchise model may well be a success, but here, in hindsight, it probably wasn’t prescriptive enough. In fact I wonder how many would-be international franchisors with their eye on developing markets like the Middle East, Far East and India have a model that’s tight enough to succeed. Its one thing to hand a self-assembly business to a knowledgable, experienced Western business, but in these markets nobody is going to fill in the gaps in your do-it-yourself business instructions, they (and you) will just fall into them.
Posted: January 28, 2014
So Barclays is planning on saving £40million a year by cancelling its sponsorship of the Premier League? The reason they say is that they can’t see that they get any benefit from it. Sponsorship is a funny thing. I’ve been involved in a few deals over the years and its hard to measure the benefits. Sure you can count column centimetres of editorial and the number of times your logo appears on TV and call it advertising, but really, half the time you are fooling yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that sponsorship doesn’t work, but when a three year agreement comes with a £120million price tag you have to ask yourself, are you getting your money’s worth? Now, this might just be a negotiating ploy by Barclays, seeing as someone at the FA dropped a hint that the price was going up for the next three-year contract, but, all the same what are they getting for that?
Yes I know they get their name on everything from plastic half-time drinking cups to the studio back-drop at the TV company who gets the rights to televise matches and sure, millions of people around the world will see it. A few viewers might even get a warm feeling inside from knowing that Barclays are supporting their favourite sport, but does it actually make a difference to the number of people banking at Barclays or how much business they do with them? Frankly I doubt it. When you are watching football, you are watching football and when you choose your bank its going to be because they deliver the goods, which is why I thought the quote from Barclays about investing the money instead in better services for customers was, probably the most sensible thing I’ve heard from a bank in recent years.
As I have said, I have used sponsorship myself and may well do so again, but almost certainly on a smaller scale. I’m sure Barclays would be hard-pressed to find a sport better suited to their target market, which is something a lot of sponsors get wrong and it’s probably contributing to awareness, although as far as Barclays is concerned that is probably a job done and dusted already, but the incremental benefit they are getting from the deal right now is probably negligible. The only reason I can think of for not relinquishing the deal would be to stop a competitor getting it. There are probably a handful of financial services businesses and a host of businesses in other sectors who would get more from the deal than Barclays, but they would have to have pretty deep pockets to stump up the £60million a year I’ve heard mention the Premier League are looking for. These days actions speak louder than words and being a bit frugal with the housekeeping money, I’m sure would get the thumbs up from Barclays customers and customers of any other organisation who might be considering making an offer.
I’m sure we’ll never know what the new deal will be worth for sure. All we’ll get is media guestimates and hype, but it may be that the writing is on the wall for these sponsorship mega-deals and probably not before time. Meanwhile though, who, if anybody, do you think would get value from the deal?
Posted: January 26, 2014
The other day my twelve-year-old daughter was “hanging out” at home with a few of her school mates and I found them sitting around messaging each other on FaceBook. Somewhere in the middle of my old fogey’s rant about “grown-ups talk to each other” (which was receiving the “what planet are you from?” look anyway) I realised that this was increasingly not true.
My mind went back to an article I had read a while ago bemoaning the fact that, rather than have a conversation, even with a colleague along the corridor, we are very likely, these days, to send them an e-mail. Surely therefore social media is just the latest addition to the range of communications options available to us and, as with everything else, because its new, the young are the early adopters?
Now I could get into the debate about whether this is a good thing or not, but I won’t. The point I am trying to make here is that social media has, at least for a rapidly-growing section of emerging consumers, become the preferred channel of communication. I’m not talking about a certain kind of conversation such as when you are making arrangements for a meeting. Kids today talk about anything and everything on handsets and all those kids are very soon going to grow into full-blown consumers with no powers of verbal conversation, but lightning-quick thumbs. It’s like the conversations old women used to have over the garden fence, or play-gound banter, but now its all over a network. So social media is becoming the place where reputations are won and lost, and recommendations and introductions made and that means the reputation of your business or your brand too. Like it or not, like King Canute you are not going to stop the tide of change, its a fact, its real, get used to it, live with it and make it work for you.
Anybody who has anything to do with social media management, or is responsible for customer support or customer relations will know that social media has fast become the preferred communications channel for raising customer service issues. Socialbakers tell us that in 2013 59% of all in-bound customer requests were channelled through social media. In Q3 last year alone UK telcos handled over half a million customer service queries over Twitter and nearly as many via FaceBook, but the prize for the percent of total queries responded to on social goes to the airline sector with 76% through FaceBook and 56% through Twitter.
No organisation can afford to ignore this phenomenon, but apart from having to adapt to the humbling experience of airing your dirty washing in public this also means you have to adapt business structures and invent process to accommodate three kinds of conversations you must now engage in on social channels – 1) promotional messages that you are instigating, 2) customer queries and 3) public conversations on social media, blogs and reviews. So, who in your organisation is responsible for these conversations? Sales people? Marketing communications people or some new group designed for the task and how do you manage the process?
Many businesses just aren’t structured in a way that facilitates a quick solution to the question of ownership of social channels or individual conversation types. Although the marketing department I have just created for a leading retailer and others I have built before, included the CRM department and customer service team, in many businesses one or both CRM and customer service sit in the sales team while social media management is seen as a promotional tool and is therefore parked in the marketing department. If we were giving a prize for the brands who have risen to this challenge it would probably go to the airline KLM who are generally accepted these days as the state-of-the-customer-service-art. It seems that like other social-CRM-wise brands, KLM have avoided the internal struggles entirely by out-sourcing their social/CRM function. However, the contact centres such businesses employ still have to spot those public conversations, manage the three conversation types and publish responses of course.
There are a host of familiar social media and CRM management platforms out there to help, but most are, or have grown out of, single-function tools like Buddy Media, Radian6 and Social.com. Contact centres have been getting by, by combining any number of these to create a total solution, until SalesForce came long and did it for them by acquiring these three to create a suite of tools that together provide something close to an end-to-end solution. But that’s not the end of this evolutionary story by any means. For one thing according to users/reviewers on softwareadvice.com at least, SalesForce Cloud is still ugly, painful and expensive and according to one industry commentator I spoke to this week “You’d have to be mad to try to run a contact centre on SalesForce these days”. Apparently solutions like this just don’t go far enough to accommodate the emerging multi-channel needs with the efficiency that a modern business demands, but help is on the horizon in the shape of a new breed of management platforms emerging in the shape of super-social-CRM solutions like Brand Embassy and their closest rival Conversocial that are truly seamless end-to-end solutions that aid efficiency, look great and have the capacity to deliver all you could possibly need.
Its all-change in the world of social media and if you aren’t in the game you’re not going to win. How ready are you for the social/CRM revolution?
Posted: January 17, 2014
Just when you think things have reached an all-time low, as I did when the new Made in Britain logo was announced earlier this month, someone pops up to reawaken your faith. Few things make me madder than designers that call themselves “brand consultancies” or marketers who think that changing their logo is the same as “branding”, so when I come across real brand developers it feels like cause for celebration. The saviours in this case are the UK fitness chain Fitness First and their London design consultancy The Clearing.
Not only is brand development my thing, I’m into sport and fitness and I’ve also worked with international fitness chains, so this announcement wasn’t going to get past me. According to Fitness First Marketing Director David Jones the chain decided it was out of touch with its clientele (nothing new for a fitness chain you might think) and their re-branding is their response. What makes this re-branding different is that it isn’t just the usual feeble change-the-logo-and-blag-it approach, but, it seems to me, a genuine attempt to actually change the “brand”.
Lets start by agreeing that a brand is not a logo, nor a product, but a community of people who share a set of beliefs, values and ideals. If you are not sure about this you should take a look elsewhere on this site at some of the many times I have explained this perspective, or, better still, look me up (my e-mail is below) and I’ll explain it to you in person. Once you are on-board you’ll have to agree that consistency is key to a strong brand. That’s not just consistency between the innumerable communications or points of contact, but between these and the brand promise – You’ve got one of these I guess?
Of the few businesses that it seems don’t labour under the mistaken assumption that a brand is a logo, too many believe its about making empty promises. Not so The Clearing. Their founder Richard Buchanan told me (just as I do with Brand Discovery) “We help clients identify where the future value opportunity resides within their market and create a branded experience that aligns their offer with the needs & motivations of high value consumer segments”, which is a good start, but as I have said many times, you have to walk the talk!
Richard pointed out that the new Fitness First positioning shaped a brand strategy that embraced every internal and external touch point and so it should. This is what integrated marketing is all about and definitely the only approach to brand building that will achieve the consistency you need. An example of this can be seen in the way the Clearing worked with the Fitness First fitness teams to redefine their fitness philosophy and approach to training and the HR team to inform a new service-led culture. As I have said many times, marketing is at the centre of a modern business and influences everything that everybody at every level of the organisation does. Its the only way to build a brand.
In the same way that the Full Effect Company tackles implementation The Clearing built a team of experts in the diverse disciplines required to deliver the strategy and imposed their own management process. For instance, they brought in an interior design consultancy to deliver an environment and a digital consultancy to deliver the apps and online interface. Refreshingly, Richard went on to say “The logo, was just a small thing in the scheme of things. If the product and service isn’t right nobody cares about a logo – although we think this one’s pretty damn good. At the end of the day a logo is just another tool available to you to deliver your brand strategy”. A man after my own heart!
I call the relationships we have with brands “Brandships” because they are based on the same feelings of knowing and trusting that we use to choose our friends. Above anything else that’s about shared values and beliefs and I want to know that the fitness centre I choose shares my concerns about my health and wellbeing above their own bank balances.
The fact that the FF training philosophy and programmes have been remodelled to reflect customer needs is a big step for a fitness group. The sector is, after all, normally associated with getting you to do stuff you don’t want to do and many centres have tended to use this as an excuse for not trying to deliver enjoyable experiences. Its also a major differentiator. I’m sure that the group will have great success with that, but the proof of the pudding … However, with the attention that The Clearing has given to things like HR and training, all of which have to be driven by marketing in any business, at least there’s a good chance they will.
Posted: January 14, 2014
The UK’s Xmas holiday trading figures are emerging and there are a few headline-making successes and failures already. But the “surprises” that a lot of commentators are fussing about aren’t really surprises at all.
Take the department store sector. We have five big names in the UK – House of Fraster, Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, John Lewis and Selfridges and everyone seems shocked by the news that M&S and Debenhams bombed while the others are hyped with Christmas cheer. I don’t get it. Its obvious why Debs and M&S missed the gravy train – they are boring and middle-of-the-road. After clawing their way up from the pits a few years ago M&S stopped short of owning the sector and sat back on a formula that was making ground for them. As we all know, sitting back and milking a formula never was sustainable and these days with the pace of change accelerating exponentially you rather have to be in a continuous cycle of re-invention. As I repeat in my seminars “you are really only as good as your next big idea” and Marks and Sparks don’t appear to have one.
The same goes for Debenhams. For those who don’t know them, Debenhams is a brand that has always looked uncomfortable in its own skin. In fact it looks almost as uncomfortable as shoppers seem to find their stores. And that’s understandable. Drab decor, cheap lighting and middle-of-the-road brands shoulder-to-shoulder with their own institutional labels that have neither the style of brands like Van Graff nor the price advantage of Primark. Debenhams were also on the critical list a few years ago, but looked to be making a recovery until they too settled for “doing enough to get by”. Just when you felt they were building up for a big re-birth everything stopped. Now their constant price promotions bare witness to a brand that’s all out of ideas.
Their competitors on the other hand have stores that may not suit everyone, but certainly look full of confidence. As John Hegarty is reported to have said “Don’t hide your differences, shout about them” and that’s one of the golden rules of brand development. Bland people and bland brands have few friends! There is however a ray of hope for Debs in the form of a £50million investment by Sports Direct whizz and Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley. Judging from Sports Direct the outcome may not be pretty, but it surely will be effective.
There’s lot of discussion about the abject failure this year of the supermarket chain Morrisons. The Northern-owned company that made a name for itself as the “old-folks supermarket” and took on the old Safeway sites to achieve national coverage has been making ground lately on the back of a “food” specialist proposition (something like the Belgian Delhaize group) but still relies on an “older” clientele. One theory is that its absence from the multi-channel game is the reason for its struggles, but Morrison’s customers aren’t habitually on-line shoppers anyway, so what difference will that make? I think Morrison’s, problems are far more fundamental – its not exciting enough to bring in the younger customers, its a mid-price operator getting squeezed from above by the likes of Waitrose and below by Aldi and Lidl and its customers are getting too old to make it to the shops anymore. Its scope is also limited because their stores are too small for the inventory it has already let alone any expansion, hence, I suspect the “food specialist” proposition, but too big to fit the convenience store model that Tesco and others are counting on to save their bacon.
What this is all telling me is that the entertainment element of physical retail channels is as important as it has been in the past. With on-line adding to the options of an increasingly fickle and impatient consumer retailers can’t afford to stick with a formula unless that formula is constant change. I repeat, “you are only as good as your NEXT big idea”.