Don‘t you just love Kevin Robert’s review of his American Airlines experience? It takes me back to a similar, though far less protracted, experience I had on a flight from London to LA when I was diverted to Sacramento because of a storm.
Because the airport was closed for the night (!) I spent four hours sitting on the tarmac with two-hundred flatulent Americans in an aluminium tube with no refreshments and no working toilets while they searched for a truck with an integral generator that they “knew they had somewhere”, which they needed to start the plane up again. It turns out someone from maintenance had used it to take himself home at the end of his shift!
However, what this is really about is the commitment of employees to their role in delivering the promise … or not, as the case may be. Failure to deliver is the single most damaging omission an organisation can make and getting it right is a simple matter of communication. Communicating a promise that is realistic and then communicating to the people who are going to make it happen so they know what they have to do. So what is AA’s promise? Well, as far as I can see they don’t really have one. Their strap line is “Why you fly” which is bollocks – I fly because I have to to get from A to B and frankly, the pain that air travel represents these days makes me increasingly doubtful of its worth. AA’s web site says:
“American Airlines and American Eagle are in business to provide safe, dependable, and friendly air transportation to our customers, along with numerous related services. We are dedicated to making every flight you take with us something special …
Well they certainly scored on that one! It goes on …
… Your safety, comfort, and convenience are our most important concerns. In June of this year American Airlines and other members of the Air Transport Association agreed to prepare and submit to the Department of Transportation (DOT) service plans addressing particular issues of consumer interest. American Airlines and American Eagle submitted their joint Customer Service Plan to the DOT on September 15, 1999″.
1999? – they are on to it then! There’s more …
“We are constantly reevaluating our customer service goals, and we intend to update this Customer Service Plan when appropriate”.
Obviously they haven’t seen any reason to “update” their customer service goals in the past eight years.
“Our goal is to be a service and product leader in the airline industry”.
As I said, its about the delivery not the promise.
I can visualise the executives at AA sitting around their boardroom crying over Kevin’s letter of complaint – not! But if they were they’d probably be bemoaning the fact that their employees don’t support them in their efforts to deliver – well in my experience that’s usually the way it goes. What these people don’t get is that if employees aren’t delivering, its management commitment that is in question not employees. Failure to communicate, failure to motivate, failure to develop a culture of community, that’s about management deficit.
As a consultant I see plenty of organisations like this, most of which see employing me as an opportunity to relinquish responsibility for the “management” of their business. Its amazing that the country responsible for AA is also the home of Southwest Airlines who wrote the book on internal marketing (which is what we are talking about) its called “Nuts”, well actually Kevin Freiberg wrote it about them. And they are still doing it. On 15th November they announced their 125th consecutive quarterly share dividend! Now if that doesn’t persuade you that internal marketing pays I guess nothing will!
In recent months I have been exploring the world of call centres, or “contact” centres as it seems they like to be called these days. This is like design groups wanting to be called “brand consultancies” or advertising agencies who fancy they are “integrated marketing agencies”.
The thing is, with the ever-widening range of contact routes available at the “sharp end” of marketing communications who can blame the phone jockeys for getting a little ahead of themselves. But while you can fax, SMS, e-mail, mail, carrier pigeon or whatever your customers, calling yourself a “contact centre” doesn’t change the fact that nine out of ten of these places still only use a telephone to call you in the middle of dinner to sell you broadband; just like most advertising agencies are still selling advertising and very few design groups at all would recognise brand strategy if it bit them on the arse! Anyway, that isn’t what I want to talk about.
What I have found particularly interesting about the phone world has been the culture – its like a village, everyone knows each other and they all seem to have been each other’s boss at some time in the past. Its also a sector where managers often arrive at positions of authority via the phone rather than the management college. Nothing wrong in that of course, but if all your managers have this kind of pedigree it does sort of limit your potential.
This leads me to my first question, which is “Is it this cultrure of organically grown managers, or something to do with the fact that call-centre life is lived exclusively on the front line that produces businesses that are purely tactically focused with no strategy whatsoever?” Raise the matter with a call centre hard-liner and they will probably tell you, as I was told a number of times “… that’s how it is in call centres”.
This short-termism is most noticeable when you take a look at the marcoms in the sector. I’m sorry, but the evidence clearly suggests that whatever their delusions, call or contact centres are still a long way from being marcoms professionals – in fact I took the top ten UK-owned concerns and checked out their web pages and there wasn’t a single proposition there – no, honest, I mean it! At least there’s no danger of them failing to deliver their promises, they aren’t making any!
The thing is, as a basis for an integrated offering, a call centre has a lot going for it. Not just the incoming and outgoing option or choices in media routes – SMS, e-mail, web, chat, telephone, etc. there’s the data – just think what an analyst could do with that! And then there’s print and direct mail (OK so call me a Luddite!) and the many revenue-generating areas that emerge when you deliver great customer service – strategy and script writing, and of course there’s plenty of scope for internationalisation.
I’ve heard a lot recently from call centre operators who think the sector has laid its last golden egg. This may be so, but there’s still plenty of scope for serious business in the real world of marketing – and as long as nobody out there really looks like they are trying there isn’t a whole lot of competition. I guess the obstacle has to be management.
I’ve recently been taking a closer look at the world of “Brand Consultancies” and I now understand why brand management is generally so pitiful, not just in the UK , but pretty much everywhere?”
Before you jump up and down in disagreement with my premise please bear in mind that our perspective on this matter is very much clouded by the very few companies indeed who get it right. So spectacular is their branding against the mediocre backdrop provided by the vast majority of organisations that we can be fooled into thinking that their’s is the mean standard, but its not, which is why most organisations can make massive performance improvements very simply, usually without increased investment once they have the know-how. And there’s the rub, because, from what I have discovered recently the very companies who profess to have that know-how don’t in fact have the first clue about what a brand is, let alone what you have to do to develop one.
I’ve been introduced to the approach to “brand development” of a good many “consultancies” in the course of my explorations and this is what I have found:
Nearly all of the organisations that call themselves “brand consultancies” are nothing more than design groups jumping on the latest bandwagon in search of business development – which is all well and good if you are serious about your subject and not just ripping people off.
Their idea of brand development is usually just corporate identity – which as we all know is an important, but very small corner indeed of the brand development picture. I’m not saying that all of the organisations that don’t “get it” are rip-off merchants. Most of them simply don’t seem to know what “brand development” is, but while it may make their deficiencies a little less exploitative it doesn’t help their clients who are being sucked into this very expensive world of smoke and mirrors.
The saddest discovery I made though is that even when its pointed out to them that what they are offering isn’t brand development many of these designers aren’t committed enough to want to even try to get their act together. I guess that’s because they can’t see the business case for investing early in developing real skills while there remain organisations around who will fall for the miss-sell, but lack of business acumen on this scale make them inappropriate for the role of brand developer anyway. Frankly, I can’t wait to see what they do when the bubble bursts.
So its clear to me that at least one reason brand management is so poor is that the people who organisations rely to advise them on this are rarely qualified to do so and frankly talk complete bollocks most of the time. But the question remains, how do you tell the real thing? Well, here are a few pointers:
The starting point in any brand development programme HAS to be the creation of a brand model. This will define your business vision and mission, brand character, point-of-difference (your cause), positioning and promise. This is every organisation’s bible, it will influence everything you do in every corner of your business so if your “brand consultancy” don’t ask you for it or help you produce one they simply aren’t the real thing.
The term “brand development” is synonymous with “business development” – brands drive business and they are influencing every function at every level of your organisation. This is not about “dressing to kill”, its about genuineness, how you behave, delivering your promise, being true to your cause. So if your “brand consultancy” doesn’t start by introducing you to the principles of internal marketing (because this is what brand development is really about) then they are imposters.
If you are approaching marketing in anything like the right way, you’ll be making a realistic investment in marketing already. One of the founding principles of Full Effect Marketing is that before you increase your marketing budget you should strive to optimise the efficiency of the investment you already make, whch for most businesses isn’t difficult. In this context this usually means diverting a proprtion of investment away from external communication (making the promise) to internal marketing (delivering the promise). If you don’t adjust your focus in this way you will be, like many organisations, just papering over the cracks, which may have worked in the past for many, but it’s no longer a sustainable practise. Research of all kinds from all over the world supports this kind of redirecion of investment and those organisations who have taken this route have been vindicated by their subsequent business performance. So, if your “brand consultancy” starts by explaining what the cost of entry to the world of brand development is show them the exit.
Judging by the hit-rate I achieved in my search for “brand consultancies” worthy of the title, I can understand that this whole subject is a minefield for most businesses. I hope that I have introduced a few key pointers to those who may be looking for advice in this area, but if you want to know more you know where I am.
I just read an excerpt from Chris Clarke’s speech at the APG/Campaign Battle of Big Thinking (Its posted on www.nitro-group.com). I have liked Nitro since they started up and Chris is always stimulating, but despite what this piece suggests Nitro didn’t take on the world and win purely by basing their fees on client sales and it certainly isn’t the simple solution to the woes of the marketing sector.
Chis like others bemoans the fact that agencies aren’t regarded with the same respect or enjoy the same high-level relationships with clients that they did years ago and that’s a fact, but you get the respect you deserve, the world is a different and far more complex place these days and as marketing is a reflection of the world, so too is it.
Chris mentions holistic in passing, but actually that’s the key. One reason why agencies were members of their clients inner sanctum in the past was that their scope was all embracing, at least as far as marketing then was concerned. These days the subject is so broad that it is hard to imagine a single business being sensitive and able to respond to a client’s every marketing need. The consequence is that traditional marketing services firms have become implementors or purveyors of components of strategy – an incomplete offering that relegates them to the mid-tier of suppliers and often liaison at mid-management level where the decisions that matter are responded to rather than made.
The golden boys at the top table these days are the owners of strategy, BCG and the like, which is why business consultancies and media planners are grabbing the loin’s share of sector growth (see Jim Taylor’s Space Race). It’s tough for a marcoms agency to slip into the strategic role. Many have made themselves look like a poacher turning to game-keeping in the process, which is hardly credible, but there is a way that a traditional marketing services business can segue into the big league.
Full Effect Marketing is New Model Marketing, an approach that answers the demands of today’s marketplace. It improves ROI for client and opens doors to future growth for marketing services firms. It acknowledges that business and marketing strategy is one, that all businesses are marketing businesses and every function in every business has a marketing role to play. It helps organisations understand the role of their brands and shows them how to build communities around them that will attract new customers and make existing ones never want to leave. Full Effect Marketing embraces a range of tools to tackle specific tasks along the way and because New Model Marketing is complex Full Effect Marketing is built around an essential methodology that is designed to manage a complex task.
The obstacle facing most marketing services firms these days is prejudice. That’s internal at least as much as external. Internal in the form of the straight-jacketing attitudes structures and practise that were fine when marketing was simple and time scales were long, but redundant among the complexities of the millisecond millennium.
It is possible to revive an existing marcoms company by introducing new thinking, new perspectives and new structures and practises, and it is equally true that such an agency can look credible in the client’s boardroom – I know, I have been helping agencies make this transformation for a few years now. However, it can’t happen overnight and we will doubtless continue to witness the demise of agencies who started the journey too late.
Results-driven fees are an interesting and relevant innovation in the context of a bigger mind-shift, but I am sure they are not the only reason that Nitro is successful and adoption of the principal is unlikely to bring equal success to your business.
For the past decade I have run my European work from a base in Prague where I have also lived. Prague, a blank sheet of parchment, more than ready to absorb the palette of the western world, offers any student of humanity a great position from which to observe life.
You won’t be surprised to hear that one of my fascinations has been to study the never-ending stream of foreign “experts” who have turned up to offload their “advice” to a fledgling economy with loads of EC grant Euros to “invest” in infrastructure and business initiatives. Where business and marketing is concerned this migration of experts appears to have mainly comprised a succession of EasyJet flights from London carrying more arseholes and wash-ups that I would have ever admitted, even to myself, we had in the UK, offering the very “lessons” that had brought them personally to the point where they had to get out of their own town, God help Central Europe!
We always seem to have tackled the induction of emerging economies by giving them basic information on the subjects they need and assuming that when they “catch up” we can go in again and bring them up-to-date. This assumes that they will always lag behind and that their development curve, though steep, would never bring them to the point where they were vying with us for a lead in business ideas. This isn’t necessarily the case of course. As evidence proves, often where emerging countries are given cutting edge thinking and technology their freedom from the compromises of infrastructure and attitudes means that they can sometimes take that a whole lot further and faster than their western counterparts. The Czech national phone company, for example, developed a mobile technology that is now adopted around the world.
However, we still operate the transfer of knowledge in a hand-me-down sort of way – “Here, we’ve done with this old sweater, see if you can get a bit more use out of it”. In my line of work perhaps the most personally irritating example of this has been the way that foreign marketers have introduced bright-eyed young Czechs to the concept of “above” and “below-the-line” marketing”.
I’ve been in the business for more than thirty years and in all that time I don’t recall ever having been given a satisfactory definition of these terms from anybody, anywhere. In the West, we know for sure now that it makes no sense. Its a red herring, an adjunct to what we do yet its one of the first things we introduce to a new situation like Central Europe. In the context that I provided a moment ago its more like “here’s something I bought thinking it looked cool, but realised when I got it home that it was really naff – it might suit you though”! I mean, its one thing to hand over something that was once useful in the hope that it might maintain its usefulness a little longer in a less taxing environment, but to dump your junk like this …
So I’ve spent the last ten years trying to counter the spread of this nonsense to new territories by explaining that, just like the King’s New Clothes, its fine to say it’s a load of bollocks – because it is!
This year my work has so far all been in the UK and among the first businesses that I was introduced to was one of our largest advertisers. I was taken around their “marketing department” which in fact was an entire office building larger than most businesses corporate HQ’s and introduced to departments and functions as “… our above-the-line this” and “ our below-the-line that” and increasingly recoiled into a mental ball. I mean, what the hell are we doing when one of our largest and most prized organisations are basing their business on such antiquated thinking. Its no wonder, as I realised during subsequent discovery, that thinking was a bit woolly, but the waste ….!
I long ago took the “above and below” subject out of the presentations that I do in the UK thinking it was redundant, but it seems I’m going to have to reinstate it with new prominence, in fact I think its going to occupy a whole new section in my Full Effect Marketing seminars.
FORGET ABOVE AND BELOW-THE-LINE! There’s no such thing, its irrelevant thinking, a distraction, a red herring. There is only one way that you should be thinking of dividing your marketing – STRATEGIC and TACTICAL. Don’t even think of media in above and below-the-line terms, its doesn’t work anymore (I personally don’t think it ever did). There are mass media and targeted media, some offer interactive capabilities, others can carry a big slice of emotion, all media are relevant in some way, its up to us to decide which we need to apply to each area of our strategy for most cost-effective results.
I’m sure that the Czechs and their colleagues in the other emerging new European countries, will work it out for themselves before too long. Its just a pity we gave them such a bum steer to start with. As for our guys back home – I guess its ingrained after all. A lot of work is obviously still to be done. But, hey! That’s my job. Watch this space.!
It may cost ten times as much to sell to someone for the first time as it does to re-sell to an existing customer, but you can multiply the investment required by a far bigger number if you are trying to entice back to your brand community a customer that you have already let down.
On a scale of one to ten a disappointed customer comes in at something like minus a hundred on the scale of likelihood to buy from you, but if you are fighting for market share and your reputation is tarnished you don’t have a choice, but to dig deep and accept high conversion costs.
You can piss customers off in many different ways. Make unrealistic promises, raise their expectations beyond your capability to deliver, fail to pay attention to customer support, stand for unpopular issues or demonstrate a lack of social graces – these days that seems to be about your carbon footprint. All the areas that go to make up your total brand experience represent potential pitfalls for the unwary marketer. And its no use deciding that you are not going to play this game – its not your choice. That’s down to the consumer. If they think that an issue is important, you’d better take heed.
So, if you want to keep your conversion costs to an efficient minimum you must look further than product and start thinking “Brand Experience” because that’s what its about and internal marketing is the key. The trouble is that while we all nod in agreement at statements like this when it comes down to it the understanding that most businesses have of internal marketing is something like the understanding George Dubya has of Arab psychology.
Internal marketing has one purpose – to increase your chances of delivering your customer promise first time, every time, and it should be targeting all your stakeholders – that’s partners, distributors, suppliers, investors not just employees. The media that you use to reach them should be the same as those that you use to target your customers – press, DM, PoS, Collateral, web (especially LAN and Extranet), house mags, social promotions, competitions etc. It should be two-way and it has to be accountable, just like any other marketing investment. Now if that leaves you scratching your head we should talk. Get in touch and I’ll explain how The Full Effect Company create internal marketing programmes that really work.
On Radio 4 a couple of weeks ago Alan Johnson, our Secretary of State for Education rather stumbled through an explanation of Britishness, the new subject that Sir Keith Ajegbo is recommending we add to the school curriculum, but what he is really talking about, of course, is “Brand Britain”.
There are strong ones and weak ones, but all countries are brands and I have been talking about this for years in my Brand Discovery and Full Effect Marketing seminars and workshops. Australia and the US stand out as being particularly strong examples. The people of both relate closely to the image of the country, support it, and are proud and excited to be a member of and contributor to their national community and that’s exactly what brand communities are all about.
These countries invested years in internal marketing to achieve their current advantage and a key feature of my Full Effect Marketing is the suggestion that businesses should do the same.
Internal marketing is probably the most under funded, unappreciated and badly executed area of marketing, but there are two kinds of businesses these days – the quick and the dead and if you don’t want to be the latter you have to be constantly raising the bar. You are simply not going to do this unless you employees are committed and equipped to play their role in delivering your promise. And that’s what internal marketing will give you.
Keith Ajegbo seems to have a vision of his “Britishness” classes helping youngsters to understand what the community is all about and encouraging their buy-in. Most of all these lessons should help them to understand what they have to do to play their part in making Britain what we want it to be. I’m not sure who decided what it is that Britain should be, in my Brand Discovery programme that’s a decision everyone contributes to and ultimately I guess the citizens of Community Britain will do the same, but I’m with Ajegbo all the way if he has recognised that everyone has to understand the brand promise and have a clear view of what they have to do to make it real.
Because I spend many days each year helping organisations tackle exactly this issue, I know that the boards of a commercial enterprises rarely have a consistent and clear view of what their organisation’s promise is, but when they do the next job is always to make sure that their stakeholders understand it and are equipped and keen to deliver it. My advice to all my clients is reduce your investment in making promises to consumers and invest some instead in a well thought out campaign that will ensure you are able to deliver the goods because failure to deliver the brand promise costs an organisation much more than most people realise as I think we are beginning to recognise with Brand Britain.
There’s not a business in existence that wouldn’t claim to be working to improve efficiency. After all, it’s been many years since the last penny dropped in the final boardroom and every one accepted that business success is measured in degrees of efficiency.
However, the one area of business where attempts to improve efficiency have been late coming is marketing. The reasons for this are far too many to go into here, but I’m happy to discuss them at another time. The point however is that because marketing is now the biggest element of pretty much any business model it’s a situation that can’t be allowed to continue.
Recognising this, organisations everywhere are introducing measures to increase their marketing efficiency. We have fortunes being invested in market modelling, similar sums dedicated to brand development and communications spends sliding quickly below the line where cause and effect are more readily measured, but we are still not seeing the kind of efficiency we’re going to need as we move through the twenty-first century.
The reason for this is straightforward enough and although nobody would say it was a simple matter to put it right, fix it we must. The fact is that marketing optimisation can’t be addressed solely at the marketing communications end of the marketing process. This may be where most organisations focus their attempts, but at best it’s papering over the cracks. Optimisation requires that a number of organisational and cultural issues, marketing communications (both message and medium) being just one of them, are addressed at once and for most organisations that has been just a bridge too far – until now that is.
With the tools and resources at our disposal we can piece together an end-to-end, all-embracing marketing solution that any organisation can buy into and which will deliver the ROI that we always knew was possible, but were never able to realise. What’s more we can combine that with a process that fixes the internal issues and improves front line performance at the same time, so it’s a faster and more meaningful solution.
This is the principle of optimisation working on a tangible level.