Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Sell or Else

I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art for, but as a medium of information

That line was written by David Ogilvy, one of the most successful advertising men of all time. After having worked in advertising for many years, I know that Ogilvy chose his words carefully.  Too much advertising is entertaining, clever, confusing or enigmatic rather than focused on the product.  It’s just too easy to think that factual copy is boring, dull or that it won’t engage the reader.  So instead we attempt to entertain, tell stories, be mysterious, or a whole host of things that confuse the reader.

Even in this line Ogilvy is selling.  It’s the first sentence of his book “Ogilvy on Advertising” and it manages to inform, challenge and engage the reader all at the same time.  It is also one of the most fundamental principles in advertising – your time, work, and money is wasted unless your words sell something.  As soon as you open his book you meet the man face to face with his challenge – sell or else!

The challenge that Ogilvy sets is a big one.  To analyse the product or service so completely that the features and benefits are so well understood that the product or service can be clearly explained.  And that the most important benefit engages and enthralls the reader.  Just as Ogilvy’s copy does. 

Here is the man himself: He spoke directly to his audience long before the days of YouTube or Google. 

He would have been pleased to see how many people have viewed his crackly old recording.  And would likely be amazed at how his predictions have turned out to be absolutely true. Actually, he was probably more confident than that.

Now, back to that letter I was writing.  My first sentence needs a little more work, I think …..

Friday, 7 March 2014

Do It Now and Get More Done

Is “Do It Now” still a valid time management strategy?  After all, didn’t Adam Smith demonstrate that we could do things faster by doing the same thing over and over, rather than suffering the overhead of switching between tasks?  So is it better to keep on top of expenses day by day, or pile them up to be done at the end of the month?  Should you write a month’s worth of blog posts all together, or day by day as thoughts occur to you?  Indeed, is it better to take a month off to study something important, or try and fit an hour in here and there?

I’ve tried both strategies to a lesser or greater extent, and on balance I come down on the side of Do It Now.  For jobs that take perhaps 15 – 30 minutes, and definitely need to be done, I think it is better to get them done and not let them get transferred from To Do list to To Do list.  When the idea is fresh in your mind, or the task has become apparent, it is extremely efficient to get it done as fast as possible, otherwise it starts to weigh you down day after day.  And the more little tasks can get cleared up, the more mental energy you have for the big things.

The danger is filling the day with “busy work” rather than important work, so timing is important.  I work best in the morning, so I try to do smaller tasks and tidying up jobs in the afternoon.  The key, though, is to keep on top of them so they don’t become a big job.

Another danger is that the job doesn’t really need to be done at all, and if you leave it, it will just go away.  That’s a valid point, I guess, but it leaves out the mental energy that’s needed to keep on top of all those “someday-maybe” jobs.  I think it’s better to make a yes/no decision and either do it or bin it. 

What do you think?  Are you a Do It Now person?

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Teams Outperform Individuals - Sometimes

Tempting though it is to think we can do everything ourselves, in fact our best work gets done with other people. We depend on the skills, experience and knowledge of others to achieve really great work.

Think about scientific breakthroughs like Crick and Watson’s breakthrough with DNA. Think about Wedgwood’s brilliant partnership with Bentley creating the world’s most famous ceramics business. Think about Jobs and Wozniak creating Apple. Although Warren Buffet is the name we recognise as the world’s most successful investor, in fact he has a long-term partner and sounding board – Charlie Monger.  Just yesterday Buffett said that he had lost $873 million with a power utility stock. This was an investment he had made without consulting Monger. Next time, he said, I’ll call Charlie. It seems everyone needs to be part of a team.

Unfortunately, though, it’s not always so easy.  Not all teams are successful. In fact some are spectacularly unsuccessful, and would do better to have people work independently. So what’s the key?

Having complementary skills and experience seems to be a big part of it. With Buffett and Monger, Buffett is the optimist and Monger the pessimist. Between them they cover all bases and make outstanding decisions.

Think about a football team. If you had 11 goalkeepers, or 11 strikers, it wouldn’t be very effective. You need defenders, midfielders, even left and right midfielders, plus strikers and of course goalkeepers. All members of the team have to be proficient in their own right, but also good at working as a team to create goal scoring opportunities. I think the football team is quite a useful analogy in business. We can’t all be strikers. We don’t all have the talent, ability, experience or inclination. But we do all have specific skills that are important within teams.

The key is to understand and appreciate what each person brings to the team, and to ensure their skills are acknowledged and used in the best way.  It’s not always easy, but perhaps a key part of achieving important things.  

What would our businesses be like if we weren’t so obsessed with taking the credit for things? They might be more effective, and a great deal happier.

Monday, 17 February 2014

I’m a Secret Lemonade Drinker

Rod Allen was a founding partner of the successful London agency Allen Brady & Marsh and he wrote this memorable ad for R White’s lemonade. It was so effective that it was originally aired in 1973, revived in 1983, and remade in 1991. To turn an ordinary sunny afternoon drink into a guilty pleasure is almost as delicious as lemonade itself. It’s a world where bad mothers swig sherry from mugs, and chocoholics hide their stash for fear of sharing. Allen’s words were as delightfully daft as the tune was irritatingly memorable:
I’m a secret lemonade drinker (R Whites! R Whites!)
I’ve been trying to give up, but it’s been one of those nights (R Whites! R Whites!)
R White’s lemon-a-a-ade, R White’s lemon-a-a-ade
I’m a secret lemonade drinker (R Whites!)
At least three things that make this pure genius:
  • Inversion. Turning an innocent pleasure into a guilty secret is memorable (as well as silly). Allen was a funny man, apparently fond of telling Marsh “I’ll come to your funeral, if you come to mine”.
  • Research. Allen Brady & Marsh analysed market research data to great effect. Their ads were based on the best data their clients could buy. Mike Brady was the analytical part of the trio and no small part of their success.
  • Advertises the brand. Crazy as it sounds; not all advertising does this. The brand name is repeated 7 times in this 30 second ad.
Allen is known for having made brilliant and economical use of words to great commercial effect with slogans such as “This is the age of the train”, “Milk has gotta lotta bottle”, and “That’s the wonder of Woolies”. All were backed by thorough data analysis and research which enabled them to understand their customers.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

No man is an island

Microsoft has announced that Satya Nadella is replacing Steve Ballmer as chief executive. This is good news, not least because we have waited so long to hear it. The share price blipped up 1%, indicative perhaps that this was no great surprise. But Microsoft is such an important player in the software market that all eyes will be on Mr Nadella to see how well he performs.

What’s perhaps most interesting about this announcement, however, is that he will have the assistance of Bill Gates as Technology Advisor. Whilst it’s tempting to believe that the people who make the headlines are largely responsible for success, lessons from Microsoft and many more, show that it is the quality of teamwork that make or break a venture. Microsoft’s earliest days were a partnership between Paul Allen and Bill Gates. Their first operating system, DOS, was bought in rather than developed themselves, despite their obvious enthusiasm for software development. They could have had a crack at doing it themselves, but they smartly chose not to.

Whilst rumours abound about the personalities at Microsoft (both Gates and Ballmer have their critics) it’s hard to escape the fact that this is a story of partnerships as well as passions. Microsoft has certainly contributed to the sum of knowledge for great teamwork, and have massively improved standards within their own software development teams. So they have learnt their fair share about getting the best out of teams.

So will this be an inspired move? Gates has the tenacity and technical depth to be of assistance to any CEO. But he is also said to be abrasive and rude. So can he be a team player , as well as being competitive? The cloud and mobile technologies that Microsoft produce are amongst some of the strongest reasons why teams are more important to businesses than ever before. We now live in a world where relationships can now be as strong across oceans as they are across the table. Which is both empowering, as well as daunting. So I’m going to be watching this one with more than a little interest.

Friday, 23 August 2013

The Power in Reflection

As some of my longer standing (sitting? suffering?) readers may know, I completed an MBA a few years ago.  To say that it was a privilege would be a massive understatement – it was one of the happiest experiences of my life.  It was mind enhancing, brain stretching and ideas generating – I guess in common with education of any type.  I met lots of lovely people and it also taught me the power of reflection.  And in particular structured reflection.

So it was with some dismay that that I heard from my not-so-old tutor that the current offering of the MBA is less reflection oriented.  It caused me to pause and think.  (See, I did learn something!)

The rationale, apparently, is that it is better to be action-oriented than reflective.  I don’t know about you, but action isn’t necessarily one of my problems.  The right type of action, maybe, but I’m very capable of getting on and doing stuff.  What I’m less good at, and need to be reminded often about, is the need to reflect, in a structured way, about what I’m doing and whether it’s going in the right direction.

David Allen in his book, Getting Things Done, talks about the need to reflect, ideally once a week, on what you’ve achieved, what you’ve not achieved, what your goals are, and taking the long view.  It’s good advice, and from talking to people, advice that doesn’t always get acted on.

So this is my reflection for the week.  I need to make more time to reflect, to see where I’ve been, and where I’m going, and whether my goals still make sense.  And maybe update this blog more often.  I’ve said that before, though, so I don’t think I’ll repeat myself. 

Bon weekend, tout le monde!

Monday, 17 June 2013

How to Create a Strong Brand

What is a brand?

A brand is an identify that differentiates your product or service from those offered by others.  Your brand tells customers what they can expect from your company.  In other words, a brand is a promise of your distinctive delivery.

Poundland communicate their cheap products through shops with no-frills in off-high street locations.

Coca Cola communicate a promise of good times through sharing a Coke with friends, backed up with adverts showing happy smiling faces in the sunshine.  Their promise is that Coca Cola delivers enjoyment.  Nowhere do they talk about the qualities of their product.  They talk about the value it delivers.

Why is Branding Important?

Your brand is the accumulation of every interaction that customers and potential customers have with your company.  Every tweet they read, every time they buy from you, the way you behave when things go wrong, your advertising, your web site, your Facebook page, you blog, your business cards.  The lot.

Just as every time someone buys a Coca Cola they want the Coca Cola brand promise to deliver the same taste, each time someone interacts with your company you want them to have the same experience.  Whether that is good value (as with Poundland), a high level of technical proficiency and ability to deliver a working system (as with a software business), or whatever your particular promise is.

All this takes time, money and effort.  If your efforts get fragmented or if your message is different each time a customer interacts with you, they become confused about your promise of delivery. In other words they are not clear what will deliver when they buy from you. No wonder companies consider their brands to be amongst their greatest assets.

How to Create a Strong Brand

First you have to be clear about your promise of delivering. 

This isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds.  You have to understand who your target market is, and why they might buy from you.  Why would they exchange their hard-earned cash for whatever you are offering?  Why will their lives be better after the transaction?  After all, whilst you are focusing on the money going INTO your bank account, they are acutely aware that it is coming OUT of theirs.

Secondly, you have to communicate your promise of delivery in a clear, uncomplicated way.  Not because your customers have difficulty reading, but because they are busy, pressured people with multiple stresses to deal with.  Their attention span is limited. 

So the message has to be crystal clear.  Coca Cola = good times.  Poundland = cheapest anywhere.  McDonalds = consistently good burgers.   The Tea Bush = Beautiful gifts for now and for future generations.

So what are the components of building a brand?

  • Distinctive identity – including visual identity and brand promise
  • Repetition of key messages
  • Consistency – in messages, and in interactions with customers.  Over a long period of time, with a large enough audience
  • Delivering on your promise