Friday 24 December 2010

Happy Christmas and New Year

It’s been a quiet month for Getting to Excellent. A week away in the beautiful land of Norway, marvelling at their vast acres of twinkling Christmas trees, has thrown my blogging schedule. And now it’s Christmas.

2010 has been an interesting year in all sorts of ways. As social media and email marketing has taken off, so it has become more important than ever to remember that marketing is all about people, and relationships. Technology is still just an enabler in building relationships, not a replacement for it.

But Christmas and New Year is really about getting in touch with friends and family. As well as business colleagues you haven’t seen for ages. At least there is one time in the year when we all make the effort to re-establish contact.

So as 2010 draws to a close, I’d like to wish all Getting to Excellent readers a very happy Christmas and New Year. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read the occasional post, and agreed or disagreed with what’s been written. I look forward to seeing you in 2011.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Promotional gifts that stir emotions

Christmas time is a time for gifts - enormous amounts of money will get spent on presents for loved ones this Christmas.

But all year round marketers use thoughtful promotional items to enhance their marketing. A recent study by the Institute of Promotional Marketing measured people’s responses promotional gifts. They found a high emotional reaction to well-pitched promotional items: a reaction normally associated with pornographic images, in fact. This has been backed up by other studies. Whilst the pornographic bit grabs headlines, that's not really the point. The point is that they stir positive emotions in us.

This is interesting. In business, just like at children round a Christmas tree, we love getting gifts. And if it’s something useful/pretty/nicely packaged, we respond very positively to it. And we remember the positive feelings associated with the promotional gift.

This is extremely important for marketers. If you are going to give something away, make sure it gets the response you want from the person who receives it – whether that be loyalty, remembering your company or buying your product or service.

Recently I was on the receiving end of two promotions that were giving away £20. Both companies had worked out what it was worth to get my custom, and were offering £20.

In the first case, the offer was made in a letter that had clearly been sent to a large list of people. As it turned out their computer systems weren’t good enough to recognise when I responded, and I had to argue with them to get the money. No warm feelings there. But it still cost them £20.

In the second case the £20 came packaged as a beautifully branded plastic card. It was enclosed in a laminated card folder with “We appreciate you custom – here’s a gift” printed on it. It was beautifully produced and a joy to open. It will be a joy to spend too. This company perhaps spent a little more than £20 but gets wave after wave of warm feelings from their promotion.

In a world that is increasingly digital, it is a useful reminder that people still respond to physical gifts; whether they may be a voucher, certificate or package with a well-chosen item inside. We may be older than when we first hung up a stocking for Santa, but it seems our emotions are still the same.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Who is your hero?

At the end of a long and busy day yesterday, Notting Hill was the perfect antidote. The film required little or no concentration, brought a surprising number of smiles to the face, and could be switched off part way through because the story is older than most hills round my way.

The film is all about Julia Roberts (aren’t all Julia Roberts’ films?). She plays a Julia-Roberts-type actress called Anna Scott who falls for ordinary Notting Hill bookshop owner William Thackeray. Will’s little sister loses no time in telling the famous Anna Scott just how much she loves her films, and how they have just “got to be best friends”. It’s as silly as the rest of the film but this no-holds-barred star worshipping made me think about few heroes we have these days.

I’ve been rereading David Ogilvy. He was a real advertising and direct marketing hero, described as a genius by many. Yet his genius followed a careful study of other great men’s work. Raymond Rubicam (also of advertising fame), Dr George Gallup (for whom he had worked) and Claude Hopkins were all credited by Ogilvy as major influences on him.

The world’s most successful investor, Warren Buffet, was a great student of Benjamin Graham’s work. He apparently has read his book many, many times over.

Whatever our field or specialisation, we all need heroes. We all need to look up to someone who has excelled and contributed lasting value.
"If we can see further it is because we stand on the rungs of a ladder built by those who came before us."

Friday 3 December 2010

Where have all the salesmen gone?

Have you noticed there are no salesmen anymore?

They have all morphed into business development professionals, account managers, or client service executives.

Yet we make sales; not developments, or accounts, or client services. We make sales and are pleased about it because our businesses depend on sales in order to survive.

David Ogilvy apparently had a sign on Ogilvy & Mather’s wall that said:
“We sell. Or else.”
It was there to remind every art director, every copywriter, every account manager and every print buyer that the purpose of their business was to help their clients sell more stuff. And as Ogilvy & Mather grew it helped to keep everyone grounded in this very simple philosophy; their business is to make money for their clients.

According to the very nice chap at Ogilvy’s the sign is still on the wall. Probably not the same sign, but I’m sure David Ogilvy would be pleased. He might have also renamed the Group Communications department the Sales Department, but I can’t be sure.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Make contact; make someone’s afternoon

I’ve said it before, but making contact with someone seems to be pretty much always the right thing to do. Whether it’s a customer, a prospect, someone you’ve just had a row with, your boss, or an old friend. About the old exception I can think of is an old flame. That’s a bit trickier …

Yesterday I made contact with someone I have known for a long time, but who doesn’t know me. I’ve kind of admired them from afar. So afar that I wasn’t sure they were still alive, until recently. But he is very much still alive, doing great work, moving and shaking as much as ever before. How excellent is that?

And he replied. Said it made his afternoon. It made me wonder what kind of brilliant morning he'd had. The rich and famous, huh?

Working in difficult and stressful times can make us introverted and unwilling to make contact. But it’s so rewarding. And interesting. And it just might make someone’s afternoon.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

The Customer Intelligence Journey

When I started my career I couldn’t understand why EVERYONE didn’t want to be in marketing! To my way of thinking, it was the central activity for any company. Despite a long career in or close to the marketing function I still feel the same way.

Without marketing, no one knows about your product or service. Without marketing, no one knows how your product or service might help them. Without marketing you have no business.

Yet marketing has become more complex over time. The emergence of the internet and social media mean that would-be customers have many more options to familiarise with your product and service, as well as your competitors’ products and services. And alternatives to both. Today’s purchaser has the opportunity to be better informed on a wider variety of subjects than ever before.

Marketing people are slowly waking up to the fact that whilst the consumer is getting more clued up, so, perhaps, should they. They are starting to think about how much they know about their customers and prospects; and beginning to realise that it’s less than they thought.

It’s not that the information isn’t there. No. It’s just that the information is all over the place: in different systems, in different departments, in different formats. It hasn’t been entered correctly, or checked. It hasn’t been cared for in the way that someone might care for something that is REALLY VALUABLE!

The Customer Intelligence journey is that of starting to understand your customers and prospects by looking at the information you have, as well as the gaps: and starting to make some sense of it all.

It’s a journey because getting to know people is an on-going process. A process that requires smart use of today’s sophisticated technologies, and a process that requires a different way of thinking about what’s important in business. A process that starts to put customers at the centre of things.

A place I’ve always felt they belonged.

What’s your experience of understanding your customers and prospects from data within your company? Have you started on the Customer Intelligence journey? Are you considering it? Leave a comment and join the conversation!

Friday 26 November 2010

Can you work effectively without caffeine?

I saw an old friend today (yes – all my friends are now old) and as we ordered drinks he made a reference to my caffeine-free beverage. Whilst it’s true that orange juice doesn’t contain caffeine and his Coca Cola did, it wouldn’t be true to say I’m caffeine-free these days. Which surprises me as much as it surprises a few others.

The reason is simply that on many occasions during the day I feel I need a bit of an energy boost.

Caffeine came back into my life during a particularly stressful few months with long days and not quite enough sleep. Caffeine seemed a reasonable reaction, and it sort of stayed. And it makes me wonder whether other people have tried and failed to banish caffeine from their work-a-day lives.

In theory I would live without caffeine. But in theory I would get enough sleep and banish deadlines. In practice my working life is often stressful and doesn’t fit into the hours I would like to allocate to it.

So I’m wondering, in a blogging type way, what do others think? Have you tried to give up caffeine and quietly gone back to it? Can man (or woman) work effectively on peppermint tea alone? And if you never want me to mention caffeine ever again, that’s also a reasonable response …

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Basic human drivers

Good marketing and advertising reaches us at an emotional level, without us even realising. Or putting it a different way, it answers needs inside of us that we are not really aware of.

But what are our needs? What are the emotions that we respond to? I found a list of basic human drivers attributed to Dr Kevin Hogan, which I thought made rather interesting reading.

Do you agree or disagree with the list? Would you add or remove anything? Should marketing be considering such psychological factors? Comments, thoughts and debate all welcome.

Here’s the list: 16 basic human drivers
  1. Sex/romance
  2. Acquisition/saving
  3. Bonding/connecting
  4. Learning/curiosity
  5. Eating
  6. Defence/fight or flight
  7. Nesting
  8. Vengence
  9. Status
  10. Power
  11. Loyalty
  12. Order and organisation
  13. Independence
  14. Acceptance
  15. Altruism
  16. Physical activity

Friday 19 November 2010

Marketing messages that delight

Work can get pressured, can’t it? Deadlines, stuff running late, things not happening when you want them to happen. It’s all pretty normal in my world.

So when my Friday morning gets interrupted by an email that makes me laugh out loud, it’s a real delight.

Let me be plain, this was a sales email from a determined and focused young man. It did not contain pictures of cats with orange peel on their heads, nor did it try to amuse with jokes or overt humour.

It was just well researched, well targeted and well written. And whilst he had in no way bombarded me with emails he had kept in touch: quietly and appropriately. It was a delight. And I wrote and told him. I have no doubt he will go far.

The late and oh so great David Ogilvy would have approved. He made the point that you can’t bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them in buying it. His italics.

Maybe I’m unlucky, because so much of what hits my desk either in paper or by email is uninteresting, untargeted and uninspired. So when someone takes the trouble to stand out from the crowd, he has at least got my attention - in all the right ways.

Nice to end the week on a positive.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Keep on communicating

I've taken up running recently, and am still pretty useless. I'm slow, get out of breath quickly and generally find the whole thing exhausting. Not unnaturally, this has the effect of me wanting to stay in with a nice bottle of wine and a good film. Like a normal person.

Except that once a week I get an email from the nice people at parkrun. Parkrun organise a Saturday morning 5k dash round the local park, or in my case the Thames. It is also exhausting, but I’ve got to know a few people and am getting used to the mud. So the combination of the little reminder, the social, and some small conscience that I should be keeping fit, means I actually turn up on a Saturday morning as often as I can.

It dawns on me that the urge NOT to go running is a great deal greater than the urge to run; by quite a long way. So this little communiqué is doing a good job in reminding me to get out there.

And so it is with all marketing communications. Out of sight is out of mind, particularly if it’s something we can put off. It absolutely helps that this email is something I have opted to receive, is relevant to my interests and contains relevant news, but shouldn’t all our marketing communications have the same attributes?

It’s a challenge for all companies to regularly communicate relevant and interesting material to our target market. And the parkrun email seems to me to be a good example.

Meanwhile I am carbohydrate loading ready for my run on Saturday. The only part of the whole process I find really rewarding …

Wednesday 17 November 2010

How interactive is your marketing?

I get an enormous number of sales emails. Many businesses think that my life would be better off with their product or service. That’s what I like to think. Otherwise why would they email me?

Oddly enough, I get the impression a lot them think THEIR lives would be better if I bought their product or service, not mine! Well - that’s what business is all about, isn’t it? Hmmm …

The trouble is, these emails get deleted faster than you can say “Recycle Bin”! They contain no benefit to me and so whatever it costs to write and send them is completely wasted. Many companies just play the numbers game, and there is some sense in that. They blast out huge quantities to any email address they can find, regardless of quality or suitability. Maybe enough reply to make the exercise worthwhile. I’m guessing they must, otherwise people wouldn’t do it. I’ll be honest, though, I think a lot of people would go out of their way to NEVER buy their wares.

But other companies get despondent with low conversion rates. With such a good product, backed by such good service, why aren’t people buying?

It may be they are sending carefully though-out marketing to the wrong people. Whilst it’s difficult to create a list of people waiting to buy your product as soon as it is produced - hats off to Apple, the only recent example I can think of - it is possible to have a list of people who are likely to be interested in your product or service. How? By designing marketing activities to learn something about prospective customers. In other words, instead of broadcasting to them, interacting with them. Asking questions and using the answers in marketing promotions.

Then maybe, over time, what is being sold will come closer into line with what people want to buy – by just listening.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Don't call me average

I’m going to have a rant. I’ve just had yet another email from a local business man who assures me he is in the business of selling. But it’s the funniest looking selling I’ve ever seen.

He doesn’t know me, he doesn’t know my business, and he doesn’t know my priorities, yet he assumes he does. He writes about my knowledge and my concerns. The only trouble is he is absolutely wrong. This might be forgivable if we hadn’t already exchanged emails, and if he didn’t have ample opportunity to figure out a little bit about me.

In other words, he is treating me as average. Which I can assure anyone who is trying to sell to me, I am anything but average.

Broadcast marketing is suitable for broadcast media, like the cinema, the TV or radio. Even then there is a great deal that advertisers can do to target their message to their audience. People want to be entertained at the cinema, and Orange devised a brilliant set of advertisements that are funnier than many films. Cooker manufacturers sponsor foodie programs. Instead of being bored by the idea of a new kitchen appliance, I am inspired to recreate part of Tuscany for my own adoring family.

So why, oh why, do people use broadcast messages on personal platforms? Email is personal. It is addressed to me individually, in the middle of my busy day when I am worrying about other things. My business colleagues use email to talk to me, as do my family and friends. So why do people broadcast their offerings with no thought of the suitability for their audience?

Twitter is personal; I follow individuals, not homogeneous globs. So why are people writing direct messages to me as if I were a tiny fraction of a homogeneous glob? Maybe they too think I am average. A girl could get a complex …

There is a lovely (old) video clip of a famous (m)ad man having a rant about not knowing him, not knowing his company, not knowing his problems, etc etc Now what did the salesperson want to sell him? For the life me I can’t find the clip, otherwise I’d give you a link. But it’s oh, so relevant to anyone in the business of finding new customers. Because none of us are average.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

What marketers can learn from road signs

My route into work is currently plagued by road works. After a summer of pot holes, they are resurfacing the road just in time for this year’s snow and ice. So I get to notice all sorts of things as I wait for the cars in front of me to move.

The other day I noticed a little sign for a local village fete. Upton and Somewhere. Sometime in November. A Saturday I think. It was a beautifully printed coloured flyer lovingly enclosed in plastic and tied to a lamp post. Someone had thought carefully about how much traffic passed by, and strategically positioned the advertisement for maximum viewing.

The trouble is, that’s all they thought about.

It was printed on A4 in tiny type and placed close to ground level. Whilst I noticed the notice, I couldn’t possibly read it. Not without causing an accident and even more delays.

Just a few feet away was another sign. This was about 6 feet off the ground and maybe 2 or 3 foot square. It simply says:

Free Recovery Starts Here

Four words on an area many, many times larger than the village fete ad. And you know what? I must have driven past it maybe a dozen times before I noticed it.

This is a stark lesson for all of us involved in marketing. Whilst we lovingly craft our carefully worded emails and web pages about our complicated propositions, our customers are flying past with their minds half on something else entirely. Anyone who has ever been caught speeding knows they may well have seen the sign once or even twice, but didn’t really register what they saw.

So in marketing, we need to ensure our messages are clear; very clear. And repeated - many times. Rather than boring our prospects, we may still not have got their attention.

I counted the number of road signs that warned me to slow down as I approached a village on my route home. The signs appeared 3 or 4 times, and in a number of different ways (30 miles, flashing light bulb thing, 20 mile sign, 20 miles painted on the road). And people still drive too fast.

Of course road signs are there for safety, not to sell anything. But it is sobering to realise how large and flashing and enforceable they have to be before we even notice them. We can’t make our marketing legally enforceable (probably a good thing!) but we can make it stand out.

I’d like to be able to tell the people who are organising the village fete during the cold and windy November, but I have no idea where they are …

Thursday 4 November 2010

Be remarkable – or be invisible

“Be remarkable, or be invisible.” Seth Godin of Purple Cow fame throws down the gauntlet to the ordinary everywhere. Being remarkable sounds great in theory, but in practice it involves risk.

I was chatting to the Over 60's World Champion of Bog Snorkelling last night, which in itself is pretty remarkable. I suppose he carried his share of risk by taking part, but not quite much risk as the bright sparks who thought up this unlikely sport. The story goes something like this …

Locals in the pub were chatting about how to attract more tourists to the pretty Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells. Having decided that consonants were not necessarily a selling point, someone had the great idea of digging a ditch in a field and hosting the Bog Snorkelling World Championship. I think they must have had a few pints ….

As remarkable (in every respect) as this sounds, the idea was and is a great success. Over 200 entrants take part in the annual event held every August bank holiday, and the sport has spread to Australia and Ireland. Contestants wear snorkels and flippers and are not allowed to swim. Wet suits are usually worn but I believe the current Over 60 World Champion ruined a beautiful white T-shirt during his attempt.

Tourism is not an easy business to promote. Yes, you have beautiful hills, sandy beaches and friendly locals, but so does Scotland, Spain and France. And at least two of those places has a lot less rain. It is easy to be ordinary, safe and ineffective.

No doubt a great many people scoffed at the idea of bog snorkelling. But by being remarkable, the people of Llanwrtyd Wells got themselves on the world map, got an entry in Wikipedia and the Over 60’s champion has been on TV in Brazil. None of those things would have happened if they had carried on promoting beaches. Or consonants. Or the fact that the pubs close on a Sunday.

Monday 1 November 2010

Customer-Centric Marketing

“Boost your Assets!” ran the promotional pitch at my local La Senza store. “£15 off gel bras!”

The offer was accompanied by a picture of an attractive girl who clearly had no qualms about showing off her assets, in all their boosted glory.

The promotion is fun, appropriate and eye-catching to both male and female shoppers. The blokes probably don’t know (or care) what a gel bra is, whilst the girls know exactly what it is, what it does, and why they want one. £15 off is an attractive sweetener to the whole deal, and enough to entice you into the shop. Looks like great benefits-led marketing to me.

So what’s with the undies-led theme to the blog today? Well, I seem to have been surrounded by small businesses promoting at their customers, instead of for their customers.

My local hairdresser ran an offer that said "buy two heat styling products and get one free". The age of the products indicated these had not been the run-away success they had hoped for. By way of an after-thought the author had written "BOGOF!" I wondered if this was by way of suggestion to their customers ...

So seeing a customer-centric promotion made my day. Understanding what customers really, really want, and finding ways to fulfil that need is what marketing is all about. Must look up when La Senza’s offer finishes …

Thursday 21 October 2010

Slow and steady progress to your goal

The lessons that business can learn from sport are well documented. I’ve written before about sports psychology in business, in particular about goal setting. At the time of my previous post I had only just started running. I was bright-eyed with my new running shoes and a great deal of enthusiasm.

My running shoes are now rather muddy and annoyingly prone to giving me blisters. And I am decidedly frustrated at my slow-coach style. I had to pull out of the track exercise last night because my legs just wouldn’t respond when my brain said accelerate. There was no more go in them. No matter how positively I thought about it. It’s a wry lesson.

In business, as sport, there is no substitute for slow and steady progress with an eye held firmly on the target. In business, as in sport, progress is often painfully slow.

Confucius is credited with saying:
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
I repeat that advice to myself almost constantly as I run (completely ignorant of Confucius and his musings): just run, don’t stop, keep running. As you can tell I’m not what you might call a natural at this running lark, but after 6 months of plugging away at it I have just completed my half marathon. When I started I couldn’t run a mile without medical assistance.

So when I read Gretchen Rubin’s blog post quoting Vincent Van Gogh, it got me thinking:

“If one is master of one thing and understands one thing well, one has at the same time, insight into and understanding of many things.”
It is beginning to dawn on me just how difficult it is to make real progress with my running. Difficulties in business can be equally frustrating. Yet keeping on going, continuing to make small steps may be the answer to both. Maybe understanding my limitations with running will help me understand my business better too.

I wouldn’t have believed 6 months ago that I could run a half marathon, and now I don’t believe I can run one in anything like a decent time. But if I continue to train, maybe I won’t be quite as hopeless in another 6 months. Maybe.

Friday 15 October 2010

Blog Action Day: Water

I live in the country. I’m a lucky girl. I’m so lucky that we have a bore hole to pump water from the ground to the house. It’s what you do in the country, apparently. It’s wonderfully clean, fresh water. And none of those pesky water bills. Kind of ideal really.

Now before you get all carried away with the romance of taking it in turns to go pump the water by hand from the bore hole, I have to say that we do have electricity in the country. So the electric pump does all the hard work of getting the water up from the ground. I’m put to no more trouble than turning on the tap. Or shower. Or flushing the loo. We have all mod cons in the country.

Apart from when our local electricity supplier gets a problem and cuts us off, which has happened a fair few times. I don’t know whether that’s to do with being in the country or not, I just know it’s annoying. No lights. No fridge. No dinner. And, wait for it, no water. No water!!!! Arrgghhh!

So no water means no shower, no water to cook with, no water to drink, no water to flush the toilet. No water to clean clothes. No water to do anything with. The last time the bore hole pump packed in, we had to get water from the neighbour in plastic containers. That was sort of interesting. And heavy. And not too easy to deal with.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because it’s Blog Action Day when bloggers from around the world discuss one topic, and this year it is water.

So why am I telling you about my bore hole? Because when my bore hole pump stops working, and I have no water, I’m put in the same position as nearly 1 billion people across the world who do not have access to clean water. Whereas I know my water supply will be restored within a few hours, women living in Africa often have to walk miles with heavy containers to get the family’s water. Day after day, week after week, year after year.

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

My inconvenience of not having water is shocking to my friends. We take clean water for granted, attaching almost no value to it. If you are out of champers, orange juice and beer, you would be embarrassed to only be able to offer a guest a glass of water to drink. Yet in too many places in the world, the value of clean drinking water is immeasurable.

Read more about the problem of water and if nothing else, be thankful for the clean water you have.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Dig deep for Ovarian Cancer Action

Many of my long suffering readers already know that I completed my first half marathon last Sunday. Indeed many of them have been encouraged to support Ovarian Cancer Action - the charity I was running for. They have already heard me moan about how unbelievably difficult it was to run 13.1 miles.

I guess completing a half marathon is an achievement, even if it did take me a full 3 hours to do it. I only marginally beat the pantomime horse, who seemed to have walked most of the distance. But who cares? I ran most of the distance (yes, I know, I am the slowest runner ever … ) and learnt more about myself than I really wanted to know.

First of all I learnt that not being fully prepared isn’t the greatest idea in the world. I hadn’t done enough training, not lost enough weight and hadn’t really understood what running 13 miles meant. My iPod was overestimating my practice runs, so I was lulled into a false sense of fitness security – thinking I had been covering longer distances than I had. You live and learn. But the psychological trauma of realising I had only run 9 miles when my iPod said 10 miles, and my legs said 24 miles was not something my head was ready for. And the humiliation of needing to be talked up that endless hill by a 14 year old boy on a bicycle is something I will train long and hard to resist next time.

I also learnt something about digging deep. Alliterations always have a jolly ring to them, but when you are living them they look a little different. Digging deep last Sunday meant remembering why I was running (because someone else had to endure the pain of chemotherapy) and why it was important (because I want future generations to have a better chance). Digging deep also meant keeping on going, when all I wanted to do was stop. Digging deep meant trying to think of something other than what might be happening under my socks.

I also learnt that it is worthwhile to stick my neck out to try and achieve something worthwhile. I’ve now got a great deal more respect for people who regularly run, cycle, walk and abseil down buildings for causes they believe are important. Without those people we wouldn’t know half what we know about cancer, how the heart or head works.

So thank you everyone who supported me, and Ovarian Cancer Action. My Just Giving page is if you would like to add to the bellow of voices who want a higher chance of survival for the lovely women in their lives who are unlucky enough to get ovarian cancer.

Friday 8 October 2010

Making the right decisions when it all goes pear shaped

Last night I was at a Question Time-style session organised by The Marketing Society. It was lively, engaging, funny, frustrating and highly entertaining. There were some smart cookies in the audience as well as on the panel. One question that particularly interested me was: “What leadership qualities are needed to repair a damaged brand?”

Brands get damaged for all sorts of reasons – but mostly because something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. You’ve not delivered on your brand promise. BP, Toyota, Royal Mail, BA have all recently had operational problems that have tarnished their marketing image. So what to do? Is it a question of spending more on marketing, PR, sponsorship? Or as is being suggested for BP, changing your name in several countries?

Or is it a question of communicating?

When things go wrong at home, communication is normally at the heart of the problem. And so it is with brands.

When it all goes pear shaped, communicating clearly, honestly and openly about what’s happened is usually the best route. Food companies have become well-rehearsed with this. From time to time something gets into the product that shouldn’t. The press love it, and the marketing people have hysterics. But we all goof up from time to time. And explaining what happened, what you are going to do to put it right, how you will reduce the risk of it happening again – all go a long way to reassuring your customers. That, and saying sorry.

Nothing as simple as this came back as an answer to the questioner’s insightful probe. What do you think? How do great leaders repair damage to their valuable brands?

Thursday 7 October 2010

Feed the Addiction

I admit to having caught the tail end of The Apprentice last night. This hammed-up but fascinating series continues to annoy and delight in equal measure.

Making and selling sausages at a profit appears to have been the first task, which was lost by the boys team (I told you it was delightful). What was most fascinating though, was the team leader’s approach to management. “Standing around giving orders” seems to have been his management style – an approach most of us in business would find amusing if it wasn’t mixed with so much aggression and swearing.

The Apprentices do play up for the cameras, as do the Board, but beneath all the play acting are some serious business conundrums. How do people work when they are under pressure and haven’t had enough sleep (for whatever reason)? Do they rise to the challenge and help their colleagues or do they turn into bullying slave drivers? No wonder large companies wine and dine would be employees before deciding whether to send a job offer – they want to know what’s beneath the gloss and bravado. They want to see what kind of person they are really brining into the fold.

It’s no surprise Alan Sugar has indicated that underperforming bullies have no role in any of his companies, whatever the stresses and strains. His job was made easier by the so-called Sales Director’s inability to sell sausages. I hope his decision would have been the same if he had sold several pigs-worth of the things.

If you didn't see it, you can watch here:

Friday 1 October 2010

The Cloud’s Silver Lining

Cloud computing offers significant benefits to cash strapped businesses that need to Get Things Done. There are no high upfront costs of buying servers and software, rather you on pay as you go for what you need. The service is ready and waiting for your requirement, like a Labrador puppy – always eager for walkies.

But the silver lining doesn’t stop there.

Whilst cost and availability are pretty helpful (OK, more than just helpful in difficult economic times) one big benefit of cloud computing is its ability to join up geographically separate locations. If I want my Edinburgh office to see the same set of performance indicators as my Southampton office, I need a way for them both to be able to see the same data - and I need it to be secure. For smaller companies that don’t have their networks linked, this isn’t so easy.

Putting your application in the cloud takes care of all the communications issues in one monthly payment. No support costs. No need to hire someone to take care of the infrastructure. No necessity to deal with multiple suppliers: just a simple internet connection.

Whether a company is spread across town, across the country, or all over Europe – this is a big benefit. And the mechanics of designing the application are no different from any other business app.

So whilst cost is often trumpeted as the big benefit of cloud computing, I suggest there are others that are probably more important. After all, what price efficient communication?

Wednesday 29 September 2010

The economic sense in segmenting your market

There are many different ways to categorize marketing, but one very simple way is this:
  • Undifferentiated
  • Differentiated
  • Concentrated
Undifferentiated marketing is where everyone in your target market is treated the same. TV advertising reaches everyone – those who want clean, shiny floors and those who have no interest in clean shiny floors.

Differentiated marketing segments the target market into groups with common interests. With some knowledge of these common interests, you can then tailor your message more precisely. So you don’t sell cleaning products to teenagers, for example. Or recruitment services to corner shops. That sort of thing.

Concentrated marketing is where marketing messages are aimed at a small, precise market. For example, a company might choose to market to artisan cheese makers in Wigan or museum curators outside of the capital. I practice, I'm not absolutely sure how this differs from differentiated marketing.

This idea was first put forward by Philip Kotler, and sounds eminently sensible. In fact much of marketing theory has been built on the idea of differentiated marketing, or segmenting the market.

When resources are limited (which they always are) choices have to be made. Figuring out which part of the market is most likely to respond to offers of what you sell makes good economic sense. Whatever label you put on it.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Do you love or hate your marketing systems?

Software systems - you either love ‘em, or you hate ‘em. Well, actually, for the most part we love them (and need them) and hate them (when they don’t do what we want).

Sales and marketing has become too complex to manage without systems: those that you love and those that you hate. Sales people are well known for being rather wary of CRM systems – for good and bad reasons. Marketing people would like to manage without, but can’t.

But whether it’s a manual process or a software system, systems of all sorts are vital for efficient and effective sales and marketing.

It’s not always easy to tell whether a system is effective or not. We have all come to rely on email, but the time saved in being able to send a message with hardly a thought has meant we have so many more messages to read. So the time saved is now spent sorting and figuring out what is important and what is not.

It’s the same with many other systems. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems can hold an enormous amount of data, but can you see the information you need? Can you identify whether time and effort is being spent with the right customers with the right results? Not always ....

So it’s worth stepping back from time to time and thinking about what you and your senior team really need to know about your marketing. Are your systems alerting you quickly enough to problems? Are they providing sufficient visibility into what’s happening? And if they don’t, what can you do about it? Another report? Collecting different data? Or pulling together information that’s already there so you can see the situation more clearly?

Marketing is all about difference – demonstrating to your customers why you are different, and providing a better solution to their problem or opportunity. Be different, and create systems that enable you to do that better than any of your competitors.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

4 P’s: Is the marketing mix out-dated?

If you have heard about marketing, you have heard of the 4 P’s: product, price, place and promotion. Sometimes a fifth P is added: people.

The 4 P’s have become a standard model for thinking about marketing. But what if they are wrong? Or at least, what if they are out-dated?

Marketing in today’s digital economy is a complex and confusing business. Hugely successful companies such as Dell have numerous Twitter accounts whilst the rest of us try to figure out what the platform is all about. Whilst marketing is becoming more important, it also has to work in a more fragmented and increasingly noisy marketplace. Gone are the days when advertising in the relevant print publication sorted out the year’s marketing.

Maybe today’s marketers need better tools than just to figure out what they are selling, at what price, how they will get it to customers, and how to promote it.

So if the 4 P’s are out-dated, what should take their place? For service oriented businesses, SIVA is a better variation: Solution, Information, Value and Access. These equate exactly with Product, Promotion, Price and Place, but put the emphasis on how the customer sees the transaction, rather than how a company views its marketing.

But what about strategy? What about the competition? What about positioning? Target market? Measurement?

These are all elements that can make a huge difference to the success of marketing initiatives. The alliteration isn’t so neat, but the components are necessary for successful marketing.

Whilst models can be helpful, they are only models. And if the model is out-dated, or plain wrong, they might hinder more than they help. Is it time for a 21st century model for marketing?

Friday 10 September 2010

Make your Goals Realistic

As regular readers of Getting to Excellent already know, I think setting goals is tremendously important. Goals improve performance by focusing the mind on a particular outcome, help to remove distractions, and provide motivation to achieve something. So as a tool to manage ourselves, and other people, they are kind of handy.

But they are not simple little beasts - far from it.

A goal that is too easy encourages complacency, and might even result in something not getting done at all, or taking too long to do.

A goal that is too difficult becomes demotivating because you don’t/can’t achieve it, and either blame yourself for poor performance, or whoever encouraged you to try for the goal. Either way you come away dispirited and sure that “setting goals doesn’t work”.

What’s wrong in both cases is that not enough thought and data went into setting the goal. After all, what you are aiming for is the best performance possible from yourself or someone else. Not a sorry wreck at the end of the exercise.

Figuring out current performance, comparing performance of others of similar ability, and figuring out what a realistic improvement could be, are all ingredients to a realistic goal. The answer you get might not be the nice round number you first thought of, but it is likely to produce better results. Yes, it will have taken a little longer to arrive at, but it will also encourage a higher level of commitment in whoever is doing the work.

I’m forever guilty of setting unrealistic goals with my running, whereas a little more thought might help motivate me, rather than demotivate me. The same goes for sales targets, marketing objectives, delivering projects, passing exams etc. etc. A touch more realism, and a touch less optimism, might produce much better results in all areas. True of all things in life really.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Fake Guinness Viral Advertisement

Did you see the fake Guinness viral ad? The one with the naked lady doing goodness alone knows what underneath a bottle of Guinness? If you haven’t, it’s too late, because Diageo have made YouTube remove it from their site. I’m not surprised.

Although it was free advertising for Guinness, it wasn’t at all consistent with the Guinness brand values. Whilst 50% of the population (that’s not the female half) I'm sure thought it hilarious, its overtly sexy and sexist content seemed more suited to a Castlemain 4X Aussie commercial - with all its sophisticated humour. The Guinness advertising has always been wholesome, intelligent and stylish. Consistently wholesome, intelligent and stylish: which is why Guinness is a valuable brand that Diageo rightly want to protect.

Great marketing is a good deal more than a fun idea and a camcorder – although at times it doesn’t look that way. That’s the real beauty in something as complex as a world-beating brand – when you get to see the finished result it looks like a 16 year old could have done it.

But they didn’t.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Marketing results matter

Marketing results matter - good results and bad results - and are well worth studying. And here's why.

If you don’t pay attention to the results of your marketing, you are not listening to your prospective customers. They tell you, through their responses (positive, negative or indifferent), what is relevant to them and what is not. They tell you what is addressing their problems, and what is not. They tell you what they need, and what they don’t need. Powerful stuff.

History shows that companies who don’t listen to their market get results that match their attentiveness.

So pay attention to your marketing results – good, bad and indifferent.

Monday 6 September 2010

How to ensure good intentions are followed through

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Most of our good intentions – whether carried through or not – don’t lead anywhere close to hell. They lead to emails never written, untidy desks or turning up late to appointments: minor things that are nothing more than an irritation to us and our colleagues. And then, for some reason, we get thoroughly fed up our unhelpful behaviour and resolve to change. But like Toad in Wind of the Willows our good intentions are genuine but short lived. We simply fail to follow up on answering all our emails/being punctual/tidy or whatever.

Change is a great deal more difficult to affect than we realise. Habits get ingrained and are not easy to change. That’s why so many New Year resolutions are made and religiously kept through the first couple of weeks of January then abandoned without another thought.

So how can we ensure that good intentions get followed through? In my eternal battles to conquer tidiness and clear my inbox, here are six of the best in making lasting change:

  1. Tackle one habit at a time. A list of resolutions isn’t really helpful to anything other than our ego. Start with the single habit that will make the most difference.
  2. Write down your goal and progress. When I was living without caffeine I had a spreadsheet that I logged each and every day I didn’t drink caffeine. It sounds a little over the top, but unless you have a reminder mechanism, you are unlikely to follow though.
  3. Tell other people what you are doing and enlist their help. Not just on day one, but a month or two into your change. Most of us don’t like to lose face in front of people we respect and so will work twice as hard to keep resolutions we’ve made public.
  4. Recognise it takes time to change. My experiments indicate that it takes at least 100 days to get a new habit established, and even then you can’t relax. You have to keep reminding yourself why the habit is important, and put the effort in to keep it going.
  5. Know why you are doing it. Any worthwhile change takes effort, so it’s important to understand how life will be better once you’ve established a new habit. Talk to other people to find out how they work – the more sure you are of yourself, the more likely you are to stick with it.
  6. Make a change that’s right for you. If you like to work late into the night, and start work late in the morning, you are unlikely to be successful in changing into an early riser. Figure out what you are trying to achieve, and then work within your preferences and abilities.
Human beings seem to be designed to strive and change things for the better. We are never quite satisfied with what we have, or how we work. But setting the same resolutions time after time is a soul destroying exercise – better to put more effort into what’s really important. Leave the long list of “wouldn’t it be nice if” resolutions until you've got the important ones licked.

Friday 27 August 2010

Raise energy levels by doing things differently

Habits are important – I would be the first person to admit that – but they can also limit us. As a good friend is fond of reminding me:

“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”

Breaking out of entrenched thinking, and re-evaluating entrenched habits can have an invigorating effect. And so I have found this week. I’ve not been doing what I’ve always done; I’ve been doing things a bit differently. It’s August and I’ve been letting my hair down. Green tea is back fuelling my days (oh, so good). A glass of wine has been allowed with dinner (don’t tell the neighbours). And a little more energy has been going into my work.

It may simply be enthusiasm for what I’m doing: SharePoint is an exciting new technology and I have some interesting projects bubbling away. Or it may be that occasionally things need shaking up. Rearranging the furniture in my mind, so to speak.

This has all been fuelled by a radical suggestion from Leo Babauta that great habits are formed when we enjoy what we are doing. It doesn’t sound radical – in fact it sounds stupidly obvious. But I think it has more depth than first appears.

So I continue to go with the flow and re-examine long held views about “what I do” and “who I am”. On a number of levels this has been enormous fun, and energising.

Friday 20 August 2010

A little bit of what you fancy does you good

My Grandmother was fond of pointing out that “a little bit of what you fancy does you good.” Sadly, the world I live in has so much of what I fancy, what really does me good is having a little bit less of just about everything. My Grandmother’s world was very different.

I suppose I have got used to the idea that in order to improve I need to be disciplined, and cut out harmful things. Moderation has never really been my style. My 100-day caffeine challenge was a prime example. It took three attempts to live without caffeine, but after a recent upset in my schedule caffeine is now back in my routine. Life throws all sorts of unexpectedly wobblies, and being disciplined doesn’t always work if you need to stay awake.

But then this week I read a blog post that kind of shattered my view of the world. The talented and highly readable Leo Babauta of Zen Habits suggested that the best habits are the ones we enjoy. On first reading this I scoffed: Of course! It’s easy to keep to habits we enjoy. That takes no effort at all! What a silly idea.

But then I let it sink in a little more. By finding the pleasure in what we do, and what we need to do, we are more likely to do what needs to be done. Simple. But effective? Maybe ...

He is not the only writer to have suggested this type of approach. The scarily prolific Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project has all sorts of good advice such as “enjoy the process” and “spend out”.

Is there benefit in working on pleasurable habits? Or in making stuff-that-needs-to-be-done more fun? Common sense tells me “Yes”, but it seems so radical.

So I’m enjoying a few cups of green tea each day, and not feeling bad about it. The occasional glass of wine with dinner has also been known this week. My yogic self doesn’t approve, but for the moment I’m going with the flow and letting the idea grow roots.

Habits are so important, but habitually get too little thought. Aristotle advised “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit”. Health, wealth and sanity depend on what we do day in and day out. Finding a way to enjoy what we eat, how we work, and how we relate to one another seems like a basic building block.

Maybe the wise words in my Grandmother’s advice were “a little bit” rather than “what you fancy”. Enjoying life and work through moderation? A radical idea!

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Improve your chances of success

Performance management on a large and small scale is of constant fascination to me. So whenever I come across an article or example of someone else’s struggle, it is invariably of interest.

I came across a treat this morning, courtesy of Twitter. Charlie Brooker has written the most delicious piece in the Guardian about the art of writing, and more specifically, the benefits of having a deadline. It is so worth a read, even if you have no interest in the art of stringing sentences together.

Brooker sees great benefit in deadlines. He doesn’t say whether he actively likes or dislikes them, but he acknowledges their ability to focus the mind and Get Things Done; in particular his 800 word article.

Assuming that all of us have a basic ability to do whatever job it is that we have been putting off, deadlines/goals/objectives are of tremendous help. They narrow down the range of options we have with what to do with our time. When the deadline is still many months, weeks or days away, our options are wide open. We can clear down our email, work on interesting projects, or whatever. As the deadline approaches, we realise time is pressing and we need to get started. The closer the deadline, the harder we work.

I cannot run unless I have a race to aim for. The only thing that gets me out of the house is the prospect of humiliation in not going the distance. Posting blog articles is no different. I have a goal of posting three times a week. I don’t always manage it, but I rarely post less than twice a week.

Of course there are counter arguments to goals and deadlines - the quality versus quantity argument being the most obvious. Yes, I can blog three times a week, but during a busy week would I produce better quality by only writing two posts? Maybe …. it often occurs to me.

But what goals and deadlines do, is to get something delivered. As Woody Allen says, 80% of success is showing up. I’m fond of that quotation, it gives me half a chance.

Thursday 12 August 2010


After admitting that crowdsourcing was a new concept for me, I now have my head firmly stuck in the book of the same name by Jeff Howe.

It doesn’t take much reading to recognise a phenomenon that has been growing for some time. Development of the Linux operating system is perhaps the best known of the many-hands-make-light-work idea, but there are many more. Software development. Logo design. Computer time. It seems there is a vast underworld of worker bees doing stuff outside of the normal business model, just for the sheer joy of being involved.

What comes across most compellingly when you check out each of the examples is that these people are all doing something they love. Programming. Designing. Writing. Whatever. They don’t see it as work, but as a privilege to be involved in.

It seems to me that there are two really important ideas that come out of this “oh, my goodness, what a brilliant idea crowdsourcing is” thing:

1. When people do something they love, and are good at, they produce excellent results
2. When like-minded people get together to do something they love, and are good at, they produce amazingly excellent results

Unsurprisingly, others have read the book and are clambering onto the crowdsourcing bandwagon. Large companies (Dell, Google, and I’m sure many others) are taking advantage of something that clearly has benefit to their bottom line if they can get it right.

But you don’t have to be Dell or Google to make use of this idea. The idea of managed collaboration was highlighted in a comment to a post just a few days ago. Whether the people you are collaborating with are in the next cubicle, the next town, or several routers away on another continent hardly matters. What matters is bringing people together to create something more extraordinary than anyone could produce on their own. Technology is as beautiful as nature sometimes.

As an aside, if you are reading this and have an opinion or two on anything you have read, leave a comment. Whilst my merry band of readers might not quite fit the definition of a crowd, they do massively enhance and expand the value to everyone by adding, challenging and commenting.

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Progress and the Unreasonable Man

I was at Kew Gardens at the weekend enjoying a particularly sunny London day. When it came to lunchtime a debate broke out over whether the restaurant prices were reasonable. Some felt they were too high - far too high. I erred on the side of considering the special case for this particular venue.

Two quotes came to mind:

George Bernard Shaw suggested that “the reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Whilst Ella Wheeler Wilcox pleaded “Don’t look for the flaws as you go through life; and even when you find them, it is wise and kind to be somewhat blind, and look for the virtue behind them.”

Who is right? I don’t know. Both, I suspect.

I didn’t want my sunny day spoilt with carping over restaurant prices, yet if everyone felt the same way motorway service stations would still be horrific places to eat (which these days they are not always).

Maybe what is most important is doing something about it. If prices are genuinely unreasonable then having a moan over lunch will achieve little, whereas writing to the CEO of the catering company, telling the local newspaper, blogging about it and telling all your friends might. Or setting up a competitive eatery half a mile away.

So perhaps progress depends on the men of action, however reasonable or unreasonable they may be. However, when one discovers that Oliver Peyton has recently been awarded the catering contract for Kew, and that all the restaurants and self-service cafes will be refurbished within a year; prices seem a little more understandable. And the food a little more palatable.

Thursday 5 August 2010

Working through consensus

Collaboration is very much on my mind at the moment, so it’s perhaps not surprising that a new book caught my eye. "Smart Swarm" by Peter Miller suggests that the business world can learn from the behaviour of bees, ants and other animals. These groups communicate and make decisions by consensus, rather than follow-the-leader.

It isn’t the only book of its kind: Wikinomics by Don Tapscott considers mass collaboration across the internet.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was introduced to the concept of crowd sourcing – a concept which has appeared on my radar several times since – but was previously unknown to me.

All of these ideas highlight what we already know – that we work better together than we do alone.

The idea isn’t without its detractors: some believe that intelligent, trained specialists will always make better decisions than a large, generalist group. That may well be true, but there appears to be an ever increasing number of examples, from an increasing number of authors, suggesting that overall groups fare better than individuals at making good decisions.

All of which has big implications for the workplace. Wikis, discussion forums, team collaboration software are ways to facilitate communication, discussion and better work. Twitter is the latest in a long line of innovative ways of digitally getting people together. Ebay, Facebook and LinkedIn also spring to mind.

Of course great work doesn’t have to be the product of a sizeable group, evidence suggests that many successful endeavours are built on partnerships. Crick and Watson, of DNA fame, are a good example. Bill Hewlett and David Packard of Hewlett-Packard are another famous duo. Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. I could go on, but you get the idea.

All of which flies in the face of the traditional CEO as leader and saviour of an organisation.

Are times a changing? Is software genuinely helping us work together more effectively? Could we prevent disasters such as the financial meltdown of 2008/09 by listening to the group, rather than the few? The little crowd of recently published books on the subject suggest there is something in this concept, but only time, and consensus, will tell.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

Meetings, bloody meetings

I noticed the heading of blog post a few days ago: "10 Ways to Get out of Meetings". I didn’t read it, but suspect it was popular. Too many meetings are less productive than they should be.

Instead of trying to avoid meetings, though, how about figuring out how to make meetings more useful, and more effective? After all, two or three or four heads are always better than one. It’s just that it takes a little effort to get a meeting to work well. When creativity and problem solving start to work in a co-operative way, meetings are worth their weight in gold.

So, with reference to John Cleese’s excellent film “Meetings Bloody Meetings” here are 10 ways to get more out of meetings:
  1. Prepare in advance (Is the meeting necessary? Who should attend? What is already known? Are sensitive issues being discussed that merit face to face discussion, etc, etc)
  2. Set clear meeting objectives
  3. Have an agreed agenda
  4. Make sure everyone is invited who needs to be there, and that they have the opportunity to give their input during the meeting
  5. Give people time to prepare in advance (with sight of relevant information)
  6. Ensure everyone is working from the same documentation (up to date agenda, budgets, documents, etc)
  7. Keep to time (start, finish, take individual items off-line if they are taking too much time)
  8. Record decisions and key points in the minutes
  9. Follow-up after the meeting
  10. Use a collaboration tool to keep everything together rather than relying on email (it provides structure and reduces the risk of missing things): Dates, times, attendees, objectives, the agenda, additional documents, minutes

It isn’t rocket science, but it is almost always more work than we first reckon. If that means having fewer, but better, meetings that would likely suit everyone. Including whoever is trying to get things done.

My very old copy of John Cleese’s book “How to Run a Meeting” always brings a smile to my face. Cleese’s eyes are raised skywards in sympathy in frustration at yet another unnecessary, unproductive and unbelievably long meeting.

Collaboration and knowledge-sharing is much more of a framework than it was in the 1970’s where the emphasis was on controlling meetings. Yet the dangers of rambling, unfocused discussion is as great today as it was then. So Cleese’s 1976 book stays on my bookshelf, alongside my 2010 collaboration software.

Thursday 29 July 2010

What makes marketing successful?

Having ruminated on whether business should employ marketers at all, it seems only fair to consider the people who are responsible for building great brands, and great profits. What makes a great marketer, and what do they do to enable their businesses to succeed and prosper?

A couple of marketing leaders, interviewed for Marketing Week, talk about what it takes to succeed with marketing:
Being ruthlessly focused on the consumer and making money at the end of it” – Tim Hawley, Global Marketing Director, Bacardi
World-class marketing is nearly always based on insight, whether it be from structured research, knowledge within the department or visits to the field” – Phil Chapman, Group Marketing Director, Kerry Foods. He goes on to say “To be a great marketer, you have to be comfortable with both the art and the science of your job. Marketing is about being logical and structured, but also allowing yourself to be completely creative.”
You have to remind people, and institutionalise the fact, that they must connect directly and regularly with consumers” – Helen Lewis, Consumer Insight and Marketing Strategy Director, Unilever
Marketing Week has this week published an article “The steps you must take to become a marketing leader” and stresses the importance of creating a vision:
Build belief in a clear vision of market opportunity based on a deep
understanding of potential customer needs
Marketing’s role in a business is driven by the people who work in the business. Employing people who are analytical and market-savvy doesn’t happen by accident; such people are in demand. It has to start with a belief that a market-led strategy will succeed. Then the people, the data, and the vision can be assembled.

Of course the marketing people quoted here are working for some of the world’s most market-led companies, with budgets to match. But I doubt budget is the defining factor – I suggest it is attitude of mind. Anyone can (and I have) get out there and interview people about what they think: it costs nothing. Anyone can analyse their own customer data to inform their marketing strategy. Where there is a will, there is always a way.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Does business need marketing?

Nothing happens in business until someone sells something.
Oh, how true. At least, nothing profitable happens in business until someone sells something. Yet most businesses have so many wheels turning within wheels that people can be happily forget that businesses exist to make a profit for their shareholders. Without sales there is no revenue, and without revenue there are no profits. No business can (or should) run for very long without profit.

So businesses need people to sell their products or services. That much is clear.
But does business need marketing? What additional value does marketing bring to the profits party?

To answer that, you first have to understand what marketing is. And in true marketing style, prepare to get anything but a straight answer.

“Marketing is the battle to dominate a market niche in prospects’ minds” say Ries and Trout.
“Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably” according to the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
You would be forgiven for thinking that marketers run the business, so central is their role. And maybe they should, but they don’t. Far from it. More financiers than marketers run successful companies.

Yet it isn’t the financiers who are tasked with understanding what customers want. They are not figuring out why customers make one buying choice rather than another. It is marketers.

In theory, at least, marketing plays a central role in making sure businesses are producing the right goods and services, pricing them so the business is profitable, and ensuring customers know about them, and are able to buy them (4P’s: Product, Place, Price and Promotion).

Some of these decisions are rightly taken with the input of many aspects of the company: finance, operations, and marketing. Yet without recognising the market-led nature of these decisions, businesses may not give marketing the priority or resource necessary to help the business make the best decisions.

Marketing’s all-encompassing nature is both a strength and weakness in its role within business.

Of course there are some businesses with no need for marketing. These include:

  • Businesses with little or no competition
  • Businesses whose potential customers know who they are, what they do and why they should buy
  • Businesses in industries that do not change
Not your business? Not mine, neither ...

Friday 23 July 2010

What’s the point of loyalty points?

For reasons that are too complex to explain, I found myself being driven through the middle of Slough yesterday evening. A rare treat, you would have to agree. Slough boasts one of the largest Tescos I have ever seen. I clearly don’t get out enough because these Tesco Extra stores are a now a feature of many large towns and cities.

However, it wasn’t just the gleamingly large two-floor-ish-ness of this Tesco store that caught my eye. It was a rather aggressive message emblazoned across the front of the store. No, not Slough graffiti: this had been put there by management.

“Asda vouchers accepted here” it read (or words to that effect). It was alongside an equally pointed message: “Morrison vouchers accepted here”.

My eyebrows were raised with interest, whilst the other occupants of the car quietly wondered at my sanity at such interest in a supermarket.

What is interesting about the tactic, apart from its bare-faced cheek, is that neither Asda nor Morrisons have a loyalty scheme: both compete purely on price.

Tesco, who are offering double loyalty points this summer, have a three-pronged competitive spear, compared to Asda and Morrison’s single spear:
  1. They are keenly priced on many lines
  2. Customers are encouraged to join the loyalty scheme and then earn additional money-off rewards
  3. Customers get further targeted offers for more savings from the loyalty scheme.
Oh, and of course, Tesco are also accepting vouchers issued by rival supermarkets. Neat. They are proving themselves a thoughtful and resourceful opponent.

Which makes me wonder why more companies don’t look at the value of marketing data?

Marketing data can be generated on purpose, eg through loyalty schemes or other devices, or may just be sitting on a file server unloved and unused. Marketing data often has a relatively low cost and a surprisingly high value – when it’s used properly.

Interesting place, Slough.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Do I miss caffeine? Not at all!

I had a lovely comment yesterday from a reader who was interested in someone else’s journey to live without caffeine. They were wondering how I was doing. Was I still caffeine free or had those green teas edged their way back in to my life?

I can report that I am 100% caffeine free and have been for about 10 months. I might occasionally accept a chocolate if it was offered to me, but I never drink coffee or tea. After I finished the London 10k I had a bottle of iced tea thrust into my hands and I admit I made an exception. I was too tired, too polite, and too much in need of a cold drink to refuse. But it’s the first caffeinated drink I’ve had since I don’t know when. And I have no intention of making caffeine part of my diet again.

But you know the strangest part? I don’t miss it at all. Not a bit. I’m sure I would enjoy a cup of green tea if I drank it, but the cravings have completely gone and I just don’t think about it anymore. When asked if I would like a cup of tea or coffee I now automatically answer that I’d like a peppermint or herb tea. I don’t have to think about it: that’s what I drink.

It’s a little like going vegetarian (or fishetarian in my case). It’s difficult at first, but once it has become a habit and you start to enjoy the benefits, it just stops being an issue.

I know there are many people who are thinking about, or have started to give up caffeine. I guess everyone has their own individual reasons. But for me, I’m glad I did it. I find I am calmer for living without caffeine (I never get that jittery sensation I used to have) and if I do get a headache, at least I know it’s not due to overdosing on caffeine. And I think I get fewer headaches overall. I also sleep better for not drinking caffeine.

This isn’t necessarily a recommendation to go caffeine-free. Some people happily drink tea and coffee and suffer no ill effects. I know some people who can have a cup of coffee in the evening and have no concerns about their sleep. But I wasn’t one of them. And the reading I did around the subject convinced me that it was a drug I could live without. So I do. Happily.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Why email isn’t the answer

Email has revolutionised our lives. No question. The days of typing memos and sending them round to the next office in a large brown envelope have long gone. (I realise the Facebook generation have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. You will just have to take it on trust that that’s what happened in the “old days”.)

So we’ve come a long way. In the blink of an eye my email can be in Edinburgh or Bangalore. I can even attach a document or a spreadsheet. Communication is easier than it has ever been.

But when it comes to organising information, email has a lot to answer for.

Yes, we can get our message across quickly. Yes, we can circulate documents to any number of people very quickly. But what we can’t do is order and prioritise information.

We can’t ensure everyone has remembered to read the agenda before the meeting. We don’t always send out everything for the meeting all together. And sometimes things have to be amended before the meeting.

So all you can be sure of is that your message has gone to the top of someone’s inbox - until the next message arrives. Then the next. And the next. Until your message is, well, somewhere in the pile of emails. Then it’s anyone’s guess what gets retrieved before that crucial meeting.

What’s needed is a way of organising information so everything is together:
  • The meeting objectives
  • The agenda
  • The latest version of documents relating to the meeting
  • Attendees
  • Date, time and location of the meeting
  • Minutes after the meeting
And indeed to make sure that other documents such as budgets or project plans are easily to hand.

Whilst email has revolutionised the world of work, there is still further to go.

Collaboration software complements email by adding organisation and order. It enables everything to be in one place for everyone to access. So there is one version of the objectives and agenda. And, crucially, everyone is working on the latest copy of the proposal/budget/project plan (delete as appropriate).

So there is no last minute scrabbling around wondering where the meeting is being held, or whether anyone circulated an agenda. Because it’s all there together to be reviewed when you’re ready. Cool.

Thursday 15 July 2010

8 Habits for Success

Like many people I have phases when I don’t eat well or exercise as much as I should. I’ve been making more of any effort lately as I have started running. It’s been sort of horrifying just how unfit and overweight I’ve become. So leaves are being turned, and habits examined.

Here is my wish-list for habits I think will encourage success:
  1. Eat well. Or as Michael Pollan of the New York Times puts it: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Excellent advice and his essay Unhappy Meals is well worth a read. Eating well promotes health and increases energy.
  2. Exercise. Make flexibility, strength and cardio exercises a part of your (and my) routine.
  3. Take less drugs. Caffeine and alcohol are the business person's drugs of choice. Neither have any nutitional value and both can have a detrimental affect on performance, depending on the degree to which they are indulged. Drinking alcohol during the day went out with the '80's, and drinking on weekday evenings has (pretty much) gone out of my routine too. A difficult one as so much socialising is done "over a drink".
  4. Personal reflection. This must be one of the most powerful, yet under-utilised habits. Reflect at the start and end of every day on what needs doing, what has gone well or not so well, and how things could be changed for the better.
  5. Sleep enough. Not getting enough sleep is miserable, and does not create the right mood for excellent work. There are lots of articles floating around (the internet) about rising early and catching worms, but we all know how much sleep we need to perform well.
  6. Get rid of clutter. Clearing clutter has a positive effect on mood and organisation. I have far too many books and need to send a load to the charity shop. Oh, so difficult! But it will be so much better when it’s done.
  7. Surround yourself with bright people. Mix with people who will challenge your ideas, and encourage better performance.
  8. Be a lifelong learner. Reading, attending courses, and writing all help to keep the mind stimulated and introduce new ideas.
So what’s on your list? What have I missed? Do tell …

Wednesday 14 July 2010

The gentle art of working together

People can be prickly sometimes, can’t they? We easily get upset when left off the email distribution list for one of our projects, or when someone doesn’t invite us to a meeting. Rightly so – work is an important part of everyone’s lives.

As work becomes more complex, and pressures build to do more, we need better ways to collaborate and share. Email gets a message from one machine to another, but does nothing to help organise and prioritise. The internet has done a great deal to put more at our finger tips, but sometimes the result is overwhelming – so much information, so much to do, and so little organisation.

Within Anatec we use Microsoft SharePoint to share information and coordinate goals. That’s not a great surprise as we are Microsoft Certified Partners. But I think everyone’s needs concerning collaboration are pretty similar. Here is my top ten list of what’s important to get the best out of other people:
  1. Be clear. Collaboration sites need to have a good hierarchical structure so information is easy to find. Colour coding by department can help orient people in a large site.
  2. Make it attractive. Just because it’s work doesn’t mean to say that the look and feel of your collaboration site isn’t important. The better it looks, the more likely it will be to be used. Have a house style so that fonts and headline sizes are used consistently: it’s a lot easier on the eye.
  3. Consistency of purpose. Make objectives consistent and visible and ensure company communications reflect current priorities.
  4. Time to think. Make key documents or discussions available to everyone involved. The more time people have to mull over a problem, the better their input will be.
  5. No surprises. Ensure key dates are visible well ahead of time. A shared company calendar with dates for exhibitions, people’s holidays, key presentations, etc. helps to keep people focused on the major events during the month.
  6. Make it inspirational. Whatever your line of work there are people who will live better lives as a result of what you do. Share the inspiration with your co-workers though words or pictures.
  7. Keep content up-to-date. Intranets are a great place to share things, but they need to be kept up-to-date and they need to keep people’s attention. If they always see the same old stuff, pretty soon they will stop reading. If there is a key report you can share though your intranet, then do. People will get familiar with the structure and content by using it more.
  8. Make it interesting. Is there a relevant RSS feed you could include on your home page? Can you use appropriate and attractive pictures to help get your message across? It all makes work more enjoyable, and collaboration more effective.
  9. Don’t make it optional. Whenever a new system is introduced, there is always resistance. Don’t be tempted to keep emailing documents, just because it’s easier. Put the document on your collaboration site and then email the link. Keep on eye on what people are accessing to make sure its being used.
  10. Get everyone involved. Collaboration is exactly that – people working together to create something more than one person could do alone. Ensure there is a structure to the way you work, then use it at every opportunity - in meetings, as a way of discussing things, even as internal presentations.
Collaboration through intranets is not new, but options are opening up for smaller companies to use tools that the big boys have enjoyed for years.

Monday 12 July 2010

“Do or do not …. there is no try”

I’ve never seen Star Wars, but Yoda’s advice rang true on Sunday morning as I waited to start the London 10K. As part of a crowd of 25,000 runners it was an amazing, if tough, experience. But I finished, and I didn’t walk a single one of those 10,000 metres, and I was very happy to have achieved a personal goal: particularly as I had been daft enough to sprain my ankle just a couple of months before.

Although I achieved it, and although I did train (but not nearly enough), the thing that made the biggest difference on Sunday morning was the voice in my head as I slogged through London’s streets. This was the voice that told me to keep my body upright, the voice that reminded me to look ahead and not to slouch, the voice that told me to lengthen my stride.

So whilst Yoda’s emphatic advice is inspirational, getting expert help to achieve my goal was what made the biggest difference. I learnt how to lace my shoes, which socks to wear and to what not to carry when I run. And it all helped enormously.

So thank you Tom, for your kind and patient help. Thank you mystery man with an inspirational quote to remind me that achieving goals is important. And thank you London for being such a wonderful city to run in. I’ll be there next year – a little fitter, a little slimmer and a little more determined!

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Respect my differences (and similarities) if you want to sell to me

Are you an individual? Of course you are. You are as unique as I am. None of us are average.

Or so we would like to think. None of us like to think we behave in ways that are anything but specific to us and our unique situation.

That may be true, up to a point. Yet the dazzling array of differences, and similarities, we display in our purchasing habits somehow have to be managed by those responsible for marketing (selling) to us. A business with over 200,000 customers cannot possibly craft 200,000 messages to all her unique customers. Nor could she use “technology” with any degree of success to somehow create messages based on characteristics held in a database. The resulting mess is likely to be highly comic.

So in order to manage complexity, and the similarities that we invariably display (I'm not nearly as unique as I'd like to think) we have to group customers and prospects together. Well, we have to if we have more than a handful of high-spending customers.

So in addition to being able to inform our business and marketing strategies, segmentation also allows us to manage complexity in a way that would not otherwise be possible.

It may not be the newest marketing kid on the block, it may not have the originality of Twitter or augmented reality, but it has the distinct advantage that it works. And if more of our marketing cousins in the financial sector had thought to segment their customer base by how profitable their customers were, maybe we wouldn’t have had the financial meltdown we had.

PS A comment on yesterday’s post suggested that we should be marketing to customers individually, and providing what they individually want. Further, that segmentation was an old-marketers notion that stood in the way of progress.

If only that were true.

Despite many companies holding a great deal of information about us, and our buying habits, they still insist on treating us as one group. Sending me samples of baby food (thanks Ocado!) or offering a free all expenses paid trip to Cardiff to someone who lives in Cardiff (not sure he will be entering that prize draw). Or sending me vouchers for steak, chicken and hamburgers when it has been at least 15 years since I have eaten any meat (forgivable if it were not from the company that benefits from my monthly grocery shop). I could go on, and no doubt will, but I hope I have made the point.

Segmentation is more economic, effective and polite than treating everyone as proud parents/thrilled at the possibility of shopping in Cardiff/eating dead animals (delete as appropriate).

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Market segmentation

A market segment is a group with shared needs. Sounds simple enough and I suppose it is.
  • Mothers-to-be have shared needs (pre-natal classes, books of children’s names).
  • Students have shared needs (low-cost food, inexpensive accommodation, text books and places to socialise with other students).
  • Business people have shared needs (cases for carrying laptop computers, well-cut suits, smart phones).
You get the idea.

But of course a market segment could be anything, depending on your business and your customers.

It could be frequent-purchasers. It could be infrequent-but-profitable purchasers. It could be people-who-influence the buying decision, but are not responsible for the purchase. It could be anything that makes sense to your business, your data, and your customers.

In other words, not only must you have data to support your idea of, say, a group who “rarely buys but spends a lot and is very profitable”. But you must also have a meaningful way of communicating with them that makes sense to them, and is profitable for your business.

So segmentation is both a science and an art:
  • Science in the analysis of the data.
  • Art in the sense-making and marketing know-how to make use of the insights.
  • Science in turning ideas into profit.
So what are the benefits of market segmentation?

Many companies that use a data-driven approach to marketing say that it has changed their business-thinking and profitability completely. Benefits include:
  • Developing promotions to appeal to a specific market segment, therefore increasing response rates, keeping costs down, and showing customers that their needs and wants are important to you. (The last point often gets overlooked in these days of email marketing.)
  • Developing products and services to appeal to a specific market segment.
  • Informing competitive positioning relative to different market segments.
  • Informing business and marketing strategies.
After all, customers buy from us as individuals (as consumers or business people). So the more we are able to treat them as individuals, whatever our business, the more successful we are likely to be.

Segmentation is one of the cornerstones of data-driven marketing, and one of the most profitable to get right.

Friday 2 July 2010

How well do you know your customers?

I guess the answer to that question will depend on what type of business you are in. If, like me, you are in a service business, the answer might be “pretty well, thank you!”

But if the question were phrased slightly differently: “What characteristics do you look for in new customers?” that might not be so easy to answer. Attracting new customers isn’t always straightforward. And all our customers are different, aren’t they? Well yes, and no.

Yes, in that we are all unique. No, in that we share characteristics that make us more or less likely to purchase from any given business. If we can understand those common characteristics then we are better placed to attract and keep profitable customers.

Most companies have a lot of data about their customers, but very little insight into what these common characteristics are. Yet with a bit of analysis these shared characteristics can be uncovered. It’s called data mining, data analysis, analytics, or segmentation depending on who you talk to. But it’s a potentially profitable part of any new business campaign.

Tuesday 29 June 2010

What is a data warehouse? And do you need one?

The language of business intelligence can be confusing. Cubes, data warehouses, OLAP, and data mining are all terms that are not exactly self-explanatory. One of the most often used terms in business intelligence is the Data Warehouse, which conjures up images of vast spaces filled with digits. As if 5’s and 8’s all had their own bin in a super-efficient warehouse.

So what is a data warehouse, and how is it different from other databases?

Just about every company has at least one transactional database, and most have many. They store accounts data, contacts, stock or project data. Transactional databases are the ones we use to run our businesses:
  • Those that get updated on an hourly, daily or weekly basis
  • The systems (whether we recognise them as databases or not) that we could not do without.
But not every company has a data warehouse. They are often considered the domain of very large companies, even though that is not necessarily true.

A data warehouse holds historical information. It’s where the data goes after it’s been used in a transactional database system.

As an example, a hotel reservation system is used to let customers know whether there is availability for their preferred dates, and to produce an invoice for hotel services used during their stay. A data warehouse for the same hotel might hold this information summarised by day, month and season so as to better understand customer booking behaviour.

Transactional systems hold detailed information such as the alarm call time for the guest, whereas a data warehouse summarises several years’ data to get a more accurate picture of how promotions or seasonality affect bookings.

In addition, data warehouses can bring data together from several different transactional systems to gain new insights into a particular problem. In the hotel example, costing information might be added to find out which customers are most profitable.

So whether or not you need a data warehouse depends on what your business priorities are. Whether, for example, you want to:
  • Better understand customer behaviour
  • Understand which customer segments are most profitable
  • Send more appropriate marketing communications to your customers
There are many, many more uses for data warehouses, but understanding customers and profitability better is a good start if you haven’t started planning your data warehouse.

Friday 25 June 2010

Five Criteria for Greatness

This is not my list, but paraphrased from someone else’s blog post. She had read about James Dewey Watson, who discovered the structure of DNA with Francis Crick. Ruby's original post appeared on Zen Habits and is well worth a read: Why Discovering Your Obsession Can Lead to Your Greatness.

The list apparently came from a speech Watson made on why he deserved to discover the structure of DNA.
  1. Go for broke - if you are going to do something important, do it.
  2. Have a way to get the answer – if you haven’t a clue, you’re going to waste time.
  3. Be obsessive – think about it night and day.
  4. Be part of a team – have a partner to bounce ideas off and support you.
  5. Talk to your opponents – share your ideas, cooperate and talk to others.
  6. Never be the brightest person in the room; so you can always learn something.
I was so impressed with the list that I keep a copy in my notebook. I hope you get something useful from it too.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Why marketing is difficult to measure

Despite its central importance, marketing's value to the business can be difficult to quantify. There are 4 main reasons for this:
  1. Marketing is about perception. It's about positioning products and services within a space in people’s minds. This can only be measured over a period of time and in relation to alternatives. Damage done to a brand today may not translate into lost sales until the day after tomorrow.

  2. Marketing is multi-channel. People often purchase after exposure to a variety of different messages. All, some, or none may have contributed to the final decision; the advertiser does not (always) know. Hence the most often-repeated saying in marketing: ”half my advertising is wasted, but I don’t know which half”.

  3. Marketing is creative. It is populated by ideas-people, visual-thinkers and wordsmiths. Not by statisticians or accountants. Yet numbers are the language of business and some argue that marketing would have more influence if they were more willing to quantify.

  4. Marketing is part of the whole. The marketing led company has products and services designed with customers in mind, serviced by customer-care departments and created or provided by customer-focused people. When considering sales or profitability, it is impossible to split out the influence of the product, the after-sales service, the marketing, sales effort or the skills of Human Resources to find good people.
However, moving towards a data-driven culture in marketing has big benefits, not least of which is making decisions based on fact rather than guess-work. As innovative technologies become more powerful and more affordable for marketers, measures become more relevant. And excuses less so.