Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Paid Place.

Little did I know that my allusion to the role of the bookstore as being crucial to publishers' marketing efforts would become so apposite so quickly. However, an old controversy has shown its head again. "Book of the week" titles and inclusion in retailers' discount promotions can and are bought by publishers. Bookselling is thus a skewed trade and not market-driven. Not a surprise to me, but a source of great annoyance to many consumers apparently.

Bottom line, consumers must stop being so gullible. But I wonder also whether publishers should neither kowtow nor justify their action by saying, “We’ve got to play by the rules because we need them.” The £50,000 it apparently costs to buy the W H Smith’s “book of the week” title may earn out in their mind, but what if the £50,000 had been spent on other forms of promotion? Moreover, what is the cost in loss of trust for both publisher and bookseller if they commoditise their creative industry?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

In The Pink.

Is the increasing popularity of rosé wine due to the colour or the flavour? While ultimately it must be the flavour, there clearly is a visual attraction in play - one that producers focus upon in their choice of packaging. But how would you feel, if you knew that the fact that you could see the colour on the shelf meant that the flavour was being adversely affected?

In fact it's true. Light affects all wine and rosé is a relatively fragile wine which should ideally be stored in dark bottles since green glass filters out more than 60% of this damaging light and brown glass a massive 98%. It's arguable too that screwcaps are better for rosés in helping to maintain the fruitiness and freshness essential to their taste.

That's a story a lot of us haven't heard but once it becomes better known, will we feel the same about producers who insist on showing us the colour of the wine? Will we value more those who show us that they know and care about our drinking experience. In Britain, Marks & Spencer have insisted on dark glass and use coloured labels and caps to promote the pinkness. Personally, I think the first all-pink bottle will be even more effective.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Passion Begets Passion

About eight months ago, David MacKenzie posted the entire working script for his new movie on Hugh's site and invited comments with the natural proviso that he could choose to ignore any or all of them. That said, when I made a series of constructive observations, he was true to his word and engaged in a dialogue with me. For commerical reasons, the idea of posting future scripts online was abandoned so we all have to wait till release date to see what changed and what remained the same, and the production diary has given few clues.

As he put it, he was not beholden to a slew of studio executives. Or as I would put it, he was not willing to have his passion compromised. That is the key to moving forward in the twenty first century. If you have passion, it will be transmitted to all around you and generate passionate users who will evangelise for you. Isn't that what's at the heart of blogging?

In acknowledgement of this, nearly all the major movie studios are creating boutique lower-budget divisions to try to tap into that passion in light of the superior box office performnce of independent intelligent (read passionate) movies in recent years. Will that be passion-lite or passion by committee? Only time will tell, but committees don't have a great track record in identifying passion.

No clearer example of this may have given David MacKenzie something of a hangover this morrning. Down in Cannes presumably to secure distribution for Hallam Foe, he will last night have been celebrating the success of Andrea Arnold, a Kent film-maker, in securing the Jury Prize for her first-ever low-budget feature Red Road. Andrea's not having a bad few months - she also bagged the short film Oscar for her 2003 production Wasp.

To quote today's Times "Arnold's win was a little piece of divine justice for a film-maker who had long struggled to convince any of the funding bodies to take interest in her work." The committees therefore failed to identify passion, but other passionate film-makers did not. Red Road is produced by Sigma Films - founding partner one David MacKenzie. I rest my case.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Honeymoon Is Over!

The number of subscribers I have on my bloglines aggregator is one of the few statistical measurements relating to this blog of which I am aware. While I have no idea of its significance nor any delusions of grandeur, it has been gratifying to note it tick up over the short life of my ramblings. Not even into treble figures, of course, but an indicator that someone is listening, nodding, shrugging or cursing!

Until today! A subscriber has abandoned me! Is this the beginning of the slippery slope? Am I really the imposter I always feared? Do I have to start offering free gifts?

Of course not. I did not meet his or her needs, that's all. Maybe they changed their RSS feed? How can I know? Losing a customer is no cause for celebration, nor is it the end of the world. Just a good reminder that one is here on suffrance and must strive daily to provide a stimulating product that is worthy of other people's time. The numbers game can quickly turn into a ranking ego trip, but it's much better to remember that it's not about you, it's about them.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Endangered Species?

Port Lympne and Howlett's are two remarkable wild animal parks in South-East England devoted to saving rare and endangered animals and returning them to protected areas in the wild. They are miraculous places created by the late John Aspinall who would famously sit with his young children in the gorilla enclosure and if you're in the country, I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Thus, I was mortified today to see a television advertisement for Port Lympne that majored on the phrase "The African Experience." No, no , no. If you take a ride round the grounds you will have the "experience" of seeing wild African animals not in Africa but in the Kent countryside. The Kent countryside is wonderful but it is not, nor will it ever be, the Serengeti and while we currently share droughts, we do so in name only and the climates will never be confused.

In Africa, you smell the myriad scents of the tropics, in Kent we detect the unmistakable whiff of the lesser-spotted branding expert trying to perpetrate what I term the branding myth. If only it were branding experts who were the endangered species.

Jobs For The Girls.

In the US, women account for 80 percent of household spending, are responsible for 70 percent of travel decisions, 57 percent of consumer electronics purchases, and buy 50 percent of all new vehicles while influencing 80 percent of overall automobile sales. In the business arena, 51 percent of purchasing managers and agents are women. Moreover, Marti Barletta suggests that women are enthusiastic product evangelists who will share innovative solutions that excite them with twice as many people (26) as will men.

It’s a no-brainer for marketers to take this into account and that doesn’t mean defaulting to stereotypes or "thinking pink" as Lisa Johnson puts it. Rather, as with any good marketing, it's about tailoring the product to resonate with the customers' needs and shopping habits and to realise that women are no more generic than men (thank goodness). To do so, it seems logical to include more women in the creative process and yet this article highlights a failure in many industries so to do.

It doesn’t matter what nominal business function you perform. Whatever you do, you’re marketing. The way recruiters deal with candidates and the type of people they employ ripples a message to the world. That’s quite well accepted, but more than that recruitment shapes a corporate culture which, in turn, impacts how you create your products and services.

Mary Sipes, the General Motors executive fetaured in the article, had to force her engineers to get in touch with their feminine side because although (they don’t)“try to ignore women's needs," she says, "it's just that they're different than us." Wouldn’t it have been easier if the human resource department had supplied her with a group of engineers who better reflected her customer constituency?

If you are to encapsulate passion within your business and reflect it out into the world, that process must start with your people. The good news is that regardless of whether it is physical or attitudinal discrimination that need to be overcome, there is one force that proves very efficient at breaking down such barriers. Its name is financial survival. Is your business alert to the threat?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Meet The New Guy, Same As The Old Guy

I debunked some of the hype around the role of MySpace and other social networks in breaking new bands here.

The Guardian adds more evidence to the argument.

In the words of the great John Lydon "Have you ever had the feeling that you've been cheated?"

I Ain't Gonna Shop At Farmers' Markets No More?

A piece in the New York Times raises some interesting issues in a passionate arena.

It shows how a "brand name" such as organic can only have traction when it is not an easily applicable tag. It must reflect and live its underlying values or run the risk of becoming commodified. As soon as the customer senses, even belatedly, that they're being unwillingly conned, you've lost them.

That's hardly news, but the idea of a one-stop shop certainly is. Healthy eating may be of value to some consumers, but so of course is time. Have farmers' markets been guilty of trying to impose behaviours on these "guilt-ridden" consumers or is the one-stop shop green-lite?

It will be intriguing to see which story yields the bigger harvest.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Blue Sky Thinking, the scurrilous and hugely enjoyable gossip site, reports today that "Saatchi and Saatchi has a "Blue Sky Thinking Room", where the ceiling... is painted like a blue sky."

It's genius like that that gets you the big bucks!

World Cup Willies?

With the six week tournament just fifteen days away, there are increasing predictions of World Cup widowhood, absenteesim and excessive drinking (and that's just in my neighbour's house).

Seriously, I'm struck by the prevalence of the World Cup as an excuse for projected poor economic performance by a variety of businesses. DIY stores are prominent in those fearing a complete collapse in footfall and sales, but I find it all a bit rich.

Not only does the fact that the tournament is in Germany mean that none of England's games will occur during the weekday working day (one kicks off at 5 pm), but they will only play a maximum of seven games (and, in reality, will play fewer). However, if we were to accept their fears at face value, should we not ask where is the marketing reaction to this perceived threat to sales?

Locally, a restaurant has already announced itself a football-free zone for the duration, thus making it clear to footie-phobics that their meals will not be interrupted by the noise of a TV screen in the corner. Quite right too. Even if a large number of your potential customers were to be sidelined, why throw up the white flag? Businesses don't collapse every weekend during the regular football season, so why should they now?

Without being sexist, it's fair to say that there are a greater proportion of non-football fans amongst women so why aren't the DIY stores thinking of this as an opportunity? After all in the US, in reaction not to a sporting event but to their increased financial power, Home Depot and Lowe's made themselves more attractive to women by widening their aisles and brightening their lighting, thereby turning warehouses into "places of inspiration and education." Changes which incidentally found favour with men as well. Couldn't UK equivalents have anticipated this quadrennial event and planned to push for non-sports fans at this time?

As I will discuss in the near future, it seems that some businesses are stuck in stereotyped worldviews particularly in relation to women and are missing many a trick. The same seems to be true of the World Cup. Haven't the nuts and bolts marketing people heard about niches and segmentation?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Google Culture Clash

Too much traditional marketing (indeed traditional business) is focussed upon "talking the talk" when the real need is to "walk the walk."

At the Google Zeitgeist conference in London yesterday, Larry Page and his CEO Eric Schmidt took part in a Q & A session. Inevitably, someone raised the China question and the buttoned-down Schmidt's justification centred upon the US government's having interacted with China as long ago as 1973!

Cue next question? Oh no - at this point Page stirs and in front of the assembled media utters the fabulous line "I don't think that's a very good answer" and proceeds to give a much more considered one. While I'm not sure how long the link will be valid, you can see the whole geek vs corporate suit death-match here!

Larry Page walks the walk and in that single instictive reaction did more to tell the Google story than any amount of corporate jargon about paradigm shifts and rosy futures.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Price Is Right.

McDonalds are launching a bigger Big Mac in Britain (their biggest ever apparently) and the press and health lobby are up in arms. Scratch below the surface and you find that it's only a promotional item running for the duration of the World Cup. The real story is the huge success of the $1 menu which since late 2002 has offered eight staples like the double cheeseburger, the fried McChicken sandwich, an order of fries or a 16-ounce soda for just $1.

It's being introduced here, in a bizarrely British way, as the 99p menu - repeating the bewildering high street practice of assuming that the "penny off" sways consumers. For me, all they're doing is reducing their revenue by 1% and increasing the time, fussiness and cost of the monetary transaction. But hey, they probably market researched it and got a positive response to a question their consumers actually wouldn't have considered if left to their own devices.

The P of price in the marketing 4Ps has always struck me as the most difficult of all to control. The measurement of the price elasticity of demand is a notoriously difficult thing to do and, of course, if you get it wrong you can lose customers and lower revenue, so a lot of caution prevails.

I recall meeting with a magazines group's chief executive some years ago and being asked what I thought about raising the price of a very popular men's magazine? It was an issue at which he’d had high-priced strategy consultants looking so I had to sound intelligent! Based on my knowledge of opportunity cost, the best I could do was to suggest that the target audience probably thought of the cover price in terms of the amount of pints of beer foregone and that since the price of beer had risen extraordinarily, it would be possible to raise the magazine price without appearing a rip-off.

After all, something is only worth the amount of money someone will pay for it. That was very evident a year ago when I was speaking to a Floridian property developer with decades of experience who couldn't believe that, regardless of how he increased the price of his units month on month in a totally arbitrary manner, demand kept increasing.

Moving in the opposite direction is equally tough. As Tom Peters says "Don't compete with China on cost or Wal-Mart on price" because you can't win. British newspapers have seen years of vicious price wars which require deep pockets to fund and while effective for News International on some of their titles, the very steady increase in cover price that follows has to my mind made them look expensive. Marketers must ask if lowering price, implicitly devalues your product and whether, as you raise the price again, are you making it look like worse value for money?

With the rise of low cost economies in China and India, the "high price equals high quality" relationship has, I think, been weakened especially in the mid-range. Returning to the British high street, there has been a distinct fall in clothing prices and a willingness by consumers to accept a trade off in terms of slightly reduced quality in exchange for having a larger more varied wardrobe. And this brings me back to what I think McDonalds are doing.

The Spanish clothing giant Zara has transformed the high street by constantly introducing new stock into their stores on an almost weekly basis, thus ensuring that every time a customer browses their store she finds something new that wasn't there last fortnight. Consequently footfall (the number of people coming through the door has rocketed) and the same is true at McDonalds where in the US they get one million more visitors a day compared to a year ago, primarily in the 18-24 age group. They generally don't have enough money in their pocket to buy the expensive items, but as long as they're in the outlets on a regular basis, there's always a chance that they will.

This is surely Price as Promotion (in the four Ps sense) but it's not one-off price promotions. It's long-term disruptive changes and the impact this has on the general consumer mindset cannot be underestimated. If you're a marketer with a premium or quasi-premium product, you better have a damn good story to tell.

Monday, May 22, 2006

We're Doomed. Doomed I Say. Don't Panic?

I'm currently re-reading Wake Up!: Survive and Prosper in the Coming Economic Turmoil by Jim Mellon and Al Chalabi.

This was written not by arcane academics but by entrepreneurs who've made a lot of money in the past through monitoring global trends. It predicts the possibility of severe economic depression preceded by deflation in the coming few years and the general decline of the dollar and the US economy's pre-eminence. I don't know if they're right but it's a scenario that increasingly finds echo in various newspaper and magazine reports about the similarity between today and 1987 and 1929. It is of relevance to us all.

The authors conclude their book with a Financial Survival Guide and a worrying appendix entitled "Preparing for the worst-case scenario" that reads like a survivalist's shopping list. What I wonder would a Marketers Survival guide look like? What are the implications of a deflationary recessionary world for marketers? How appealing will your products and services look to shell-shocked eyes?

Will passions change? Will the growth market of self-actualisation be derailed or reinforced? What sort of products will you and I prioritise in our budget? I imagine it would be wiser to focus on supplying experiences that really are needed or lower cost luxuries that are defensible expenditures in times of hardship. I can see a focus on health, ecology and ergonomics as life-enhancing attributes being in demand. There might also be a rush on books advising you how to deal with the situation, though I think Jim and Al have that market cornered!

But, at the very least, if you’re a marketer whose strategy is predicated upon aspirational characteristics and conspicuous consumption or product replacement, then it might be wise to double check those growth assumptions.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Worth The Paper It's Not Written On?

Just as the Cosmos tried to disrupt the sports market in the US, there is frequent talk of digital technology replacing books and newspapers. The imminent launch of an e-reader with a stable display by Irex technology is argued to be bringing the death of paper ever closer. But, Britain alone consumes 300 million books per year and 13 million newspapers daily - that's a lot of words to digitise. It's a huge behavioural trait to disrupt.

That's not to say it's not possible, but there is a tactile romance about the book and the way you see yourself progressing through it while the ebook content just keeps coming and coming. Moreover, it's another expensive device to add to the mugger's bonanza that the digital person-on-the-street increasingly represents.

Furthermore, opposition might come from publishers since the e-book eliminates the bookshop browsing experience and removes a whole area of marketing to permission-giving customers. How are they going to market their new titles if the retail outlet disappears? Readers will not want their tablet-reading interrupted by advertising.

The reality is that this is not a new product. No, the medium is the message and what we 're dealing with here is one of the marketing Ps about which I haven't yet written much, that of place aka distribution - where you deliver your product/service - where you interact your consumers. The e-book is a digital distribution channel - it's not content per se. It's not a book or a newspaper and I would argue that it might be better for its creators to forget that line of thinking and consider what sort of readers they're going to attract to their technology.

Indeed, are they readers or are they viewers. If the latter, with the concomitant attention-span deficiencies, will they want a whole book? Marketing is about drilling where the oil is, so maybe the focus should be on matching the flittering habits of the digital browser with attention-deficit products (a horrible thought I know). Things like news digests, lifestyle magazines or RSS aggregators perhaps. Key to the success will be those holy grails of all digital aplications, user-friendly navigation and indexing, and a better name. After all, it's not an e-book, it's a browser's browser.

Addendum: While writing this, I notice that Seth Godin has posted a related piece. Having worked in the movie business, I know that the reason for the misguided #1 strategy is in fact another aspect of the distribution debate. Exhibitors want bums on seats to whom they can sell popcorn (since that’s where they make their money) so they're only interested in the top movies. Similarly, supermarkets account for increasingly significant proportions of music, DVD and book sales and do so in terms of the top 50 and nothing else. From the content originators' perspective it's not an ego-trip. Being #1 is about guaranteeing exposure and distribution for the current incarnation of the content and thus all future income streams.The destructive nature of this strategy is exactly why I was fascinated by the evangelists' approach.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Whole New Ballgame

In the new documentary Once In a Lifetime that tells the story of the New York Cosmos soccer team in the 1970s, an official explains the altering of the rules to include extra breaks in the flow of play.

He states that Americans (remember this is the mid 70s not today) don't have the attention span to follow a game of continuous action for longer periods and that "Our national games are designed for short bursts of action punctuated by breaks in which you can drink beer, eat crackerjacks or whatever."

Thus they adapted the game to meet the market - arguably a sensible marketing strategy but one that ultimately didn't work. In reality, the conclusion should have been that the game doesn't match our national characteristics and therefore there's no market.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Everything You Know Is Wrong.

You'll be shocked to read that I didn't pay $35 earlier today to obtain a photograph of my aura chakra!

Call me churlish but it seemed slightly over the odds for a polaroid with a smeared coloured halo background and a band of three or four uncontroversional, yet mildly aspirational, character traits printed across the bottom. Even though the bar chart looked quite funky!

Why do people do this - why do they give permission to be conned by charlatans or similarly self delusional practitioners of psychic arts? As someone said, when we stop believing in God we tend to start believing in anything. Is that moral relativism or just dumbing down and if the customer is happy has anyone been hurt? Is it just good marketing?

I take the side of the judge who recently sentenced a conman convicted of fleecing money from people who believed he was a psychic. He said that "as a result of your offences I shall be sending you to prison for eighteen months, but you will have foreseen that".

Thursday, May 18, 2006

So Much Wine, So Much Boring Marketing

That was my contribution to the Winefairlive blog at the London International Wine & Spirit Fair yesterday.

As I said recently, I'm not a fan of trade shows as marketing tools but this was my first time at a wine show and so I hope my eyes were fresh ones (and yes they remained fresh as I did not touch a drop of alcohol). My immediate reaction was that there were so many similar-looking stands festooned with similar-looking bottles of wine that any hope of differentiation was going to be an uphill struggle.

Interaction was assured since there were thousands of wines that you were invited/expected to walk up and sample so a conversation could occur but I had the feeling it was a repetitive conversation. As I wandered around and asked people from all sorts of countries and all areas of the price spectrum about how they differentiated themselves, I heard nothing to change that impression. It emerged that it was somewhat analagous to the prescription pharmaceutical market where there are a limited number of buyers and you're not able to market direct to the ultimate consumers. It also emerged that the really big buyers were not there - they don't have to be - they sit in their offices and let the wine producers battle for an appointment.

So you'd think it was all the more important to make some noise and preferably a different noise. But I couldn't hear it. I received fascinating potted histories of the development of marketing and consumption trends over the years and across territories; I heard about the importance of labels to attract the fickle supermarket customer; and the ubiquitous desire for a greater marketing budget! But most of all, I heard of overcapacity and how it all boiled down to a selling game. So, innumerable labels but a commodity approach.

Now, we bloggers must not forget that we are an incestuous bunch prone to mutual linking and it was no surprise to me that most people there had very little real knowledge of blogging and perceived it as somewhat technical . But, at least, Stormhoek were trying something different and it was definitely noticed. They are trying other different things too and they will increasingly stand out from the crowd and, believe me, it is a crowd.

Hanging On The Telephone

1471 is the number you dial in the UK if you want to see if anyone has tried to phone you. It's a free service that is quite useful if you fail to make it to the ringing phone or forget to switch on your answering machine.

Quite useful, but oh so infuriating because of the way the phone company gives you the information. The automated voice slowly intones, "Telephone number xxxx-xxxxxx called you at (time and date)" and the message is not changed until you miss another call. So you're hanging on listening to a number for maybe fifteen seconds - it seems so much longer - before you get to the crucial data about the time and date of the call.

That may seem counter-intuitive, but the reality is that many users of this service are the elderly without answering machines and they may not miss calls very often - thus each time they check via 1471 they have to listen through a whole message to discover that effectively no-one has called them while they were away from the phone. The phone company, being a phone company, assumes that the number is the most important bit of data. But that's for the customer to determine and, in fact, they don't want to waste time listening to a number that will be irrelevant to them.

Now, if someone at the phone company had bothered to use the service themselves, they wouldn't be infuriating customers whom they assume to be delighted with this freebie. They would realise that the time of the call was actually the primary piece of information.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Snakes On A Plane!

What was your reaction to that heading?

An immediate image and associated emotions, I'd wager. And that's good news, because this is not going to be a rant about in-flight service or cattle-class cretins. No, "Snakes on a Plane" is the title of a forthcoming movie - a movie I really want to see.

It's unlikely to be a masterpiece but it's a clever conceit that is utterly encapsulated in those four words. There's your marketing campaign right there - it's snakes on a plane - what more do you need to know?

So why was the company going to change the title to Pacific Air Twenty One? Did they think that would appeal to a broader demographic who might otherwise not have been interested in airborne asps? Did they think someone might think that it was some zen comedy about a guy called Snake? As William Goldman said Nobody Knows Anything.

Fortunately they've seen sense (or Samuel L Jackson has banged heads) and reverted to the original title. The best marketing is knowing when to keep it simple and not getting over-complicated for the sake of justifying your fee. Connect the product to its audience and forget about advertising awards.

There's a plane, there's snakes. It's Snakes On A Plane!

Exhibition Ennui

One of the stimuli for this blog was my attendance at an IT for marketing exhibiton a couple of months ago. A whole exhibition hall that was full of attendees who'd given permisison to these stand-holders to market to them and no-one was touting for business. They just stood around and expected us to come to them.

Since then, I've been asking around at trade shows and the consensus is that it's worth having a presence (why, if you don't exploit it, I wonder?) and we do a lot of networking (with people you already know it seems). Michael Calder via Seth's blog does a valiant job of suggesting how this could be improved, but we'd still have to work our way through the miasma of mediocrity that palls across these shows to locate those stands which are doing it right.

I prefer to be more disruptive - let them pay for the expensive stands and I'll go to the shows and market myself to them. That way I'm in control.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Currying Favour

A radio discussion about British customer service made dismal listening revealing, as it did, the failure of companies to see their front-line staff as their true ambassadors and to train and pay them accordingly. The experts re-iterated the well-known facts that a satisfied customer may tell five friends, whereas a dissatisfied will spread that bad word to far many more.

Forget about your promotion, this is where real loyalty is generated and since the average supermarket customer is worth $100,000 in lifetime sales it's where your real marketing return is earned. It made the litany of call-in complaints all the more depressing, but then one listener lifted the gloom.

He described himself as a good customer of a local Indian restaurant and was delighted to note that with his take-out order, he received an ice-cold bottle of Cobra beer gratis. Then, one day his order arrived and there was no beer. He described himself as only mildly disappointed since after all, he hadn't paid for it. Ten minutes later, there's a knock at the door and there was the waiter with, you've guessed it, the cold bottle of beer.

Cost of a free beer per order - $2
Value of a truly loyal customer - let's say $1000
Value of a customer willing to praise you on national radio – priceless.

Corporate Heaven Or Corporate Hospitality?

Reading today that ITV, the main British commercial broadcaster, is targeting a 20% increase in sponsorship income as part of an attempt to offset declining advertising revenues, has prompted me to opine on/rant about this mystifying practice.

Perhaps the only thing in No Logo with which I immediately agreed was Naomi Klein's assertion that sponsorship could only work for both sponsor and sponsee if the sponsor was embodied in the host rather than appear to be a parasite sucking blood from it. When the sponsor owns or is the infrastructure, the relationship is symbiotic and reflects and reinforces the existing lifestyle of the target audience that has thereby implicitly given permission for the marketing to occur. Think skateboard, snowboard and surfing companies.

By contrast, I could never understand why Ellen MacArthur's earlier remarkable exploits were sponsored by Kingfisher - a parent company of a number of retail brands, but not an existing brand in its own right. I think the fact that the chairman was a sailing enthusiast may have had something to do with it, but since you cannot buy a Kingfisher product so what was the point of emblazoning that name across the mainsail? The penny eventually dropped and later voyages were at least sponsored by their DIY chain B & Q. This resulted in unprompted awareness figures of the sponsorship at 57% though the benefit still seems tenuous to me.

There really has to be a visceral innate connection between the sponsor and the sponsee rather than merely an opportunity for corporate hospitality. I just don't buy all this waffle about shared values (inevitably accompanied by a list of aspirational adjectives). "Media return was unprecedented, but what also makes it a real success for us is the empathy between Ellen and B&Q: she represents our philosophy of team work, motivation and goal setting":David Roth, Marketing Director B&Q. So what?

Indeed, the topping and tailing of a TV shows seems to me to be interruptive marketing of the worst kind and with less, if not a potentially negative impact, because the sponsorship connection is so contrived. Why for example was the blood and gore of ER sponsored by a car company a few seasons back?

On reading of ITV's proposal, I switched on ITV and there, like manna from heaven, I find the British equivalent of the Jerry Springer show being sponsored by Learn Direct a government organisation tasked with increasing literacy and adult education by reaching 'those with few or no skills and qualifications who are unlikely to participate in traditional forms of learning". Some bright spark no doubt suggested that the audience for this freak show might be the under-educated (though the time slot shouts sleepy students to me) but, even if they are the target audience, they're not going to be in a self-improvement frame of mind while watching "My Mum's teenage lovers embarass me!"

Is that really a sponsorhip model that chimes with the key parameters of involvement, emotion and shared values?

Monday, May 15, 2006

My Shadow's Bigger Than Yours

Maybe I was being too harsh on Tila Tequila. John Cassidy's article about Facebook in The New Yorker cites sociologist Duncan Watts' view that social networks are the online equivalent of hanging out and suggests that this may be a sufficient business model in itself.

I am still not convinced of their longevity and would argue that this only applies to those demographics where the power of peer pressure and social standing is most keenly felt. Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes certainly leverages that pressure by stating "If you don't have a Facebook profile, you don't have an online identity ... You don't exist - online, at least. ... You need to be on it."

For me, the most telling comment for marketers and those acquiring such sites is made by Watts who goes on to say that " If I had to guess why sites like Facebook are so popular, I would say it doesn't have anything to do with networking at all. It's voyeurism and exhibitionism." That strikes me as a far more fleeting and less cohesive fad than has been assumed and the revelation that the college student backbone of Facebook are rebelling at the extension of the "network" to mere high-school students would seem to back that up. Moreover, the introduction of a limited profile (i.e. a secondary politically correct version) designed to broaden your appeal seems morally dubious.

The lesson of all this? The size of one's shadow may be important at the moment, but it's only cast while the suns shines.

Communication Breakdown

The flyer through the letterbox is a sure sign that the business in question adheres to the "spray and pray" school of promotion, so picking holes in their copy is likely to be easy pickings, but heck I'm still going to do it.

The header "Hate Housework? We Love It!" is clear enough, as is the promise of "having your home cleaned by a highly trained professional team" but line three is a beauty which explained that they will "use our exclusive tri-colour process to ensure excellent results with terrific value!" And just to emphasise it, the word tri-colour is printed in THREE colours (though surprisingly not red, white and blue).

The trouble is that even if I were enticed by the prospect of chromatic triplication, there is no further mention of it in the hundreds of words that surround the various pictures of their operatives on this expensively-produced flyer.

I've questioned the value of consistency of voice before, but you should at least maintain it within a single document. Instead the company have turned off all the people who's worldview is skewed against marketing bullshit and yet has failed to expand on its hook for those who were enticed. In terms of the classic AIDA protocol, they got my attention but deliberately refused to interest me and, quite literally, didn't get their foot in the door.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

You Cast No Shadow

A funny piece in the May 11 edition of New York Post entitled The True Marks of Prestige: wiki entries, MySpace pals" does a nice job on online social networks where "today's world of who's who is one where the established pop brand of, say, Carmen Electra is going head-to-head with a sassy young thing with a relentless pursuit of the "add."

For marketers the concern, as I highlighted earlier , is what does it all mean? Is it any more than ample-bosomed females being lusted after by boys and bizarrely idolised by girls? Can it really be monetised or will such attempts cause it to implode or, more likely, evolve into loose connections of much smaller networks where the connections are genuine and have traction?

The article also cites comic Demetri Martin (who seems to be of a similar mind to me) as having written a song with the lyrics, "I got 9,000 friends yeah on MySpace/ and I cannot keep up with all these friends/oh no not face to face." and who after performing it on the Jon Stewart show "got all these friend requests so quickly, my hand started to hurt. It's kind of a pathetic injury. You're just sitting there, clicking approve over and over again and thinking, 'OK, I guess this is a good use of my time. I'm pretty sure it is. I could be outside, but OK. Sure.' "

One of my life dictums is to make at least one new friend a year and thus reinvigorate my social circle with new ideas and recommendations, but one a year not thousands! Then again I'm not MySpace royalty like 24-year-old Tila Tequila, who had 1,027,770 friends as of press time and "gets let into a lot of clubs and free clothes, too." and has a different world vision.

"I can get a free case of Red Bull whenever, I can get it like five times a day if I want."

Saturday, May 13, 2006

In God We Trust - But Not Online Banking!

The headline "Consumers losing trust in online banking" caught my eye as another example of marketers pushing attributes of their choice rather than of their customers.

I don't know the actual truth of the state of online banking security, but of course that doesn't mattter. I'm not a user for just those paranoid reasons outlined in the article and because, over time, my unscientific survey has found an even more visceral aversion from every IT professional with whom I've discussed it.

In contrast, banks are focussed on introducing cost-saving technology under the premise of making it more "convenient" to do our banking and to offer us more choice but that doesn't focus on what's really important to banking customers. They've actually overlooked why they came into existence in the first place. For banks, money is in some sense a factor of production, whereas to the individual our money is really important and if we suspect there's the slightest chance of hassle-free banking becoming a really big hassle, then we won't trust what they tell us.

One negative experience or even reportage of such an incident inevitably means it could happen to us and that is why so many customers won't even make deposits in automated in-bank machines. The rubber stamp of a human teller is in some way more valid and reassuring than a machine's print-out and thus they prefer to stand on line than be online.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Gonzo Marketing

Having once spent a very entertaining afternoon with Chris Locke (co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto) some years ago, I have been waiting for a blogging moment to point you in the direction of his much-overlooked follow up book Gonzo Marketing. It seems to me that many of the ideas that he put forward back then are percolating to the surface once again.

While this thoughtful post by John Sviokla highlights the benefit of internal blogs - the more anarchic Mr. Locke suggested that employees be encouraged to set up open-access message boards (today they would be blogs) in order to interact with their company's potential customers in an unregulated way. I thought it was a great idea five years ago and Hugh MacLeod's porous membrane post last year reminded me of that. I don't understand why more companies aren't doing more than paying blogging lip-service to it. Well, I do, but they're still wrong.

I'm On The Train!

We've all heard that cellphone cry of the twenty first century and the jokes that go along with it. We've also heard the stories about people revealing personal financial or romantic secrets without thinking, but I experienced a new spin on it today.

The woman in question did nothing productive on the hour-long midday journey but stare out the train window. Nothing except take two calls from assistants. At first I was bemused as she blithely reeled off international and domestic travel plans for the coming weeks and stated her needs in way of cars to be arranged for the day and how she might as well stay overnight in London because she had meetings the following day. I questioned the cost of arranging all this at the last minute, but accepted that this is sometimes unavoidable.

And then her conversation revealed that she worked in the public sector. She was being profligate with tax revenues! And then she revealed that she worked for a charity! She was being profligate with charitable donations! Now I'm sure she is a highly dedicated worker with truly altruistic motivations, but how had she marketed herself to me, albeit inadvertantly. Well, my attitude to organised charity was damaged and, had I divined her specific charity, it would never have got a penny from me.

We are all marketers and we are always marketing because we never know who is in ear and eyeshot.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Hire, Tire, Fire

I attended an interesting presentation by Virgin Radio at the Internet World show in London yesterday. Amongst many interesting and feasible responses to the threats posed to mainstream radio by the digital world, there was inevitably much talk of personalisation. This included a media player within their new website (not yet live) which allowed the user to programme their own music from the radio play-list.

Fairly standard fare I guess you'll be thinking, but I was very taken by their delineation of the tunes into categories that you wanted on high rotation, those about which you were not so keen and those you wanted to ditch - aka Hire, Tire, Fire. A neat phrase that captures the essence of how one feels about, well about almost anything.

The marketer's goal is to stay in the Hire section by making the customer feel that their day isn't complete without interacting with you in some way and thus preventing them from interacting with the competition. Failure to constantly improve the attributes of the product and the quality of the accompanying service sees you slip into the Tire section where the competition can pounce and relegate you to the realm of the Fired (in every sense).

For me though, that's not harsh enough. You dare not risk a dalliance with the Tired, because these days if you're not remarkable, you're history. The true taxonomy should be Hire, Fire, Dire!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

When Consistency Of Voice Attacks!

For many years, the staff of British high street fashion retailer French Connection giggled knowingly at the acronym fcuk used on internal company documents. Then in April 1997, this was seized upon by clever and expensive advertising agencies as a tool for branding their clothing range.

This involved the use of those letters on numerous T shirt slogans which became best sellers and thus walking billboards for the company which was transformed from a non-descript chain to an edgy brand receiving endless press commentary from outraged observers.

The voice was consistent and rammed down our throats and sales boomed, but the products weren't really edgy nor were the outlets. This was mainstream high street fodder and inevitably the joke paled and the fcuk logo was withdrawn in February.

Today, the chairman of the group issued his fourth profit warning in fifteen months.

You're Hired!

Kathy Sierra is on a tear with her last few posts. I was particularly taken by her thoughts on the implicit lip-service given to the great god human capital, because from my perspective, what ever role you're trying to fill, you're hiring a marketer for your company.

This was especially apposite as I had, by chance, just seen the penultimate episode of The Apprentice in which the final four were whittled down to two by means of reports from three recruiting “experts” who "interviewed” each contestant for about fifteen minutes. The contrast between some of their comments and those of people who had watched the contestants work (if telegenic tasks can be ascribed that significance) for the past ten weeks was particularly resonant.

Perhaps, it was merely a case of opening up old wounds; reminding me of my distaste for the whole hiring process and inane gambits like “walk me through your resume” that are destined surely to hire people who are good at self-promotion and nothing else. But I remain convinced that hiring should never be outsourced because outsiders cannot know your business – they can merely apply generalised benchmarks to the candidates and ultimately that will just lead to a cloned workforce.

The best view you'll get of someone’s fit with you and potential to move your business forward is not to chat about their past and what they like, but to discuss your industry and its future with them. And, as Kathy reminds us, do so in the hope of having your worldview challenged and your passion reinvigorated.

Rather than go over their resume, a document that served to get them through the door and with which you should already be fully familiar, look to the future and how they’ll fill the as yet unwritten pages of that document.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Original Soundtrack Or Badly-Dubbed Voice?

When railing against the marketing myopia of US cellphones networks, I promised that I’d return to the alleged relevance of consistency of voice in marketing.

It is often said that such consistency is crucial to brand building – you need a tone, regardless of media, that speaks through all your communications and touch-points, and that is readily identifiable as, and attributable to, the source brand. The trouble with that theory is that not only is it difficult to maintain one voice across internal events such as management changes and the advertising roundabout to which I’ve already alluded, but it is also threatened by external factors such as competitive activity which might co-opt your voice or, more likely, seek to make it appear irrelevant to an increasingly fickle consumer base.

This quest uses up far too much management time and runs the real risk of defaulting to a mundane position like that of the US cellphone networks where similar voices merely emphasise their commodification and will get lost in the anonymous babble of that marketplace.

When predicated on marketing activities (in the general promotional sense), consistency of voice speaks to me of overly earnest meetings and calculations which basically ask “How do we make our offering sexy?” It inevitably runs the risk of inflating expectations that won’t be matched by the customers’ experience.

No. The causality must flow the other way. Forget about offerings. Focus on being essential. Then, having created something remarkable to which a significant group of consumers will react passionately, build an organisation of evangelisers who feel similarly passionate about fulfilling that dream/desire. This generates an organic inner-voice reflected in everything your business does and can be translated into any promotional activities you choose to undertake.

That way you’re not struggling to create the consistent voice, you’re speaking it fluently.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Network Effects Or Circle Jerks?

I read a survey that suggested that six out of ten people in Britain speak to five or fewer friends each week and that one in twenty five spoke to no-one at all.

Now I don't suppose that included online contact but it did make me pause and wonder if much vaunted network effects were limited to a certain segment of society. MySpace may have sold for a huge price recently, but I have noticed that many of my friends in their 30s and younger have never even heard of it.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

It Ain't What You Say, It's The Way That You Say It

My friend David is the most incredible communicator - he has the gift of making you listen and it is remarkable to witness and he came to mind when I read Seth Godin's post on analogies.

Now those of you who know Seth or have witnessed his work will know that he is no slouch as a communicator and, as he says, he changed tack and got his message across. David wouldn't have had to do so because he places great store in the neuro-linguistic programming thesis that all experiences have a sensory base, and that some people think in terms of sounds, others in pictures and others conceive and communicate ideas in terms of feelings.

Now a lot of NLP goes over my head or into my cynic's waste-bin, but the logic of listening to how people express their emotions in respect of your marketing target and then framing your messages in those terms seems like another aspect of customer focus on which marketers should concentrate greater efforts.

Told You So

Neatly combining my previous posts on the futility of research and the importance of our visceral reaction to a product, I quote directly from The Perfect Home which I referenced before and which broadcast tonight.

"If you ask people whether they'd like to live in moden steel houses, they'll tell you no. But if you can show them a steel house, they absolutely love it."

Friday, May 05, 2006

Accentuate The Negative 2

When I first tried to write something under the Accentuate the Negative heading some years ago, I recall citing Simon Cowell as someone who exemplified the attitude. At the time, he was barely known in the US and generally unpopular for not exhibiting supportive positivity. Not anymore!

In Desperate Networks, a book by the New York Times reporter Bill Carter about the American Idol story, a survey found that 58 per cent of voting viewers trust Mr Cowell more than his fellow judges. That may not be the most scientific sample, but I think it shows that if your negativity is justifiable, then even the most positive of societies will come around.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

You Got To Be In It To Win It

So you're a small company with limited resources trying to compete for attention in a crowded and media-filled marketplace. The low costs of various Web 2.0 applications would seem to be ideal marketing vehicles for you.

Apparently not in the UK according to this piece in The Times which reveals that "According to a survey by the UK Business Barometer, nearly three quarters of small and medium-sized companies have no idea about how to take advantage."

That's bad enough, but what chance do they have when "Peter Scargill, the national IT chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, says that blogging and podcasting are not right for every company. “An engineering works selling sheets of metal probably can’t make a very interesting podcast and they shouldn’t really try."

Will the last person to leave the manufacturing industry, please remember to turn the lights off.

Mine's Bigger Than Yours!

In an interesting piece entitled “Best Cellphone Company? All of Them, to Hear Them Say It” in yesterday’s New York Times, Ken Belson drew attention to the similarity of cell-phone marketing in the United States.

It seems that unlike european touchy-feely advertising, the companies are all reacting to their maturing marketplace by trying to compete on the basis of their network quality. Not only are other attributes like data speed, 3G services and customer service all available sources of potential differentiation, but the real battle ground of the future, as is pointed out later in the piece, will focus on the fact that younger consumers are far more concerned with the hip-ness of the handsets available on your network rather than the technology behind it.

This stimulates a number of thoughts. It’s another indication that technologists (despite their rightful derision of marketers) often get far too hooked up in the marvelous geekdom of their product. It also raises the issue of the importance of consistency of voice in positioning. Both are issues to which I want to return, but for now I’ll focus on the fact that marketing messages must reflect what their customers want from their product and manage those expectations so they are not disappointed by the reality of their experience.

It strikes me that even if all the US phone networks are wonderful it would, based on my phone usage, be very hard for me to know if that were true. If my call drops off or I can’t get a signal, do I really know that the same thing wouldn’t have happened if I were signed up to a competitor network? Do I even know that it’s a network issue?

Of course not - I don’t care about networks. I care about making my calls, how much they cost and how cool I look. If I’m buying a commodity product or service, I want marketing that shows that you know what my gripes are likely to be and that you are addressing them. I want you enhancing your usability and reducing your negatives.

By way of illustration and since I slammed some financial advertising yesterday, I’ll end with a link to some brilliant UK financial advertising. A company that makes you smile, shows they know your mind-set and gives themselves a great chance of proving to a prospect that they actually practice what they preach here.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Devil Is In The Detail

The TV ad opens with a view of two passports belonging to a stereotypical white, middle-class couple.

The camera pulls back and then up revealing that they are in the hands of an immigration officer at an airport. He’s looking between the photos and the two colourfully dressed hippies in front of him,

“And how long did you say you have been on honeymoon Sir?”

The husband then launches into some dreadful faux patois and reveals that they’ve been away for fifteen years.

I saw this ad for Woolwich Mortgages for the first time last night. My reaction? Well I just thought that a major financial institution seeking customers for the most important financial transaction of their life - one in which attention to detail must surely rank high – really should be more concerned with getting their facts right.

Passports are only valid for ten years! Not fifteen! So the gag doesn’t work! Either that or they’re encouraging passport fraud.

I’m not sure I’d be rushing to their door for financial advice.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Accentuate The Negative

Some astute readers may already have detected the slightest hint of cynicism in my worldview. Guilty as charged. I'll attack all unsubstantiated assertions and know that received wisdom and common sense are neither wisdom nor all that common, but I’ll argue fervently that cynicism is much more positive than often portrayed. I'm critical and suspicious not from a destructive standpoint, but because of my hatred of the all-pervasive mediocrity that dulls our daily lives.

The modern business world is cyclically obsessed with the grand gesture and new paradigms, largely because there are reputations to be made and profits to be gleaned from flipping start-ups and M & A activity. But the longest journey starts with a single step and I prefer to focus on the less newsworthy.

Notwithstanding the massive verbiage surrounding creativity and human capital, great ideas are rare and merely good ones aren't too common. It's much easier and more sensible, albeit far less sexy to be "negative." Just identify where things are wrong and suggest how to change them. We do that as customers every single day and all our blogs allude to personal grievances, so why not apply it to shaking up your business’s status quo? Eliminate what's wrong and you have a greater product and happier customers at very little extra cost.

This is not new. In a way, it's "continual improvement" or "re-engineering" but without all the hyperbole and documentation and all the better for their absence. I remember a letter to The Times in the 90s that opined that when the Japanese showed the way with quality circles and the Americans sought to improve productivity by importing such techniques, it was typical that the British reaction was to create a system of certification!

Moreover, it categorically does not limit you to being unremarkable. As Thomas Heatherwick, a man renowned for producing astonishing sculptural designs in functional structures says. “Turning aspiration into reality is what counts, not storming off in a rage because your idea has been compromised.”

It is, as I’ve written before, all about putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and making sure that you keep your eyes and ears open. You’ll not be surprised to know that I make a habit of complaining even when it doesn't affect me. I don’t rant and rave on the shop floor, but rather write to the CEO. I do so to draw their attention to the details that are being missed and in a way that tells of positive outcomes for them. I get responses and judge the company by those responses.

While writing this piece, I noticed that Seth Godin had argued for instant complaint feedback to the CEO via fax and I would fully endorse that, even if I fear, that as the flood of faxes becomes larger, a fax wrangler will be deemed necessary. I think it’s already happening because I see an increasing number of my observations being directed to bloated and ineffective customer complaint procedures. That’s why I argue for a more proactive rather than this reactive approach

You have a choice. You can create brand strategies and glorious visions, think in blue-sky terms and parade a bold can-do attitude while criticising naysayers for not being team players. Or you can actually do something that makes a difference because while, if platitudes are your thing, there may be “no I in team” there is very much a “NO in knowledge”.

Insulation from discontent creates the worst marketing for you and your company. Externally, customers don’t get what they want and vote with their feet, while internally, staff who are bearing the brunt of customer complaints and restrictive protocols have their morale corroded and your customer service quality collapses. For me, both elements are captured in the old quote (which I have so far failed to attribute) "One extravagant annual company picnic does not create a healthy working environment; it takes many immediate, smaller happy moments to achieve this atmosphere."

Grand visions do not focus on smaller happy moments, but accentuating the negative certainly does.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Research Indicates We Should Close The Research Department

A notice on a bank's door announces "as a result of customer feedback, we shall be open for business until 4 pm on Saturdays."

My reaction? Did they really need customer feedback to know that? Why aren't they all putting themselves in the shoes of their customers on a regular basis and coming to such conclusions without the expense of a research department? After all, they all use banks and by working in the bank they have the advantage of knowing what is possible within the processes of the bank.

Indeed, what's the point of research and isn't it the primary source of analysis paralysis? How many research surveys have you seen or completed that required you to indicate whether you strongly agreed, agreed, were indifferent to, didn’t agree or strongly disagreed with a series of statements, most of which you'd never considered before. From that a company is meant to get insight? Give me a break.

And if you are going to insist on that process, please only have four options so that you will at least force your customers to make an indicative decision. With the five choice option, it seems to me that the only answers worth paying attention to are the passionate ones (namely strong agreement or disagreement). While I have nothing to back this up but gut instinct, it wouldn’t surprise me if the distribution of answers across the five options probably resembles a normal distribution so that the majority of responders were giving bland answers in the middle section (mild agreement, indifference, mild disagreement). Responses that collectively tell you nothing at all. Strike 1.

Moreover, cognitive scientists have shown that when we answer questionnaires we may not be as honest as we think. Not because we're devious but rather because the part of the brain we use to consider such answers is different from that which we use when making the actual purchasing decision in the supermarket aisle! So our actions may not correspond with our honest answers. Strike 2.

Furthermore, you don’t even need to ask lots of people. Jakob Nielsen the guru of website usability has shown that you don’t need to employ banks of testers for websites (i.e. research) - if you use just 5 users they will identify 80% of the weaknesses of that site. Just imagine a site with 80% of its failings eliminated - sounds like a pretty exceptional site/product to me. Strike 3.

So what’s going on here? I’ve talked about research as an ass–covering exercise before and I’m increasingly vehement about it. Now, I'm only talking about consumer research here. A company must must must research the market they're entering in terms of competitive analysis, purchasing patterns and potential market projections in order to determine whether they have a potentially viable business idea. Viability is, of course, not the same as the ubiquitous and spurious market share projection that uncannily is the sane as that needed to generate the ROI required by potential investors or corporate masters, but Guy Kawasaki has much more on this here.

But constantly asking your customers what they want. Is there any point? If marketing works and I’m not sure it does in the traditional sense, then your customers are malleable so why bother asking them what they want? They probably don’t know or haven’t really thought about it. I’m being facetious to some extent but the basic point is thats it’s not their job to know. It's yours.