Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Monday, April 30, 2007

The No In Knowledge.

Some people suggest that it's taken the freedom of information encapsulated in the internet to undermine advertising's effectiveness. Others feel that this just coincided with a general disenchantment with hyperbole. Either way, I welcome a dose of sceptisicsm.

As a great piece in the McKinsey Quarterly recently said

Our business world is full of research and analysis that are comforting to managers: that success can be yours by following a formula, that specific actions will lead to predictable outcomes, and that greatness can be achieved no matter what rivals do. The truth is very different: the business world is not a place of clear causal relationships, where a given set of actions leads to predictable results, but one that is more tenuous and uncertain.

Good decision making is about knowing what questions to ask and questioning is inherently challenging (or negative, depending on your point of view). But it should not be ducked, because the other way lies the tyranny of the yes man culture. Reality checks are essential and their great benefit is that the sooner they come, the less painful they are.

When that's not learned on a cultural level, it's arguable that the outcome is even more costly. The parallels with bad marketing are obvious.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Small Is The New Big.

Everything else is superfluous.

Friday, April 27, 2007

What's Brand Valuation For?

Richard Huntington points out that the season of brand valuation is upon us again and that WPP and Millward Brown have determined the top 100 brands by mathematical methods. He outlines their arguments here and provides a link to the site (complete with its annoying oral explanations).

It all seems faintly ridiculous to me because valuations may go down as well as up and I'm not sure what you're meant to do with the valuation once you've assessed it. As ever, to this cynic, it reeks of trying to justify marketing efforts via recourse to the tools of the accountant and, in doing so, it is filled with assumptions that are entirely subjective.

Take the second stage of the valuation - whereby the proportion of intangible income that comes from the "most commited" consumers i.e. those not attracted by price or functional issues. I sort of see the logic (although I always thought price and function were key elements of any brand) but, even within their parameters, how do you determine the degree of commitment to the brand? Are early adopters commited to the brand or to the street cred of being the guy with the new stuff; are followers less commited or does the brand prove all important in tipping their purchase decision; and are heavy users commited to the brand or just heavy users who would move their heavy use to an alternate brand if it came along?

Ascribing financial values to non-financial attributes is faught with danger, so why not just focus on the existing financial data? Call me simplistic but total sales is a pretty good indicator of how much people are commited to the brand and gross margins indicate the premium those people are prepared to pay for that commitment. Real figures that give a good idea of how customers rather than branding experts value your brand.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Weakness Of Crowds.

A Columbia Univeristy experiment shows that people's rating of a product (in this case, music) is indeed influenced by the opinions of others. Songs received higher ratings from people who were told that they had previously been highly rated than from a similar group without that information.

Because the long-run success of a song depends so sensitively on the decisions of a few early-arriving individuals, whose choices are subsequently amplified and eventually locked in by the cumulative-advantage process, and because the particular individuals who play this important role are chosen randomly and may make different decisions from one moment to the next, the resulting unpredictability is inherent to the nature of the market. It cannot be eliminated either by accumulating more information — about people or songs — or by developing fancier prediction algorithms, any more than you can repeatedly roll sixes no matter how carefully you try to throw the die.

So much for the power of the early adopters, but the real question for marketers is why the followers follow? Does the previous recommendation provide positive reassurance to risk-averse followers or does it encourage conformity for fear of standing out from the crowd?

Furthermore, although wandering around supermarkets has shown to me the astonishing power that best-before dates hold over most shoppers, I wonder how, outside of sociology experiments, do the followers determine how a product or service has been rated?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Why Please Everyone?

I saw some private research yesterday which tested reactions to a variety of propositions and displayed them in pyramids of popularity. The implications were obvious - those at the top were worth pursuing, those further down were not.

But, the researchers didn't have the courage of their convictions because I also noted that a number of the propositions were asterisked. Asterisks are never good and this was no exception because these asterisks indicated propositions which had "generated a highly polarised response." The implications of that were again obvious - this polarisation was a worrying thing.

Of course it wasn't - it was a very good thing. If an asterisked proposition stood at the top of a pyramid it meant that a large number of respondents were really passionately in favour of it. As I have written before, that's exactly what you want.

If you worry about displeasing people who will never be your customers, you end up trying to please everybody. The only way you can get close to that is by being average and being average is nothing to shout about.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Another Brand Formula.

I finally met Faris last night and in a brief conversation in a bar full of international advertising types, we found that we agreed that the primary goal of marketers (not marketeers) should be to avoid disappointing and/or annoying the customer. That doesn't mean aiming low, it just means you must deliver at least what you promise.

In that vein, I would tweak Seth's definition of a brand.

He suggests

Brand = [Prediction of what to expect] times [emotional power of that expectation]

I suggest

Brand = Expected Performance x (1 - Disappointment Experienced)

It's a subtle change which no doubt reflects his optimism and my cynicism, but I am just not convinced that people are wowed by the vast majority of products/services to which they have some degree of loyalty. They're just happy not to be disappointed.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Knowing My Name Isn't Personalisation.

A new reminder from my insurance company arrives. They realise they're in a commodity business so they're offering an array of benefits that they've arranged in tandem with wine retailers, travel companies and a cinema chain. Not especially original but it might sway someone.

However, the first offer in the list was the cinema chain discount and there we hit a problem because that chain does not have a multiplex in my neighbourhood. The insurance company knows my zip code and they should know the locations of their partner's cinemas. So, in an age of customisation, would it not be smarter marketing to identify those recipients who don't live within a reasonable catchment area relative to those cinemas and eliminate the offer line from their letters?

That way you avoid a wavering prospect from saying "that offer's worth nothing to me" and, by extension, feeling less inclined to look favourably upon the subsequent offers as deal-clinchers. That would be real customer relationship management.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Is Twitter Killing The Blogosphere?

I have noticed in the past month that the rise of Twitter has coincided with the withdrawal of some original minds from the blogosphere. Is this because they have noticed how much time they are spending away from their real lives? Is this because Twitter is transitory and unsatisfying to them? Or am I writing this post in order to create a digg-friendly headline?

The Ten Greatest Twitters.

In light of this, I think it is about time we collected the ten greatest Twitters. In keeping with the democracy of the bloggersphere, those attributed to people I know, people who make me laugh and people who offer me drinks and/or sexual favours are more likely to achieve the final list. Extra credit will be given for Tube-based Twitters. Somebody set up a wiki!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Being Remarkable 3.

Remarkable never ages.

April 18, 2007

June 22, 1986

Update: I've been asked to point out to American readers that this is a sport called football. It is not soccer.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Mixed Feelings.

I don't know what it is and I feel decidely queasy bringing this up, but I'm sure there are insights to be drawn from the fact that the Korean movie Oldboy will experience increased rentals as a result of the terrible events at Virginia Tech.

Fly The Feminist Skies?

Courtesy of Fast Company, I draw your attention to American Airline's way of reaching out to that gutsy niche of oestrogen-rich customers who in the twenty first century dare to bother their pretty little heads with the new fangled flying thing. And this is the improved version!

Segmentation only makes sense if the designated grouping consumes your offering in a unique way and I hadn't noticed that women fly differently from men. They just get patronised differently.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Brew Tube Droops.

Switching the focus of one's advertising from TV to new media is a big step for a company and the story of Bud tv shows that old habits die hard.

The attempt to have a direct relationship with a potential customer is smart thinking, but I was struck by the paradox of a soft sell and the frequent references to maintaining control.

Marketing experts argue that it’s a small price to pay for connecting with today’s more skeptical, harder-to-reach consumers, and they urge companies to relinquish control and learn to love it. Anheuser-Busch executives do not agree. “I think YouTube does what it does just fine,” Schumacker said, adding, “I don’t want to be YouTube.”

Could this be the reason for the apparent failure of the venture as reported in Ad Age?

I think so because while they are right, in one sense, to say that "shoving those ads to the Web, where the multitasking, short-attention-span crowd spends hours and hours, won’t suffice" , I think their characterisation of the net users is wrong and somewhat patronising, while other spectacular ads have flourished online because people discover them and pass them around in a way that they are not consumed on TV.

No you shouldn't just move your ads ads online, but it's even more important to realise that you shouldn't move your old attitudes there as well.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Give Me Details, Don't Ask for Mine.

The letter confirming my bank appointment lists the number to ring if I have to reschedule. Fair enough, but it didn't mention that the phone line would demand my bank sort code and account number in order to provide "quicker service."

Quicker isn't better, simple is.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Open Source Discussion Opens Sores.

Interesting to see how Hugh provokes a conversation by framing a question in a way that highlights two sides of a product battle.

Even more interesting to see how the vast majority of respondents are thus led to take one or other side of the argument. I'm not sure this is exclusive to the tech sector, but the focus seems to be all on the "product" and little on the customer.

The really interesting solutions in any sector lie away from any of the existing answers and, in a business where disrupting products are available for free, it seems to me (yet again) that financial success will be achieved because of the product and not with the product.

Why Marketing Matters?

It matters simply because being remarkable isn't enough, people have to realise you are remarkable.

There can be no greater proof of this than the recent Washington Post experiment which saw a virtuoso playing a multi-million dollar violin being virtually ignored while busking in a busy metro station. The full story (complete with telling videos) is here but the final paragraph says it all.

Bell headed off on a concert tour of European capitals. But he is back in the States this week. He has to be. On Tuesday, he will be accepting the Avery Fisher prize, recognizing the Flop of L'Enfant Plaza as the best classical musician in America.

But to hundreds of commuters, he was just another busker. Or perhaps as the Saw Lady would have it, he was just a bad busker.

A busker is someone who can turn any place into a stage. Obviously, Joshua Bell needs an actual stage. As a busker one needs to interact with those around, break walls of personal space, and lure people into a collective and spontaneous group experience on the street, in the moment, with you. A bad busking act is when the performer doesn’t make an effort to connect with the audience. Like musicians who play for themselves, not acknowledging the audience, just burying their heads in their instruments.

Are you a good busker?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Pub Crawl = Conference 2.0.

Sceptics might think that spending the afternoon wandering between five pubs on the edge of Borough Market was a skive but, in fact, I was attending Under The Influence which really should be the model for all conferences.

I heard John Grant not deliver his prepared speech, saw Andy Mackay explaining the marketing thinking behind Manumission's decision to drop the live sex show, glimpsed a bewildering exposition on the changing face of retail outlets from Lucy Johnston through a crowded staircase and marvelled at a history of beer from former planner Pete Brown that had both great visuals and resonances for product as objects of sociability.

The back-channel was bumping into people you'd previously spied as they walked between or reflected in one of the various venues (pubs); the mood was open, sociable and stimulating; and the only jarring note for me was some dressed-down corporates spouting about the branding opportunities of Second Life and virtual identities.

To top it all, I re-met an old acquaintance, the remarkable Captain Crikey whose emigration from the big city has thankfully done nothing to curb his derision of marketing bollocks. I have seen the future of conferences and it came with two bottles of commerative ale. Bravo.

Fat Is A Marketing Issue.

The fat gene has been discovered and surprisingly it wasn't just found on the couch and in the doughnut shop. In reality, it explains only a ten pound rise in weight but that won't be the worldview that permeates the public consciousness. It will be interesting to see if marketers use this "get out of jail free" card or if they move towards the promotion of healthy diets.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Wisdom Of The HSBC Crowd.

Retail bank HSBC have announced to customers at their branch in a chi chi area that you will not be able to receive human advice unless you have a large mortgage or $100,000 in your account. Cue righteous indignation. I heard this a couple of days ago but now it has hit the media I can link to the details for those who are interested.

The reality, of course, is that two tier banking exists in many places and that the branch in question had previously been purely automatic and that very few customers ever saw a human anyway. It would have been smarter to discreetly introduce a luxury service alongside that which existed already (as can be found on an upper floor of my own high street bank) but instead HSBC have pulled a Coke by replacing their existing service with "New HSBC" that is not to the taste of many users.

It's a storm in a teacup, but appearance is everything. There is nothing worse than bad publicity and now HSBC who are in a commodity business will be seen as elitist yet without the luxury cachet of Coutts for example. Snobs rather than servants.

It's that yes-man culture in action again - a bunch of non customer-facing executives thinking "cool idea" and "customer segmentation" but nobody bothers or dares to look at new ideas and think what could go wrong? How could this blow up in our face? Because "team-players" don't think like that. Because all too often "team-players" don't think.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Why People Think Microsoft Sucks.

While it is partly a product of their market dominance, it is still remarkable that public irritation with Microsoft and jokes about the blue screen of death, Clippy and error messages feature in popular culture. I am not a Microsoft hater - I have no ideological resentment of their profitability and (not being a geek) I neither know nor care about the intricacies of their technical solutions. But I am a user and, at times, a very frustrated one.

Why? Well, computer software is all about automation and automation is mysterious. Thus expectation is high and comprehension low and when usability falls short, resentment builds (especially when fatuous advertising campaigns bombard you with claims of the mythical WOW factor).

It's unfair but it's what I experienced yesterday when, for the first time this year, I needed to use MSN Messenger. I was greeted with an announcement that a new version existed and I would HAVE to download it if I wanted to use my account. I managed to do this, but it was not the "plug and play" experience I've grown used to with other software and, to add insult to injury, I discovered upon returning to it today that successfully accessing the new version had not led to it replacing the old version.

To summarise then, Microsoft gave me no choice, made the experience less than straightfoward and then failed to deliver its promise. Now this was just what I, an individual low-level user, felt yesterday but if I sense a cultural disconnect between geekdom and user, then you have to wonder if it pervades all areas of their business?

Because success is all about usability - here it was literal usability, but the word can be applied to all areas of business where you interact with another party - do they find it easy (or should that be as easy as you promise) to do business? If they don't, you, like Microsoft, have a festering problem.

Within the technology field, this might have been obscured from corporate view by dint of inherently high transfer costs which may have militated against potential user retention problems. Within other fields, the shorthand of brand loyalty and customer ignorance may have served the same purpose.

But today, technology is cheaper and more varied; brand loyalty is questionable and fleeting; and customer ignorance is vanishing down those broadband pipes. So if you don't want potential users to think that you suck, you have to get that usability right.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Meaningless Words.

Another problem with conversations is that they often contain meaningless words. These take two forms.

1) Words that are perhaps well-intentioned but are meaningless because no action follows. This category includes customer care, guaranteed delivery and quality.

2) Words that have been over-used and under-considered. This category is vast and includes branding, holistic and marketing.

Words should count. If they don't, don't waste your breath. Because if you do, you'll just encourage others to use more meaningful words about you.

Monday, April 09, 2007

On Conversations.

A co-created book is to be focussed on that over-used word conversation. I'm not sure my thoughts warrant a chapter, but here they are.

Markets should indeed be conversations.

But people don't want really conversations.

Conversations take up time and usually indicate that something is unsatisfactory.

Nor do people want to be bombarded with interruptive "ice-breakers" disguised as relationship-building.

Lines are not conversation.

What people want is to know they can have a conversation on their terms.

What people want is to know they can have a conversation whenever they choose.

What people want is to know that that conversation will be heard, appreciated and acted upon.

People want meaningful dialogues not irrelevant small-talk.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

CRM Is Not About The Customer!

David Armano passes on a Bain report that highlights widespread executive fears about the commoditisation of their products, their lack of contact with their customers and a disconnect between company goals and internal culture. No surprises there, but it then goes on to explain that

Executive anxieties about losing touch with their customers is driving higher and higher usage of customer tools such as CRM and segmentation.

Translated, this means they're focussing on the customer by analysing them to death, segmenting them into easy to swallow chunks and implicitly serving some less well.

CRM is all too often about pushing out to customers who don't really want a relationship with you - they have enough relationships in their time-poor real life. They want to be able to have a conversation with you when they see fit (to "pull" you towards them) and they want you to enthuse them with everything you do, but they don't want a relationship.

The management word is also a problem, it's riddled with the sense of control - customers should not be managed, they should be served. Live by that dictum and you're halfway there. By all means create efficient systems that manage your business, but their goal should be to better serve the customer.

You want to ensure you have such a presence in the marketplace that customers are drawn to you, that you stand for something they like, and that you produce something they want, the way they want it - all without restriction, irritating delay or segmentatation.

You don't segment customers, they segment themselves via behaviours and worldviews that are beyond your control.They segment themselves by choosing to enagage with you and you better be ready to engage right back. Customer Enthusiasm Management, as posited in a recent Harvard Business Review, seems to me to be a much better thought.

The fears about commodification and culture as strategy are crucial issues, but CRM is not the answer. Targetting falsely designated groupings more efficiently will not make your product any less of a commodity (great customer service after all should be a given) nor will it motivate your staff to provide that all pervasive enthusiasm that typifies businesses that get it right.

CRM is all about reports, efficiency and CRM software, it's not about the customer. And that's a problem.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Build Your Own Pyramid.

Seth makes an interesting observation about the need to be best in the world in an increasingly "winner take all" world.

Some might despair when reading this - but just as bloggers who cyclically complain about the A list, they're missing the point. It's not about struggling up the pyramid, it's about building your own.

[Unrelated image from]

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Load Of B Words.

Many words beginning with B are synonomous with nonsense and fraudulent behaviour. The one I hate most is branding which I see as a mythologised smokescreen and which is the basis of so much spurious nonsense as this from demonstrates:

Definition: The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products

Wrong, wrong and thrice wrong.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

70% Is Sound.

Last night, I was sneaked into the back of a Q&A session with entertaining and voluble Sunshine director Danny Boyle during which he interestingly suggested that sound represents 70% of the impact of a film. Consequently, he and the producer ring-fenced a significant part of the budget so that the film triumphantly does not pale in comparison with Hollywood fare in this respect.

Another area of focussed spending has been the decision not to hold expensive premieres, but to concentrate on promotional activities that engaged the audience directly. After all, premieres are commonplace these days. Yes, they guarantee you lots of media coverage, but do you and I pay attention? Does it relate back to the film and does it make you buy a ticket? Or is it just noise? By contrast, as I also said in relation to a previous Q&A, those who attended or saw it via video relay at six other theatres had a more personal experience of Sunshine and will be more likely to talk about it.

This reminded me that the reason I saw Danny Boyle's first film was neither pre-release hype nor its reviews - Shallow Grave was, after all, a very small film and while many people involved in it are now famous, they certainly weren't in 1994. No, I chanced across a brief television "set visit" piece that focussed upon the smallness of the production. It lasted just a couple of minutes but its tone clearly registered, piqued my interest and caused me to check it out when it hit the screens over a year later.

When it comes to marketing, we filter out noise. But sound that resonates, that is always heard.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

This Is Not A Gift Shop.

Museum gift shops are pretty standard places. After passing through a stimulating, invigorating collection, you walk through a door and into a bland retail outlet. Emotions are immediately dissipated and purchasing intent diluted.

But not at the terrific Surreal Things exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum because, as you leave the exhibits, your senses are not allowed to wander.

You walk through a distorting-mirrored arch and immediately feel differently about the space you're entering. Yes, a space filled with postcards, posters, books and more, but also a space that continues the exhibition's dialogue and engages your interest. I doubt it cost much to do, but I guarantee it will pay for itself innumerable times over.

Salesteams refer to this as closing. Marketers should take note.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Is Blogging Killing Intelligent Conversation?

London was awash with bloggers last night. This included German bloggers brandishing artwork, British bloggers brandishing moleskines and "brand voices" and others brandishing sarcasm and vitriol to great effect. All were awash with ale.

As I've said before, without blogging's conversations, these and other real conversations wouldn't happen because many of our paths would not cross. But there's more than that. I was told of two people who, to great effect, have thrashed out ideas and thinking online where in the past they had worked for the same company and yet had only engaged in small-talk and office niceties.

Blogging has its faults, but by equalising status, bypassing office etiquette and over-riding social timidity, it stimulates intelligent conversation like nothing I've ever come across.

SPOOKY UPDATE: In keeping with the spirit of connectivity, when I alighted from the Tube at the end of the evening I even bumped into Hugh MacLeod. Perhaps it was the tarot cards.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Reaching The Unreachable.

I'm still absorbing this lengthy article about the trends in on and off-line advertising and am struck by the contradictions.

We are told that newspapers are dying and yet we read that

Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT), publisher of the Daily Mail, last week published figures showing that advertising revenues at its national titles had grown by about 4% in recent months.

We are told that the web attracts 27% of users' media consumption, but only 11% of ads are placed online perhaps because as the Finance Director (hmm why not the marketing director?) declares:

Our 5m readers, “very targeted in terms of middle England”, were still a big attraction for “heartland” advertisers such as Marks & Spencer. “To get to that volume of people in their marketplace online is still pretty’s going to remain so. It’s complicated to get to the same number of people by aggregating different web properties.”

We are told of the difficulties being experienced in trying to get online video viewers to accept pre-roll advertising clips and yet

Glen Drury, head of Yahoo UK, said the increasing ease of using online video opened up the internet to brands that found it hard to use search. (Nobody searches for “tooth-paste”, he pointed out.)

My conclusion? If anybody tells you they know how this will shake out, run a mile. But give some real thought to that throw-away line "nobody searches for toothpaste" because in a world of fragmented audiences, advertising aversion and prosumers, that is a biggie. If your potential customer doesn't want to be interrupted but refuses to search for you, how do you stop becoming a commodity?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Year Zero Plus One.

This day of stretching credulity to breaking point seemed the appropriate moment to start ranting about the inanities and insanities of marketing.

A year on, it still does but I'm not sure I've ranted enough. However, I've met some really smart and stimulating people online and in real life.

Thanks for the links, the comments and the fun.