Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Problem-less Solutions

Some prospective blogposts grind to a halt. Maybe six weeks ago, upon seeing a minibus emblazoned with the words "Family Solutions", I'd started to write about how that made me wonder what was being implied.

Further tailgating had revealed that the bus belonged to a nursery company offering creche facilities and after-school clubs. I thus started to pontificate about the positive evocations of helping the family and of being part of the family; the negative connotations that associate the word solution with process and profit; and then rightly abandoned the post. Or so I thought.

Then I inevitably heard that hateful, fatuous "Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions" cliche to which I've alluded before and a penny dropped. The nursery's clients would never characterise themselves as problem families, but if your marketing frames them as dynamic, collaborative, problem-solving families, they'll happily buy into that story regardless of the implication. It's a principle that can be applied universally.

The twenty-first century mindset of rush, confusion and neurosis is so ingrained that if you build a solution, the consumer will all too willingly magnify and validate the problem, even if it doesn't actually exist.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Being Remarkable 2.

Passion and compelling stories are two themes that thread through all that is worthwhile on the blogosphere and elsewhere. They co-exist and create the remarkable. A link from Seth to his VC friend pointed me to an astonishing TED presentation that you should see, re-see and spread. Majora Carter may not be the slickest presenter but compelling content, humanity and the cute creation of "forgiveness marketing" go way beyond slickness and if she's not heading for stellar things I know nothing. It's already reduced some hard-nosed friends to tears and, if you're the people I think you are, it will do the same to you.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Was It Good For You?

A magnificent interview by Guy Kawasaki has led to some tip-toeing and some outright complaint because it deals with the sex toy industry. That's plain crazy.

Many of the developments in internet technology were generated by the adult industry and the fact that Sandor Gardos's business is meeting previously unmet customer needs (puns are unavoidable in this subject) means that his words have huge value for all marketers. Not satisfied with just posting a comment (see what I mean about puns), I'm reproducing two questions and answers here. I hope that doesn't transgress blogging protocol but I think they're great answers deserving as wide an audience as possible. The first tells us pretty much all there is to say about an underlying business philosophy and the second shows how resistance to change on the part of mainstream businesses is so insane in these disruptive days.

Question: What can an ecommerce startup learn from your experiences selling sex toys online?

Answer: Find a niche that is currently under-served in the way you want to serve them. Then, continue to mine the data, listen to your customers, and keep creating ever more experiences that are *amazing* for them. Also, stop thinking that you are selling a product—that puts you into commoditization and the only thing you can compete on is price. You are selling a *solution* to a problem that your customer may not even know they had. Finally, forget about all the latest trends and gee-whiz technology; if it doesn’t really help the majority of your customers, it is worthless or worse.

Question: Have you considered a strategic alliance with Energizer or Duracell?

Answer: Funny you should ask. This is where we start to diverge from places like We sell far more batteries than any manufacturer (not naming names that might start with an E or D) requires for a wholesale arrangement. But, every time they see our site, they tell us we can’t buy direct.

There is much much more where these came from. Go and read it all. You know you want to!

Being Remarkable.

Remarkable is a word frequently used on this and other blogs, but we don't always define it. So if you were in any doubt about a definition, this is remarkable.

China Crisis?

The Trade Commissioner at the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong urges small and medium-sized businesses that, despite their fears over protection of their intellectual property rights, they "can't afford to ignore China in terms of growth opportunities and remaining competitive." Is he right?

Marketing is as much about rejecting the wrong customers as it is about selecting the right ones.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Crisis Mismanagement

Tylenol famously took decisive action by recalling all their product from the shelves in 1982 when there was a suggestion of cyanide poisoning. Perrier did the same in 1990 in response to possible benzene contamination. Both were applauded and did not lose market share. In contrast, British chocolate maker Cadbury are currently suffering some flak for a recent recall that took place five months after they were aware of a potential salmonella issue.

The lesson is seemingly clear. Understand the customer issue, then act quickly and any short term pain will be worth it. So is that what Comcast's management did when this video was posted online? Well they took a "business decision" and fired the repairman who had fallen asleep on the customer's couch. Quick, decisive action for sure, but action for which I'm sure they will be pilloried because it emerges that he fell asleep while on hold for an hour to his own techinical department! An hour!

The customer wasn't failed by the repairman, he was seemingly failed by Comcast's internal structures. Yet the message his firing sends to potential customers is that Comcast doesn't understand the failings in its customer service. As I keep saying, we are all marketers and real marketing reqires nuance and comprehension, not business decisiveness!


I can't imagine I'm the first person to coin this phrase, but Googling produces very little on it. It's not rocket-science. Just as cloud-seeding produces rain to order, it seems to me that the ready-made crowds of the online world can be seeded in a way that might ultimately precipitate a storm of interest in a product or service. But the transmission is not that of buzz or viral marketing which merely seek to replicate the hype of old-style marketing and stimulate "awareness" of the product or service.

No, this is a synthesis of the informed conversations of Chris Locke's Gonzo Marketing, the connectivity of Malcolm Gladwell's mavens, connecters and salespeople, the disruptive non-linearity of Winslow Farrell's hit prediction and the prosletysing of Seth Godin's sneezers.

The communication facility of the internet is uniquely able to bring together crowds of people with similar mindsets, outlooks and attitudes and to do so in numbers that just wasn't possible before. The key is that they choose to search each other out. They don't sidle up to each other because they literally or metaphorically like the look of someone (as is the case in social networks), but rather they viscerally recognise kindred spirits by dint of their rants, wit or actions.

It's opinion-based networking with the emphasis very much on the opinions rather than the networking. They are willing to be convinced. They'll despise you (and worse) if you try to dupe them. But identify your product/service's impassioned and thus, in some sense, idealistic "crowd"; let them trial your product/service and react to your claims of why its remarkable; and, if you're not found wanting, you'll get a very big bang for your buck.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Co-Operative Crowds Versus Narcissistic Networks.

The coining of the term crowdsourcing to define one of the best aspects of online communitarianism has made me think of crowds, not only in terms of wisdom, but as the antidote to social networking (which readers will know I view as over-hyped eye-ball collections). All this in spite of the slightly perjorative connotation that is often attached to crowds. Some thoughts on how they differ and how crowds are more likely to provide the benefits that so many people are ascribing to social networks.

Crowds are focussed self-moderating groupings.
Social Networks are self-selecting disparate webs.

Crowds are filled with real conversations and debate.
Social Networks are filled with shouting and self-promotion.

Crowds are altrusitically selfish (they want to give valued service).
Social Networks are inherently selfish (they want a voice).

Crowds can be monetised via permissive participation such as crowdsourcing and what I'd call crowdseeding.
Social Networks need interruptive marketing to be monetised.

Crowds generate energy and excitement.
Social Networks generate paranoia and neuroses.

Crowds embody the original concept of portal as marketplace.
Social Networks embody social climbing and status acquisition.

Crowds are something you want to be a part of.
Social Networks are something you feel you're expected to be a part of.

Don't be afraid of crowds.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Socially Aware Marketing?

There's a boom in adult Japanese taking lessons to master playing consoles with a view to delaying the onset of dementia.

While providing a relatively saturated market with a new growth opportunity, this event also highlights the need for the marketers to shift their worldview. Assigning the epithet "grey gamers" to a segment they define as people over forty hardly suggests an affinity with these oldies!

We're all going to be over forty one day and, just looking around today, we can see that "older" consumers are neither anonymously grey nor grey in hair colour (especially in Japan). In fact, they are the majority - the dominant segment in terms of numbers and spending power.

The marketing industry knows this and holds expensive conferences to discuss the implications, but that counts for nothing if they can't quit their addiction to meaningless pigeonholing.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Mobile Or Portable?

While remaining sceptical about the potential take-up, I also dread the imposition on my personal space of people browsing mobile television via their various electronic devices.

The confluence of technologists creating ever more sophisticated miniature devices, mobile operaters seeking revenue streams to offset their huge bandwidth expenditures and content creators seeking new distribution channels is quite a snowball, but I often wonder if it's rolling down the right path.

Miniaturisation begets portability yet it is assumed that mobility is always the key attribute, particularly in this country where cells are for prisoners and phones have always been called mobiles. The devices are astonishing but the network operaters' focus has always been on urging their partners for more functionality and more content. We've already seen a degree of backlash against the overcomplication of phones, so why should we assume that they're right about this?

Is the killer benefit really the fact that I can use the product on the move? Or is it portability? Do I want the experience/service while I'm on or is it more important to carry the potentail experience with me so that I can use it in different locations (while not necessarily moving)? There is very little marketing of that latter characteristic - perhaps because it doesn't seem quite so sexy and technologically amazing. Well perhaps sexy and technologically amazing isn't the way to go.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The World Wide What?

Information Super Highway or Global Toilet Wall?


The Great MySpace Rock'n'Roll Swindle.

There is a lot of publicity surrounding a rock magazine's creation of a fake band on MySpace that fooled a lot of professionals including Alan McGee of Oasis fame. You can read the details here and here and marvel at the creation puns.

It is said that it proves the power of social networks but I have still not been converted. The key sentence is this one "Griff’s real MySpace site has more “friends” than that of Hope Against Hope, but he has yet to generate the kind of buzz that Q’s fictional band achieved merely by briefly playing the game."

In other words, it was the connection to significant industry players that counted not the power of the social network of the far less influential. The world hasn't changed as much as some would like to believe.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

We're Football Crazy, We're Football Mad.

Oh the irony - I've just seen a TV spot for takeaway food as provided by ASDA supermarket. It features Michael Owen one of the England players it's suggesting you should be watching while devouring the food. The same Michael Owen who limped off injured after one minute of last night's game and will be on the injured list for at least five months.

I suppose they would argue that any publicity is good publicity, but I disagree. Especially when the campaign backfires like this (or via a loose comment/action from the spokesperson), it just shows up the hard-sell desparation and cold-calling mentality of attaching a celebrity to a product or service unrelated to his or her fame.

Curve Ball

Stopped at a traffic junction, I noticed the semi-naked female body slinking across the billboard. The tagline centred on the word Curve. Some sort of perfume perhaps?

No, this was an advertisement for a local property development comprising the usual box-shaped apartment buildings with a slightly curved frontage. I'm surprised she wasn't draped over the roof!

Most people wouldn't notice what was being advertised; most men would focus on the female form and nothing else; and most women would just be appalled at the sexism

People still get paid for this creativity? Words fail me.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The ????? Premium.

Why create a $100 burger?

Was the restaurant owner affronted that the $150 McDonald sandwich (named after the chef creator) was to be found in London.

Was he seeking a way to raise money for charity ($10 per burger!)?

Or was he otherwise motivated?

The Passion Premium

Seth commented about the increasing price range within product categories. I'm used to reading about price deflation and how models shop on the High Street, but this got me thinking about who buys the high-end stuff.

There is currrently much media coverage here about the retail adventures of the footballers' wives and girlfriends (WAGs) during the World Cup. In one hour on their latest outing, six of them allegedly spent nearly $100,000 in an hour. Having boosted their stocks hugely to cater to them, the shopkeepers of Baden Baden apparently are changing their window-displays daily to entice these rocket scientists.

But WAGs can't be part of the answer. Or can they? Joi Ito has theorised about the future being about selling a relatively few products at high prices rather than thousands of sales at average prices. These high-price consumers will consist of the real fanatics who are prepared to pay a premium for authenticity. Joi was talking about anime videos, but are the much-mocked WAGs not, in fact, true fanatics for genuine designer schmutter? Their celebrity culture motivation may be highly dubious but it doesn't make their passion any less genuine.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Frenchman And A Japaneseman Go Into A Bar

This very interesting and wide-ranging conversation between Loic and Joi Ito is well worth a listen (and a slightly unexciting watch - sorry guys). It covers some things I've thought about before like avatars and others that I haven't. They stimulated, alarmed and irritated me in equal amount which is always a good sign.

Some thoughts to ponder as you listen

How many generalisations are made to justify theses?

If multiple videos of the same event are mashed up - do you get a better reality or a deliberately distorted one?

The average TV viewer watches 19 hours a week, does that make Joi's 35 hours of gaming an addiction?

What quality of business processes would be created by people who "can't really write".

Two geeks in a bar and no beer in sight? Is this verification of the staggering cost of Scandanavian living?

Know Your Customer

One of the toughest lessons I learned in my times in the music and movie industries was to limit how much I should try to impose my tastes/passions on the customers. The artistic side of these businesses can be the apotheosis of passion but there still comes a point when you have to accept that "they" just don't get how great a band/movie this is. Their loss not mine. I just have to focus on ensuring it isn't a company loss.

Having grown the budget airline Ryanair from the brink of bankruptcy to being almost the largest international scheduled airline in the world, you can assume that chief executive Michael O'Leary gets it too. He does, albeit in his own distinctive way. Speaking of the failure of launching an in-flight DVD system, he explains what went wrong. "I was persuaded against my better judgment to put lottery scratch cards on board as well. I said, ‘Forget it, they’re for morons’. After about three months, nobody was playing the DVDs because everybody was scratching lottery cards. So we took the DVDs off and made more room for scratch cards. If that’s what the public wants . . .”

It conjures up a bizarre image of frenzied fingers and a silvery cabin-mist, but shows yet again that it's customer behaviour that is king.

Monday, June 19, 2006

It's F'ing Obvious.

When selecting a template for this blog, I deliberately sought one that archived material on the left since westerners read from left to right. Despite what high-price consultants might tell you, usability is based on commonsense observations like that.

Moreover, it is, I think, well established that people scanning webpages (or I imagine any page) do so via an F pattern so I wanted to keep the ignored right column free of clutter.

I was therefore fascinated to read the following sentence in this article to which I was directed via a throwaway link on Daisy's site.

"We are now seeing right-column blindness, where users do not see information and links down the right hand side of the screen. This occurs because the right hand column has become known for advertising."

Does this mean that Google will have to become more interruptive? Are there implications for the effectiveness of online advertising? I don't know yet, but I think that it's a hugely significant development.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Make Marketing Customers.

For many years now, my pal Remo Giuffre has pursued the idea of customer involvement in product development and sourcing for his online store under the moniker of "The Community Is The Brand." It has engendered great devotion in its customers and featured high in the Lovemarks survey.

A fascinating article in today's New York Times entitled To Charge Up Customers, Put Customers in Charge details similar activities in a number of entrepreneurial businesses. This includes whose customers have designed every T shirt in their catalogue and a shoe company dealing in open-source footwear.

Given my distrust of market research, I particularly like the way that this shared philosophy focusses on what innovative consumers are actually doing and what that means for future demand. The pre-eminence of the product also meets with my approval.

Peter van Stolk, the founder of Jones Soda admits that this is an ever-evolving way of doing business. "Are we a soda company? Are we an Internet company? Are we a social networking company? We're all of that. Our goal is to keep creating more ways for customers to exercise ownership of the brand."

That's a succinct credo for the New Marketing.

Perfection Or Pedantry?

In response to her appearance at a political blogger's convention the New York Times asks Could a 15-Year-Old With a Laptop Be the New Campaign Media Guru?

Well my answer is no, not until she learns the difference between its and it's. Even at 15, that mistake on the first slide of her video surely means her opinions cannot be taken seriously. Is that pedantic? Of course it is. But it doesn't make it wrong and post Jayson Blair , I'd have thought the Times would have spotted that.

Just as the internet facilitates the democratisation of opinions and their subsequent wildfire-spread, so too does it make them liable to instant criticism and devaluation. This applies across all communications and must be at the forefront of our thinking. The fora may have changed but the old media rules still apply in a new media world.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sock It To Me

I have written before about my doubts of the value of trade shows. One aspect that has always puizzled me, as someone who refuses to wear logoed T shirts, has been the benefit of the promotional freebies which inevitably get distributed to friends' kids or dumped in the bin.

So, imagine my surprise this morning when grabbing for a pair of black socks from the drawer, to find myself handling a freebie. I recallled being bemused to receive them as a thankyou for attending the company's stand at a show (a show I was attending solely because it shared its venue with a marketing conference that had forced me to flee its mind-numbing talks).

Now socks may be a common freebie, but I've never encountered them and couldn't see their relevance. But they're OK socks, the tiny logoes on them won't be seen by anyone and I was immediately reminded of the company because I have to concentrate on the top of socks when I put them on. Sly devils.

And perhaps it's no surprise that the company involved was the one which used their trade show presence the most impressively - giving a brief involving and pithy demonstration that demonstrated a series of true customer benefits. In all my interactions with them, even though I'm not a potential customer, I've come away with a view of Securetest as a company that pays attention to detail in every sphere of its operation. Now that's what I call good marketing.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Why Do You Want To Know That?

I make a simple call to my credit card company to determine the end-date of my account period, so that I can maximise the credit holiday for an upcoming expenditure.

I just want the information.

I don't want the operative wrongly telling me it's not relevant and won't make any difference to me! I don't want him then asking, by way of an attempt to justify his presumption, whether I pay off my bill in full .

I just want customer service.

It's how you're meant to differentiate yourself.

Passion Killer

Perhaps the most striking sentence in i-Con, was the following description of Apple as being "No longer a place of passion but something that looked good on the resume" and this was Apple in 1980! How many companies can you think of that fit that description?

It's a salient reminder that passion breeds passion and must not be allowed to die and reminded me of the words of renowned venture capitalist Michael Moritz who wrote in 2000, "If arrogance was apparent at the dawn, it will inevitably permeate the company. If frugality, confidence, humility and a desire to develop a wonderful product or service were evident when an idea got started, then these will weave themselves into the corporate fabric. If modestly talented engineers were there at the beginning, the only people they will be able to hire will be the lame."

For me, that emphasises that there is nothing inevitable about the waning of passion in a business, but that the creeping comfort zone must always be recognised as the danger it is. Moreover, it should not be assumed that passion necessarily wanes with age and here again I quote Moritz talking more recently about Yahoo boss Terry Semel. "He's 60 years old but has the metabolism of somebody in his 20s. You can have some old 20-somethings and some young 60-year-olds, but the passion is the enduring theme."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Why Is The US Entrepreneurial?

In an article that you can read here, an aspiring British politician George Osborne wonders why none of the leading internet companies is British. He has toured Silicon Valley to find out and identifies university failings, intellectual property issues and the UK venture capital regime as three problem areas that contrast with the US experience. He's embarrassingly wrong, of course, about a Brit having invented the internet but is he otherwise right?

Aside from the innate entrepreneurial spirit which I personally think emerges from the tendency of US high school students to have part-time jobs (something that still isn't replicated over here), one of the things that strikes me from reading about the early days of Microsoft and Apple was the existence of the Homebrew computer club which attracted high-school students.

That just didn't happen in the UK and I'm not sure that it does today and while governements focus on creating more graduates over here (on the basis that being a graduate is a good thing per se), I have always felt that the high school education and experience is critical in inculcating ideas, ambition and creativity. Now, I've spent many years in the States and know that education is highly varied but I think that is true of all countries. There is something that happens in American childhood that doesn't happen in the UK for sure and I don't mean prom night. I can't put my finger on it, but I think it provides the answer to Osborne's question and I open the floor to the Americans out there to back me up or shoot me down.

ADDENDUM: Don't know how I missed this, but I think it answers many of the implicit questions.

Geek Or Unique

The future is out there. Literally out there. Or is it? The Dangerous Book For Boys has stormed to number 5 in the Amazon sales charts after one week. A remarkable achievement for a children's book not featuring the name Harry.

But Father's Day is just around the corner and it seems that this is, in reality, a dose of nostalgia being marketed to fathers and uncles while real children stay glued to their electronic media. Not surprising, I suppose, since obsessive health and safety paranoia has resulted in the spread of “boring” public play areas. It's a reminder of the ebb and flow of segments - children are geeks who expect high-tech marketing approaches while traditional children's marketing is now focussed on the long lost inner-child!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Friends For Life?

The received wisdom of marketing has been that you catch consumers young and they remain loyal for life. It's always seemed counter-intuitive to me but judging by my inertia vis a vis my bank, there is an element of truth to it. I'm not sure, however, that this could be truly called loyalty. Moreover, neuroscience shows that changing brain chemistry over our life-time inspires differing wants and behaviours.

This resurfaced in my mind when a survey revealed that the friendships of the under 30s are unlikely to last longer than five years. What should marketers make of that? Simply put, it just reinforces the need to put a lot of effort into keeping the relationship fresh.

You have you to keep making your product/service relevant and desirable to your users and maintian their passion for you. If you dont wnat to drift apart you have to maintain the passion, because (I'm told) once the passion goes out of a relationship, it tends not to get consummated as frequently.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Avatar Marketing

We live in weird times. If you thought the monetisation of social network sites like MySpace was opportunistic, then what about trying to market to people's virtual alter-ego? Avatar marketing is very buzzy right now, as it is assumed that the engagement of individuals playing fantasy games like Second Life is so intense that they will avidly engage with your product in a way that will transfer to their real-life behaviour. These are not passive eyeballs but intelligent engaged minds allegedly.

There are interesting issues surrounding in-game data-mining and virtual malls that recreate the social nature of shopping, and I liked the subliminal implication of Nike's virtual shoes making the wearer run faster, but hey guys it's only a game. Engagement is the holy grail of permission-based marketing, but it's engagement that is granted to you by the individual. Does it follow that just because individuals are in an engaged state, then they will be more susceptible to engaging in other ways?

Indeed, these role-players have created a virtual reality and identity in order to escape the mundanity and viscitudes of real life about which they apparently are not so wild. What makes a marketer think that they'll take kindly to the invasion of this escapsim by real world hucksters? No. Engagement in one environment does not translate into engagement in your environment. This is still interruptive marketing

Monday, June 12, 2006

Timing Is Everything

So the big news on the blogosphere is that Robert Scoble's leaving Microsoft to join the "vlogging revolution" at Pod Tech. If, after less than a year, Rocketboom can earn $85,000 a week in advertising on an audience of 300,000, then there's clearly something happening (even if it turns out to be a case of advertisers jumping on a potential bandwagon at negligible cost).

I briefly met Scoble at a geek dinner in London last year and he's a passionate, dedicated guy for whom I wish and expect nothing but success, however I think he may be asking himself whether he has something to learn about the old media skills of controlling the message and understanding scoops. In his first interview about this move to Pod Tech he highlights Vista's improved audio and video quality as one of four factors (along with the rise of High Definition Video) that prompted his decision and yet he also lets slip that he was due to meet with Bill Gates in the next few weeks.

He assumes this will no longer be happening and I'm guessing he's right. This makes the timing of his move all the more confusing. It seems to me that the low barriers to entry mean that vlogging will be very much a business based on talent and trend spotting since that very ease of entry threatens quickly to create noise and clutter far in excess of that in the old media world. Think public access television multiplied a thousand-fold. In the factual arena, scoops and informed insight will be crucial.

Notwithstanding issues of commercial confidentiality, the scoop opportunity to sit with Gates would have offered him a rare chance to gauge the thinking of someone he sees as key to this new industry. He may not have been able to report what was said but he would have gleaned many insights into the man that would have informed and enhanced his future vlogging reports.

I don't buy the argument that it's impossible to manage media in this interconnected world. There may be more ears out there, but they only hear what is said - so if those involved in his hiring had limited their numbers and kept their mouths tight shut on all occassions, then the blogosphere would still be circulating the old guesswork rumours about Scoble potentially quitting Microsoft and he could have come to PodTech on the back of a meeting with Bill Gates. Perhaps I'm being harsh (and I'm sure I'll find out soon enough) but I hate to see great marketing opportunities go begging.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

I'm Sorry

"Dear Friend,

First of all an apology.

I know you didn't ask me to write to you. Yet, here I am - writing to you anyway - expecting you to give up a few moments of your time. You're probably just thinking. "oh dear, not another charity asking me for money."

If that's the case then I'm sorry."

That makes two of us. I'm sorry that in 2006 marketing communications can be so bad. Sorry that you think a four page letter (yes four pages) will take up "a few moments" of my time. Sorry that, having got to the middle of the first page, I'm being told

"But, to be honest, I'm never sure how I'm supposed to do this. I mean, what works for some people doesn't work for others. And the subject is so utterly appalling that for me to do it justice in a mere letter is unthinkable."

I'm sorry that you didn't contemplate some kind of segmentation of approaches. Sorry that you didn't take your own advice and ditch the idea of a visually unappealing letter. Sorry that the NSPCC which helps abused children is not going to receive the kind of funds they might because of the ineptitude of this execution.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

You Can Check Out, But You Can Never Leave.

When putting them on hold, is my local hospital really sending the right message to concerned relatives by requiring them to listen to Hotel California?

Self Centred.

One of the big strategy consultancies has published a private paper focussing on turning call centres into profit centres or, at least, revenue generators. All very sensible, of course, and something that can offer multiple benefits. The key I'd suggest is obtaining permission to talk to the customers and ensuring that your "intrusion" into their lives does not denude the quality of service they're receiving.

For example, a state government with which I was consulting some years ago had a shiny new call centre for citizens' enquiries and a lot of over-capacity. Turning it into the host of a two way conversation with citizens allowed new initiatives to be publicised, enabled satisfaction research to be conducted in-house at a considerable cost-saving and also energised the call-centre staff.

By contrast, I have recently been trying to re-activate the online element of an airline bonus scheme. While the staff have been unerringly efficient and helpful, every call has suddenly been punctuated with two questions asking me whether I am aware that they are a full service provider scheme and if I know of their partner participants from whom I can also collect bonus points.

There is no context for these questions, they are irrelevant to my enquiry and take up my time, but the call centre staff are clearly obliged to ask them and do so in a monotone that contrasts with the rest of our conversation. My answers to the questions (and I imagine those of many others) have little bearing to the truth but rather are designed to get me away from this intrusive survey and back to my enquiry as soon as possible. The outcome? Dubious market research results, depersonalised call centre staff and irritated customers.

By all mean leverage your asset, but never, never over-ride the original raison d'etre of the call centre. It is a cost centre for a very good reason. Your customer!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Blogging 101

Everything you need to know about blogging is contained in two recent posts and particularly the comments attached thereto.

The comments relating to Kathy's enquiry show what makes readers passionate while those on Seth's provocative post show that many people still don't get it.

Read and learn.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Giving It All Away.

Listening to yet another debate on the future of newspapers today, one point that shone through was the difficulty presented by younger demographics having become used to reading newspapers online for free. The challenge of earning revenue from them is a difficult one and I believe the free online versions may have been a strategic error.

It has failed to send the message that high-quality news gathering is an expensive business - just look at the difference in quality between the give-away newspapers in your location and the more traditional product.

Building online mass is one thing for a new business, but for the online incarnation of offline businesses, it is fraught with danger. In contrast to my discussion elsewhere, this is not price as promotion, but zero price as promotion and that has a very different impact on cashflow.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The WOW Factor.

The relationship started with his designing a handbag for Longchamp. This led to a commission to create a staircase for their downtown New York store and that inevitably evolved into a full-scale redesign.

The handbag features a long snaking zip. The staircase is a 55 ton steel hillside designed "to pull people up into the store... From the street, all you see is this mountain of steel, and then whoosh up you go. We wanted it to feel like an adventure." The store is now open and New Yorkers and visitors can go down to Greene and Spring and see why I name-checkedThomas Heatherwick before.

Philippe Cassegrain, the enlightened client could not help but invoke The WOW factor, but Heatherwick like me hates that phrase. I see WOW factors as initial showboating that might lack depth. He prefers to talk about creating "challenging environments". I could rave about him for ages, but I'll let him do the talking. Because design is not just applicable to physical things, but also processes and cultures, his is a philosophy that should be applied to every aspect of your business.

"I've never been interested in buildings that you only understand once you've heard the architect give a lecture," says he. "I want to design projects that make sense to 6-year-olds as well as professors. People have an instinctive intelligence about design and always spot nonsense"

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The C Word

I'm hearing that word convergence again! It has a very chequered history and not just that related to the dot com crash. It ripped a hole in the finances of UK mobile phone networks who bid fortunes for 3G licences which have not generated the cashflow bonanza from multi-media phones that was expected. It was also talked about, long before then, by media companies wondering how to maximise the revenue of their valuable (or not so valuable) content. This debate which I first encountered in the early 90s centred on whether media producers should purchase a cable network to provide an assured broadcast outlet and thus an extended shelf-life for all of their productions.

Today, the word is being pushed by advisers seeking to sell this content distribution argument to potential M & A clients in the telecoms and software businesses. The former seemingly seeking software with which to launch a service, the latter seeking content around which to build a service. And of course, the quadruple offering of cable TV, broadband, and both fixed-line and mobile telephone services to customers allows Virgin to amuse us with talk of "fourplay" being the next big thing.

Yet again, it's companies looking at what they could conceivably do rather than what potential customers might conceivably want. We didn't want internet-connected toasters, we certainly didn't want to pay high prices for entertainment bundles padded with turkeys and we don't really seem to want data services. Though we apparently did want SMS text messaging (a lower cost facility that none of the phone companies promoted).

The one true quadplay is the 4 Ps. You need them all. Bringing the product to the customer is great, but if the product isn't great then you're converging on disaster and no amount of fourplay will get you past first base.

Monday, June 05, 2006

No! I'm The Messiah!

Edward de Bono of Six Hats and lateral thinking fame is launching a new sin-free religion. Sin-free in the sense that there are no forbidden fruits (though sadly he sees his ideas as complemenetary to existing religions which will provide an existing moral framework for his new disicples). I'm not big on religion, but find it useful to look at behaviour concepts for pointers for business.

"H+ (Plus) A New Religion" provides a framework for achievement through daily acts of help or contribution. Whether this is offering other people something to laugh at or helping an elderly person cross the road, through these altruistic acts comes a sense of achievement, and from achievement comes self-esteem and a belief in oneself. H' stands for: happiness; help; hope; health; and, most importantly, humour."

At heart, he's talking about focussing each day on completing small achievable acts rather than labouring away on potentially unachievable grand visions. The marketing parallels are obvious - fix what's wrong, constantly look to make customers happier and be religiously zealous about it.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Stumbling On Happiness.

Daniel Gilbert's new book Stumbling on Happiness challenges the assumption that terrible events must have a devastating and enduring impact on those who experience them. It shows that most people are resilient in the face of trauma due to what he terms a healthy psychological immune system. This allows us to feel good enough to cope with our situation while feeling bad enough to do something about it. My reading of it gives support for three of my marketing tenets.

Just Do Something

Studies show that nine out of ten people think they will regret foolish actions more than foolish inactions. Studies also show that nine out of ten people are wrong. In the long run, people regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did, so go for it. At worst you'll fail.

Accentuate The Negative

Gilbert asserts that if you asked a sample of jilted brides and grooms whether they would describe the incident as the worst or the best thing that ever happened to them, more would opt for the latter in contrast to a sample of people who’d never been through the experience who'd assume being jilted to be a terrible thing. Like many things, getting jilted is more painful in prospect and less painful in retrospect. Eliminating shortcomings in your offering may seem to contrast with a can-do attitude but knowing when to cut your losses is the way to play the percentages.

Don't Try To Please Everyone

Test participants were happier when they were rejected by a single judge rather than by a unanimous jury, but could not foresee this until it happened. Volunteers in the two groups expected to feel equally unhappy, yet the rejection by jury hurt more than by a judge. It’s easy to accept failure based on the opinions of a judge, but it’s much more difficult to blame failure on the collective opinion of a unanimous jury. So aim yourself at the subjective passionate consumers - some will undoubtedly hate what you're offering , but that doesn't matter because others will love you.

To summarise then - Don't Worry, Be Happy.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Where Do You See Yourself in Ten Years?

One question that I omitted from my interview post was that perennial inanity "Where Do You See Yourself In 10 Years?" I saw it recently in, of all places, an article allegedly giving advice to potential entrepreneurs! Personally speaking, if you know where you're going to be in ten years time, even five years in this day and age, you scare me because if you hadn't noticed - the times they are a changing.

If you don't believe me, then why not consider a true entrepreneur whose creation you are possibly using right now - Mark Fletcher the founder of Bloglines. In this great interview he makes it clear that the focus should be on today and tomorrow, that users are the most important currency and that scalability should not be at the forefront of your mind.

It's not quite the Costner school of marketing - but yes, build and if they keep coming, keep building.

Friday, June 02, 2006

I Thought I Could Do It Myself.

One of the paradoxes of the leisure age is that people complain that they have no time and thus spend their money on "getting someone in" when their parents would have been more inclined to do it themselves.

Underlying this is a combination of factors such as the increased financial value we place on free time, the disposable society and a realisation that we have focussed our expertise to such an extent that previously basic tasks are beyond us. However, as costs rise and personal motivations change, there is inevitably going to be a fluidity between the two groups.

This is reflected in the Geek Squad's addition of another segmentation; that of the "I thought I could do it myselfers" which is immediately self-explanatory as that group of people who thought they were technically adept. In Britain, the Automobile Association (their version of AAA) presented themselves as the fourth emergency service to piggyback on the positive feelings of respect and authority engendered in the traditional emergency services of police, fire and ambulance.

I think it's a fertile source of potential growth in so many sectors combining, as it does, the three powerful and thus valued Rs - rescue, reassurance and re-education. If that's not a premium repackaging of your company's existing skills, then you should be taking the steps to ensure that it is and that you identify that group of consumers to whom you can become the heroic knight in shining armour. After all, hero worship is an even stronger emotion than mere enthusiasm.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

They're Just Not That Into You.

Some companies can pick and choose who they hire because of a huge surfeit of supply. No problem there and the applicants appreciate that fact. They know the odds are slim and they know that such companies have earned that interest because of the way they treat their people and the opportunities they offer.

But it's a two way street. The company must remember whence they came and maintain those standards. Computerisation may be necessary but there's the right way to do it and then there's this way - the response to a friend's application for a specifically advertised vacancy (names etc have been omitted).

Hi ********,

We would like to thank you for your interest in
Google. After carefully reviewing your experience and
qualifications, we have determined that we do not have
a '**************************' position available
which is a strong match at this time.

Thanks again for considering Google. We wish you well
in your endeavors and hope you might consider us again
in the future.

Google Staffing

As my friend wrote. What does that exactly mean? Is there no vacancy or do
I not fit?

So Google are human after all - or rather they're not and that's the problem here.