Getting On The Inside

May 22, 2017 – 2 Comments 

The key to new business wins isn’t bribery. But the answer isn’t a million miles away.

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B2B markets are competitive.

Organisations must go through bidding/tendering processes to win new contracts.

It involves a number of people and can take years. And then you still only have an equal chance as the rival bidder to win.

Gaining a competitive advantage is difficult.

Getting on the inside of the process, however, isn’t so hard.

Rolls-Royce is one of the UK’s most recognised brands. Building aeroplane engines and luxury cars since the early 1900s.

Recently selling their automotive offering, they now focus on selling turbines and engines for passenger and military jets.

And in the last 28 years they’ve been superbly effective at winning contracts across the globe.

The product, the service, the brand was immaculate.

But something was working in the background to achieve this.

Now, Rolls-Royce has been ordered to pay £671m in settlements.

Because they were hiring “middlemen” to deliver money and gifts to key decision makers. Giving them bags of cash and designer clothes and brand new cars.

They were bribing clients to win contracts.

They were gaining an advantage by getting on the inside of the bidding process.

So these decision makers wouldn’t buy from rival organisations even if there was a business case to do so.

Corruption exists in more places than we expect.

Be it in sport, government or business – people find ways of gaining an advantage by means of bribery.

And they’re mostly caught out.

But there are other ways of gaining an advantage during such a process.

That may be via competitors (focussing on a strength that highlight’s a competitor’s weakness) or through innovation (showcasing examples where you have adapted to difficult and unforeseen scenarios in the past) for example.

It could be even simpler.

And it does involve the decision maker within the organisation you are targeting.

What we’re looking to do is break away from the win-or-lose bidding situation and add something more meaningful to the decision-maker within this process.

Not gifts but experiences. With you always at the centre to create conversations and collaborations within those forming B2B relationships.

1) Identify the person’s goals and values. Can you find something in common? A hobby or even a vulnerability to connect and move the relationship forward.

2) Show that you have that person’s back. Introducing the decision-maker to your friends, family and colleagues works – offer that person more than a transaction.

3) Then provide something meaningful that’s fun and personal. It can be as simple as taking clients for food or on golfing days or sports matches on an ongoing basis.

4) Listen, help and be generous. Proactively doing this works wonders and will get you on the inside track.

But this isn’t a day out.

Organisations should never forget that this is a sales process where all the staff are salespeople.

Who must always look to get on the inside of a potential client if they are to do their jobs as salespeople.

Otherwise, it’s anyone’s game.

Rolls-Royce was gaining an advantage by getting on the inside.

They knew that written bids and presentations didn’t convert.

They had to do more.

They were hiring people external to their organisation, knowing too well that this sort of bribery transaction needed to be dealt with by other people. Because it was illegal.

But gaining an inside track isn’t illegal.

Doing so this way is less democratic and is a little unstable. But that’s the world we live in.

There are other means of getting on the inside of a bidding process by influencing the decision maker ethically.

And doing it in a way that isn’t illegal can reap huge rewards.

Similar to the rewards Rolls-Royce were reaping in.

What is Customer Experience?

May 03, 2017

Begin to understand what customer experience really means to customers.

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Customer experience is hailed as the new marketing.

It’s something we desire as buyers; something we like to provide as sellers.

But what is it?

A recent Econsultancy APAC survey asked marketers what the biggest barriers were to their understanding of the customer experience.

Some of the answers:

Complexity of the customer experience (44%)
Difficulty unifying different sources of data (34%)
Silo-based organisational structure (34%)
Lack of sharing between departments (28%)
IT bottlenecks (26%)
Lack of leadership (21%)
Insufficient budget (12%)
Competition between channels/company culture (10%)
[Insert any other general excuse]

Traditionally, products and services have been able to sell themselves – at least to some extent.

But as markets become even more competitive, with customer power increasing, brands need to offer more.

So the trend is to “provide great customer experiences.”

Working to shape customer perception in the way they’re treated, rather than how the product of service might help.

And it’s a plausible idea: produce memories that create experiences that build trust and loyalty.

Making people like you, so they buy from you.

But the study also reveals that (in their own opinions) just 11% of marketers have a well-developed customer experience strategy. That’s 1 in 10.

So even though we’re all talking about delivering good customer experiences, we have no real idea what it is and how to do it. (We certainly don’t know how to do it for the long term – most clients and customers go elsewhere eventually.)

But we could be looking in the wrong places.

Banking firm TD Canada placed a live human inside one of their ATM machines to interact with people as they approach the ATM.

A baseball fan was given a cap and jersey, then surprised by one of his favourite players.

A mother of two was surprised with free tickets to Disneyworld for her and her kids.

A mother of a daughter with cancer was surprised with two plane tickets to Trinidad to visit her daughter.

These were experiences that really hit home.

TD Canada knew that to give their customers a good experience they had to do something special.

To make sure it was an experience that lasted.

Creating touching stories talked about and watched again and again on the internet. Because it was personal.

And more than anything, an act of kindness that took the customer by surprise which made it memorable.

It’s also really simple – something we need if the stats above is anything to go by.

Gaining this in-depth knowledge about customers isn’t something that just happens, though.

It’s about generating valuable insights so people actually feel a good experience with the product seller or service provider.

Elements of marketing plans do cross-over here.

For example, we can rethink our channels (how our emails are sent and how we use our CRM) or improve our internal collaborations (how marketing teams work with design or how we handle data).

It doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re in – improving the experience for your customers is key to increasing retention, satisfaction and sales.

But it isn’t the new marketing. It’s not a trend either.

Think back to a time when you had a memorable experience with a brand – think also about a bad experience. Based on this experience, craft your own for your customers and look for that one-off meaningful interaction that’ll last a lifetime.

Look to surprise.

It’s probably the only thing we can do to guarantee customer experience results.

At least until we begin to understand customer experiences to the full.

Brand Authenticity

March 14, 2017

What happens if your brand story and character isn’t real… like haunted houses.

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In 1974, Ronald DeFeo killed his entire family inside their home in Amityville.

He claimed he was possessed by Satan and heard voices plotting against him.

A year later, George Lutz moved into the house with his family.

They heard voices, saw windows and doors opening and closing on their own and discovered cold spots throughout the house.

They saw hooded figures, experienced personality changes… the telephone service was even affected!

The Amityville house received attention from across the world and was considered the most haunted house in America.

But it wasn’t.

Stories of ghosts and haunted houses fascinate me. They fascinate me because I don’t know enough about them. And we generally fear what we don’t fully understand.

But they’re also intriguing which make them entertaining so they make headlines. Making them a marketer’s dream.

Which is why the DeFeo possession caught on.

In the case of the Amityville Horror, however, it was all a lie.

The Lutz family had conspired with DeFeo’s legal team and manufactured a hoax so Ronald DeFeo could be trialled again.

There was no problem with their telephone service.

He didn’t get to trial again though because of the inconsistencies in his story. It wasn’t authentic nor was it logical.

But the basis of the Amityville story has now gone on to sell millions of books and movies worldwide.

The rumours and spectacular version of events caught the imagination. It spread.

It’s these types of stories we must be careful about, even though, as a guerilla, we may use them to differentiate our brand stories from those of our competitors.

Customers make their purchasing decisions based on the brand stories we tell.

A brand that is truthful with its messaging and positioning will far outlast those that make a one-off headline.

It won’t need to sell its products; the products will sell themselves.

As this product keeps delivering the brand will grow. Because honesty goes a million miles – a characteristic that people look for when parting with time and money.

Present your product in a way that’s original and natural. Be cautious with your approach and strive for authenticity.

Create a culture around your brand and people that help fulfil the needs and wants of our customers in a way that’s real. One that can deliver the promises you make. Like Adidas, Amazon, Microsoft, BMW and Disney.

This is a common problem, however – we’re all guilty of it. What we believe about ourselves sometimes isn’t true. We see ourselves how we want to see ourselves.

We make things up. We say we’re better than what we are and we can do more than we can. Just like we can’t help pretending our products do things they don’t.

But all it needs is one small inaccuracy or mismatch with the story and reality.

People will then ask questions and the entire brand will come under scrutiny.

Like the Amityville possession, a fictional ghost story, it got found out.

Old houses usually have damp spots, with structural conditions that make creaking sounds and have rats living in the walls – which incidentally, can chew through telephone cables.

As a child, Ronald DeFeo had a troubled relationship with his father. He was also a persistent drug taker and had an antisocial personality disorder.

We know houses aren’t really haunted – people give them this character. And they only work because of the intrigue created.

Don’t give your brand a character as it’ll never work the same way.

Make it last.

Let the product determine the character and its story.

Because that’s what a brand really is.

And it’s also how to be authentic as a brand. Without having to say the brand is authentic.

That is, of course, unless the product is a haunted house.

Controversy Sells

February 13, 2017

In a connected age, there’s a strategy proven to capture attention and get people talking.

controversy-sells-donald-trump

“I have no intention of running for president.”

That’s what Donald Trump said in Time Magazine back in 1987.

Now, a controversial statement.

But that’s not such a bad thing.

The Trump University opened in 2005.

Much of the students that enrolled would do so initially via a series of free seminars and webinars. By definition, it wasn’t a University.

Set up to teach real-estate secrets, students would pay as much as $35,000 to join.

Yet, they wouldn’t even get a glimpse of Trump – he had nothing to do with the scheme.

Alongside the university, the Trump Institute opened which also had nothing to do with him.

It contained dubious material (notice a pattern?) that was packaged and sold off the back of his time on the American Apprentice TV show.

He simply licenced his name to position himself and make more money. To put his name out there.

More recently, on the run-up to the election, and probably using much of the same material, he released his book: Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again.

Using donor campaign money, he spent upwards of $55,000 buying this book back – then profiting from the sales.

These instances are part of a string of dubious occurrences that have been happening since the 1970s.

Controversial marketing, and therefore unorthodox marketing – what Trump is doing, doesn’t happen by chance.

It follows four key ingredients: intelligence, surprise, relationships, and propaganda.

Many of the stories discussed on this blog over the years like The Blair Witch Project and Half.com are great examples.

Where a different type of promotion worked seriously well even if it didn’t appeal to everyone.

A style adopted by many small and cult brands. Guerrilla brands.

Which may not be bullet proof. But that’s okay.

If it’s how we want our brands to be perceived – if we’ve already established who our customers are – so be it. We don’t need to be relevant to those outside our target market.

To do it successfully is to affect people on an emotional level.

And to do that you need to create an argument where people can absolutely agree or disagree with something.

And to do that you can either target people’s beliefs and philosophies, people’s actions and behaviours, or people’s feeling of belonging.

Trump knew that his policies and radical ideas would appeal to some Americans.

In the states where it really mattered.

The last year of social media has consisted of pretty much just Donald Trump.

The inauguration of Trump as US President generated 15 million engagements.

Engagement peaked when Barak Obama and his wife met Donald Trump and his wife.

A moment famous for Michelle Obama’s awkward reaction towards whatever was inside the Tiffany box given to her as a gift.

To me, that just confirms what he’s all about.

He creates a stir. He gets people talking. His name has taken on a life of its own because of it.

In 1987, Trump’s estimated worth was believed to be $1 billion.

Now he’s the most powerful man in the world.

So it shows that controversy does sell.

Because you can’t get away from it. You don’t even want to.

A Shift In Mindset

December 22, 2016 – 2 Comments

Changing the way you approach marketing – and life – for the better.

helping-others

What if I told you, you could transform everything just by focussing on one principle?

(No, this isn’t snake oil. This is the real thing.)

A shift in mindset that can transform your organisation’s marketing activities.

And the shift is seriously simple.

Previously a spy, Oskar Schindler was an industrial entrepreneur. He was also a member of the Nazi Party.

In 1939 he acquired a factory that produced materials and military equipment for the German army.

At a time where the Jewish people were massacred in death camps.

He decided to employ Jews to work in his factory and profit from the low cost of their services. But as he got to know his workers, he grew fond of them.

He cared about them and wanted to help them.

And he did everything he could, including paying off the SS and risking his life countless times to keep, and to employ more Jews at his factory.

The millions he earned was spent on bribing Nazi officials.

Until he had no money left.

At the end of the war, he managed to save 1,200 Jews. And the Jewish people supported Schindler, in tough financial times, throughout the rest of his life.

After his death, he was buried in the holy grounds of Mount Zion, Jerusalem.

The only member of the Nazi Party to be honoured in this way.

As marketers, we shouldn’t see helping and giving as part of a public relations or social responsibility manifesto. (Like most of us do.)

Too many of us focus on intelligent systems, automated processes and sophisticated analysis.

Everything is complex.

Everything is coordinated and integrated based on cold or big or small data. Working to place messages everywhere and trying to empower users.

But what marketers are actually doing is overwhelming them.

It shouldn’t be like this.

By talking compassionately to our customers we can begin to understand the problems they face.

To then find a solution that will fix this problem and make their lives better.

We need to look to make a difference rather than make a lot of money – like Oskar Schindler learnt during the holocaust.

Because giving generously without hope of reciprocation is rewarding.

By helping others you’re actually helping yourself lead a happier life. Not to mention a more successful career.

Successful start-ups are driven by entrepreneurs who are hell-bent on making a positive change. For some reason, after establishing themselves, that mindset shifts to wanting to make more money – then comes the trouble. Because the purpose of that business has changed.

The Bible is a book based on the truths of everyday life which Jews and Christians believe to be of divine inspiration.

A passage in the Gospel of Luke (6.38) perfectly captures how helping inspires:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

If you want to be successful in marketing, practice the art of helping others. It should be part of our everyday lives, just as it should in our marketing plans. Really.

Share knowledge. Share resources. Share contacts. Share yourself and your services.

Help.

Everything will come together thereafter.

VR: The Conundrum

November 22, 2016

We’re constantly told that VR is great. But why aren’t we buying? 

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Virtual reality is the talk of the technology and marketing communities. It’s something that promises out-of-this-world experiences.

Experiences where we can replace real world environments with ones created by software.

But is it what we really want, or is it all hype?

In 1716, economist and financier John Law set up the Banque Générale. It was the first bank in then debt-ridden France to issue paper notes.

A year later, he took over the Mississippi Company. A company granted monopoly status for the trade and development of France’s North American colonies along the Mississippi River.

Convincing the French public the area was rich in valuable natural resources, with great potential for profit, public demand for company shares increased sharply.

Mass hysteria broke out as the French people did all they could to get hold of shares in the scheme. Share prices jumped from 500 to 18,000 livres.

By 1719, John Law gained the rights to produce new coins and collect all French taxes. In effect, he controlled France’s foreign trade and its finances. Where he saw a big opportunity.

The bank printed more paper money which the public could use to buy more shares in the Mississippi Company.

At this point, the company had issued 625,000 shares in a stock market boom that spread across Europe.

The profits never materialised, though.

The complex linking of the company’s shares with the state’s finances ended in complete disaster in 1720 when the value of the shares plummeted to nothing.

Millionaires went bankrupt in a matter of months and The Mississippi Scheme led to one of the first ever stock market crashes.

A scheme which promised the world and delivered nothing of the sort.

Virtual reality will find itself in a similar position unless something changes.

It’s found itself in no man’s land between the initial hype and the immersive experiences it creates. In a conundrum.

Technology companies, the media, Mark Zuckerberg. We’re listening to these people tell us that VR is great, but I’m sceptical.

Because there are problems with the fundamentals of VR.

Yes, the immersive experiences are impressive at first. Everything is exciting.

But after a while the tech issues and loading times seem more obvious, the discomfort is there, and there’s still the motion sickness, of course.

Motion sickness, in particular, is a real issue. Because people will spend less time playing on their games. Which means less interest in games, and a smaller market a for VR game developers.

Sales of VR products are nowhere near high enough to tempt game developers to keep on developing more games at this rate. It isn’t financially viable to do so.

You can’t sell its features either, you need to demonstrate it. And there are too many demonstrations needed to hit the sales numbers needed for it to be sustainable. Similar new technology is probably needed to sell it – that we don’t have.

And to cap it all off, most games don’t even need VR to improve the gaming experience.

We were taught this a few years ago with the VFX-1, iGlasses and the Nintendo Virtual Boy. We’ve seen the same with motion controlled video games and 3D movies at home and in the cinema.

Yet, there are instances where VR does work.

Ford use VR to review their cars through the manufacturing process.

NASA train their astronauts and engineers for outer space missions through VR.

Bavaria’s State Criminal Office are even using VR to prosecute people who witnessed Nazi war crimes.

But these are outside the homes and outside the mainstream market. So, long term, is it a business product rather than a consumer one?

This is a big worry for VR.

Because these are markets where audiences are small and where the money for this type of product isn’t.

John Law fled France dressed as a woman after the Mississippi Scheme and the country took 80 years to recover, and could only do so by raising public taxes and starting again.

Tech companies and investors have jumped on the bandwagon and are gaining good PR coverage to convince us that PlayStation VR and the Oculus Rift is great.

It’ll eventually get found out.

Just like the Mississippi Scheme, the hype will die down when people realise the current business model isn’t sustainable – when the money is all gone.

But it’s got further than any other tech fad of its kind.

There is potential. And we feel as though we should buy.

But are we really going to?

Data Unpredictability

August 23, 2016

What you get with data is just data. And data just isn’t enough.

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“Data is taking over marketing.”

How many times have you read an article of a similar flavour?

Data, analytics and stats is part of everyday business. More and more data is produced which means more and more time is spent analysing it.

It won’t take over, though.

In 2002, Major League Baseball team Oakland Athletics introduced a new approach to recruiting players.

Instead of relying on scouts and managers, they adopted an approach focussed on data.

Data measuring in-game activity such as stolen bases, runs batted in and batting averages.

They were able to find undervalued players and free agents that others couldn’t. Players, according to the data, that could accumulate more points than their values suggest.

This is an approach considered highly successful; the Oakland Athletics went on a 20-game unbeaten streak that season.

Before this unbeaten run, though, they went on a losing streak similar.

What they didn’t consider at first were factors that you can’t measure or see on paper. Something had to change to turn this data-driven built team of rejects into a success.

And it wasn’t the data. It was their manager Billy Beane.

Our problem is that once we see data, we make snap judgements that this data represents something that we aren’t doing that we should be doing.

Then our marketing becomes spontaneous. And mostly unsuccessful because what data provides is a limited solution.

You get numerical descriptions rather than detailed narratives. Forgetting about the human. Forgetting about the market. In marketing, this is bad.

Unpredictability, in my opinion, is where opportunities lie. (Not so much in the data.)

An unpredictable idea.

Just as sports itself is unpredictable. It’s a little random. And it’s the same within marketing.

Without marketers and strategists to piece together the pieces – real creative people – data is just numbers and graphs and charts on a piece of paper.

A shoe manufacturer sent two salesmen to Africa.

Their task being a simple one: investigate the market and report back on potential avenues for growth.

The first salesman reported back, “There’s no potential here – nobody wears shoes.”

The second salesman reported back, “There’s massive potential here – nobody wears shoes.”

So was there potential?

Well, there isn’t an absolute answer. Neither was right. Just as neither was wrong.

Why would African people want shoes having never known them? Is there actually a need? Do they have money to pay for them? We don’t know.

All this tells us is that there’s some form of opportunity.

Because even with all the data and the research and the intelligence, you can never be sure if a market has potential.

You never really know if data is right. It can always be misinterpreted.

After the marketing budgets are spent, we just can’t understand why our campaigns failed. The data didn’t tell us that they would.

But the big problem is that it didn’t tell us our campaigns would succeed either.

Oakland Athletics was the first team in Baseball to use data to its advantage. An unpredictable idea, if you wish. But it could only do so by turning things around with people.

Even then, they didn’t win the World Series.

Because data always looks at the past, not the present. It’s a half-truth. No more.

They brought in older players prone to injury who needed support from coaches and physios. They needed someone to motivate players and develop the skills of others. They needed people who could lift other players lacking confidence.

They needed their unpredictable manager Billy Beane.

To create a “team” out of the data.

Otherwise it’s all just meaningless data.

Otherwise you just get a team of losers and failed campaigns.

So favour a creative approach rather than an analytical one. Because data doesn’t tell you what can happen or why something happened, only what has happened.

And we can’t afford to think like that.

The Disadvantage Advantage

July 25, 2016

The underdog organisation has two natural factors favouring its success, and they’re amazingly powerful. 

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More than half of new business ventures don’t survive past five years.

Competition has never been so fierce.

Industries are full of rival organisations, all locked in battle for market share. For the mind of the customer.

It’s rare to see a market where numbers are few.

Which is seen as a disadvantage to established organisations as it is to the newly formed organisations otherwise perceived as the underdog.

But a disadvantage can produce a determination. An ability to turn an obstacle into an opportunity.

In 1940, the German battleship Bismarck was summoned to join the war. Its guns, armour and other characteristics far exceeded any other battleship.

Its most famous victory was its sinking of the Hood.

HMS Hood was the Royal Navy’s equivalent to Nazi Germany’s Bismarck, albeit not as powerful.

Decades of Royal Navy dominance on the world’s seas came to an end when its flagship was completely destroyed in seconds. The Hood’s companion ship the HMS Prince of Wales even had to turn back.

The Bismarck was invincible. Chased for months by the allied forces, it couldn’t be stopped. They couldn’t sink it.

Until a Fairey Swordfish – undetected by the Bismarck’s modern radar and automatic anti-aircraft guns – dropped a torpedo which crippled the ship. Only then was the Royal Navy able to sink her.

The Swordfish, made mostly of string and wood which didn’t have guns or a cockpit, flew undetected as it was travelling at too slow a speed.

Against the odds, a plane close to decommissioning was responsible for the sinking of the world’s most powerful battleship.

But it’s not a surprise.

Small companies with small teams and small marketing budgets have also taken on the big boys for years.

And have won.

But it’s not just about strategy. The underdog also has an advantage connected to the way we are wired as humans.

Because the disadvantaged resonate with others who’ve been in a similar position of disadvantage.

There’s a common feeling. An empathy.

In the way parents favour a vulnerable child over a stronger one, even if both are their own.

And it works the same for the brands who can bring this to their offering.

To pull it off does also require a strategy, though. A battle plan.

To position and communicate yourself in a manner that customers will really understand your purpose. Your identity. Your story.

Your energy, determination and passion (even flexibility), which will come naturally in such as position, makes this story known.

All these things combined are something which customers can see and appreciate. All the things associated with brand loyalty.

And on par with the established organisations who seem to have the upper hand.

Apple took on IBM and Microsoft from a garage.

Ernest Shackleton’s stranded Endurance crew survived in arctic conditions they should never have.

Leicester City Football Club won the league with 5,000/1 odds.

They had purpose.

Those with a purpose and a disadvantage have a great chance to succeed.

We love Apple products. We knighted Shackelton. We all supported Leicester City.

We love an underdog.

As an organisation, you therefore have a natural benefit to your situation if you’re the smaller alternative.

Decision-making, though, is key to survival. But you’ll make the right ones knowing their weight. Competition in this respect also makes us more creative and innovative.

You have focus.

The Bismarck, the world’s most feared battleship, was sunk by the hands of the “Stringbag.”

Fairey Swordfish planes sunk even more ships during the Second World War. Famously sinking and damaging battleships that belonged to the Italian Navy.

And history is full of such David and Goliath tales.

And they’re tales we all love.

Because most of us have come from underdog situations to where we are now.

They reflect the story of our lives.

That’s why the advantage is the disadvantage.