Weblog Entries for October 2004
October 29, 2004
Marketing, the tragedy of the commons and cold turkey
Alongside fellow blogger, Chris Lawer, and several industry luminaries, I took part in a panel session at the Direct Marketing Show yesterday. The theme was the Nuisance Factor - the increasingly negative image Direct Marketing has among an irritated public.
It was a good debate and most people acknowledged the problem for DM: that's it's getting harder and harder to get results from a sceptical public, and the industry's activities put its practitioners even lower in the public perception than estate agents.
What I see is a sort of tragedy of the commons. Each attempt by marketing to break through the noise sufficiently to engage customer attention just adds to the level of that noise, increasing the irritation and reducing future effectiveness. I might add that the crass nature of many mailshots hardly helps (see this article I penned a few months back: Taking the Gloves Off)
A common response - one we saw in the session - is for marketers to throw their hands in the air and say "but how else can we sell our service?". The trouble is, for as long as marginal economics encourage them to keep churning out direct mail, they'll never really ask the question with genuine interest in an answer - as opposed to just asking it rhetorically.
Anyone for Cold Turkey?I guess that many alcoholics would say "Yes, I know booze is bad for me, but I won't give it up until I have a substitute!". There is a (perfectly human and understandable) fear of stepping into the unknown. The temptation is to try to offer DM-aholics the examples of brands that succeed without clumsy push-branding. (And these tend to be the usual suspects... Pret a Manger in the UK, Southwest Airlines, Patagonia blah blah blah).
But I wonder if that is too glib. After all, one of the most interesting characteristics of these brands is that they have been extensively documented and rarely replicated. I think perhaps that failing organisations may have to do the cold turkey, brave the unknown, and ask themselves some searching questions about the value they offer before they can escape the collective dive to the bottom of the barrel.
Yesterday, Chris made the excellent suggestion that one way to differentiate would be for a firm to make a public announcement that it would forswear all advertising and direct marketing and put the budget instead into improving the customer experience. A quick show of hands showed most of the audience was not up for such a strategy. I said that for the few who did put their hands up, this was excellent evidence that they were right - and most businesses would be too frightened to try it.
I think the problem is that too many businesses are selling products without conviction and passion; they stick to the safety of the known. Example: nearly all banks in Britain blather on about targeting the mass affluent, and about customer service. Few, if any, have anything very different to say about their motivation for saying so, or demonstrate any genuine passion for their work. (Kudos to The Cooperative Bank as a notable exception)
I think most brands in some kind of crisis daren't prolong their confusion. They won't take the time to really engage in searching conversations with their stakeholders about their purpose. Instead, often under pressure from the teenage scribblers, they reach out for an noisy promotional solution from the admen, making grand promises to the public whilst their staff look on, bemused or downright cynical. I fear this has been, and will continue to be, the fate of Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury's here in Britain.
October 25, 2004
I met James Cherkoff (of Modern Marketing fame) for lunch today. And had a great, rambling, kicking ideas around, what-if conversation. And he pointed me to this great article by Jeff Jarvis on Citizen's Media and Marketing.
Thanks to history’s easiest, cheapest publishing tools – weblogging -- connected to history’s best distribution network – the internet – the people now own the printing press and the broadcast tower.
The barrier to entry to media has been blown away.
Now the people you are trying to reach through media are creating media.
As with all headaches caused by change, this one presents opportunities.
Branson's latest venture...
But one sentence in the article makes me hope his efforts really succeed. Which is this snarky remark by Peter Sealey, the former head of marketing at Coca-Cola, who now teaches at UC Berkeley and Stanford:
"What's Virgin's advantage?" asks Sealey. "He's going to be buying the same planes and hiring pilots at the same salaries. His cost structure will be identical to theirs. If I were a banker, I wouldn't lend him the money. If he were presenting this as a business case in my class at Stanford, I would fail him."Is it just me who finds that kind of know-it-all, ner-ner-ner ner-ner, attitude a bit smug? Maybe Sealey's been harshly edited, but I don't think the cost-structure is the sole determinant of a business's potential to succeed.
October 23, 2004
Is branding dead?
Well, it all depends on what you mean by branding, and it means different things to different people. I think what's starting to fade is the idea of branding as something that is done by the magic wands of expert marketing guys, admen and brand consultants. These guys all have their role, but "brands" are just bits of shorthand we all get to use to describe ideas. Ideas we have about companies, churches, politicians blah blah blah.
Anytime any of us engage with, spit on, rage against or purport to fall in love with, a brand, we're doing a bit of "branding". If our own voice has credibility and bandwidth, we might have more influence on other people's thoughts about the brand. If we talk hot air, we probably don't.
A lot of smart-alec advertising and fancy logo designs may have been quite powerful in the past. I think they're becoming less powerful now. When brand experts issue pronouncements like "Kelloggs is synonymous with health and vitality" they may think they're doing some big branding. My hunch is that, lacking credibility, they're not doing as much as they think.
Adam Curry's Daily Source Code is a good podcast. Keeping it real, he points out today (around minute 4:30) that in preparing for the Gilmour Gang, participants expressed strong anti-Bush opinions... but "no one spoke with the same passion during the actual taping even though the elections did come up... it always amazes me how the minute the microphone turns on then all of a sudden... everyone takes a stupid pill and we're not real anymore." I'd like to have heard the pre-taping discussion!
October 21, 2004
I enjoyed Hugh's take on the Kryptonite saga.
DAY ONE:Here are some other corporate mantras that might be vulnerable the same way...
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Yes, your bike locks are the best.
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Yes, your bike locks are still the best.
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Ummm... yeah I'm sure they are, but what's all this about some recent video on the net that's supposed to show how you can crack your locks in 10 seconds using a simple Bic ballpoint pen?
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Hey, I just saw that video on a friend's website. And I'm kinda ticked off because I just paid $60 for one of your new locks 3 weeks ago, and I'm wondering if a Bic pen can crack my lock or not... does the pen crack all Kryptonite locks or just one or two models?
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Hey, I just visited your website and saw no mention of the Bic pens. What the hell are you doing about it? Are you going to fix the locks? Are you going to give me a refund?
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: No, they're not. You guys are assholes.
Coke is refreshment and connection (according to the Coke COO that is)
Kellogg's is synonymous with health and vitality (according to Interbrand)
Any other suggestions for questionable articles of faith?
Mutualism and Improv
I've just had an article published in Argent (the Journal of the Financial Services Forum). Mutualism begins at home (pdf) is part of a special feature on Mutualism. In this piece, I share some Improv exercises intended to bring the idea of mutualism to life as an experience, not as a theory. Enjoy.
October 20, 2004
Movable Type Uber-Geek Wanted
I'm trying to find someone who is a whizz with Movable Type 3.0+ to help me migrate an organisation's website into a blog format. I'm reasonably good with the software but need someone to share the load, and maybe show me a few new tricks. The organisation is a non-profit but there is a modest budget to help pay for some freelance support.
If you can think of anyone, please email johnnie (at) johnniemoore dot com.
Stupid Limey Assholes
Last week G2 launched Operation Clark County to help readers have a say in the American election by writing to undecided voters in the crucial state of Ohio. In the first three days, more than 11,000 people requested addresses. Here is some of the reaction to the project that we received from the USFascinating stuff.
Marketing = Facilitation
(By the way, I'm writing this at 2.40am because I am totally jetlagged and my body clock is somewhere over northern Canada or Greenland at the moment).
Robert Scoble at his very best: Are you afraid to blog? If you have time read the whole thing, but here's a snippet
1) People don't trust corporations. Especially big and successful ones like, um, Microsoft. Come on, be honest, none of you really trust us to do the right thing, do you? So, how do we show you that we're trustworthy? We need to invite you deep inside our corporate structures and talk to you like human beings. It's exactly why Channel 9 resonates with so many of you.
2) People don't like talking to corporations. Again, be honest, if you saw a press release from a big company asking for you to provide feedback on something, would you? Hey, Microsoft has had "email@example.com" for a long time. Even when I was a customer of Microsoft's, I'd never send anything to that address. Why? I never thought anyone was listening. Do any of you feel any differently? Yet I get so much email now giving Microsoft feedback about our products that I can't keep up (I'm four days behind).
3) That old "markets are conversations" thing. If you haven't read the Cluetrain Manifesto, why not?
That Ford blog is just inspiring. Here are people who obviously love what they do, have been empowered to share their love.
Great post by Hugh at gapingvoid:
I worked for a large ad agency a while ago. The ad agency had a large beer account. Me and 40 other creatives spent 6 months writing beer campaign after beer campaign, trying to come up with "The Superbowl Ad". Something we could sell for millions of dollars to the folks in Milwaukee. And we would need to- our hourly billings must have been worth almost that alone.This resonates with my own agency experience, and is part of the huge downside to the "Big Idea" culture. Agencies persuade themselves that everything is about the big idea. The bigness of which is objectively determined by... the biggest ego in the building, usually. Or (just as bad) by a string of sleep-inducing focus groups around the country. In a networked world, it's much, much smarter to let the market determine the great ideas by starting lots of conversations instead of rigging up a giant 60 second propaganda dump.
I won't even tell you what we sold them in the end. It was appalling. Campaign got killed soon after. Heads rolled.
Whatever. During the campaign writing I had this thought:
If the idea doesn't work on a beermat, it's not going to work on a 60-second Superbowl spot. So maybe get the beermat campaign working BEFORE the Superbowl ad, not vice versa.
Instead of spending milions of dollars on "The Superbowl Ad", why not spend that money cranking out beermat campaigns, till you find one that really works? Using beermats in small, test markets, you could easily create 50, 100 (500? Who knows?) campaigns for one tenth the price of one decent Superbowl/TV commercial. It would be a simple, cheap and quick way of working out the necessary language to resonate with the beer-drinking public.
The attention economy
I link to Rob Paterson so often that I sometimes think I should just put a boilerplate notice here telling all readers to go to his blog first.
Rob has picked up on an article by Michael Goldhaber which argues that the ability to create attention is the way to create wealth in the information economy. Rob gives some long extracts; here's the central argument:
Information, however, would be an impossible basis for an economy, for one simple reason: economies are governed by what is scarce, and information, especially on the Net, is not only abundant, but overflowing. We are drowning in the stuff, and yet more and more comes at us daily. That is why terms like "information glut" have become commonplace, after all.Goldhaber focuses on the need for attention (in Rob's extracts the focus is on getting it - I think we need to think about paying it, too); Paul Hawken talks about the scarcity of meaning. I think they're both on the right lines - we need to think less about information and more about a deeper connection.
There is something else that moves through the Net, flowing in the opposite direction from information, namely attention. So seeking attention could be the very incentive we are looking for.
A great haircut
Shannon Cooper posts about great customer service from his hairdresser. It's a classic tale of a small retailer who really gets how to differentiate by getting the human factor right. For me, the most telling section is this:
In addition to being pretty handy with the scissors, Paul is obviously an excellent leader who believes that workers who are happy are workers who take good care of customers. His hairdressers are always happy, alwailerays smiling and promote a special family feeling. They have some very rare qualities; they have great skills, coupled with commitment, job satisfaction, adaptability and motivation. And that is a potent mix that all organisations should strive for.Look after the workers and they will look after the customers. Funnily enough, I was browsing Bill Marriott's book (The Marriott Way) which espouses the same view. (It was next to the Bible in my Marriott hotel room).
October 18, 2004
Long time, no post
I've been offline for a few days. The Improv conference has kept me pretty busy, and it's not the sort of event where you want to sit at the back tapping notes into a tablet PC.
This is the third year of the event and it's undoubtedly been the best yet. A great variety of sessions and the company of an amazingly warm-hearted and playful group of people from places as far flung as Amsterdam, Hong Kong and Australia, not to mention a solid contingent of fellow Brits and plenty of North Americans.
My enthusiasm for Improv as a way of working in organisations, never far below the surface has been further boosted. It's an amazing approach for creating possiblity in the space between people. Each year, we learn of new ways organisations are getting into the value of Improv - including (for the status conscious) an awful lot of heavyweight international brands.
My personal highlight was a session on the Joy of Singing. Tone deaf I may think myself, but I had the most amazing and uplifting experience. Including following the instruction to go round the SFO Airport Marriott with teammates, finding random people and inviting them to be sung to - On a Clear Day. OK, not quite Howard Keel but neverthless an amazing way of connecting with one's fellow man.
October 14, 2004
Thiagi on facilitation...
He referred to research he's done on how much people learn whilst listening to lectures. He set a test at the end of a short lecture and found that people scored only about 19% after a normal lecture. Then he tried something different - using the same lecture but interspersing breaks. During the breaks, the audience formed groups and had to set questions for a quiz, based on the lecture, with which to test other audience members. In another variation, he actually ran the quiz too. With the question-setting built in (and without actually doing the quiz), the test scores soared to 82%. Actually adding the intermittent quiz moved the final results to 96% - so just the exercise of setting the questions had the most impact.
At the very least, a great way to improve attentiveness to a lecture, and a good example of the importance of creating interactivity in learning.
Another anecdote also resonated for me. He decided to try to determine the key skills of facilitation. To do so, he did a thorough behavioural analysis of 10 highly-rated facilitators, hoping to find common elements. And found none. Then he tried taking just one facilitator doing 10 different sessions - and still found no common elements to their practice. Finally, he had the same facilitator do the same session with ten different groups - same result. His conclusion - the only common factor in great facilitation is flexibility. I have to say I like the sound of that.
Perhaps it won't be a surprise to learn that Thiagi is very critical of over-preparation for facilitation, as it is likely to undermine the flexibility (responsiveness to circumstance) that seems to be the key to success. So his facilitator training gives people experiences of varying all sorts of factors - eg speed, degree of personal revelation, level of activity etc. I don't think that this can be the whole story - but I think an ability to vary style can be very important.
And a nice fun exercise for a group to learn new behaviour. Get a few volunteers to play a few rounds of "The world's worst..." - a game you might have seen played on Whose Line is it Anyway. So if the subject is, say, skilled ways to check out assumptions with people, get the team to come up with lots of examples of doing it really rudely... and then have the audience discuss and uncover what doesn't work - and so learn from each other what does. Nice one, I hope I get the chance to try it myself!
October 13, 2004
I'm writing this from San Francisco. This morning the Improv conference begins here. I had a great stopover in Washington where I spent a say schmoozing with Mark Brady of fouroboros fame. It was great to meet in the flesh after months of exchanging thoughts and ideas online. And the world was certainly put to rights.
October 9, 2004
I've just come across James Cherkoff's new blog, Modern Marketing. His first entries present some clear thinking about the challenges to conventional media for marketers. Well worth subscribing.
October 8, 2004
The brothers JibJab have released another raucous animation (you can download Good to be in DC from their website). taking the mickey out of the US election. Not quite on a par with "This Land is My Land" but still had me laughing out loud.
A great post by Robert Scoble: My message in a bottle to Bill Gates. Can you imagine executives in 99% of companies going public in this way? The world is changing.
And as Scoble says
Humans want to create things. We want to send them to our friends and family. We want to be famous to 15 people. We want to share our lives with our video camcorders and our digital cameras. Get into Flickr, for instance. Ask yourself, why is Sharepoint taking off? (Tim O'Reilly told us that book sales of Sharepoint are growing faster than almost any other product). It's the urge to create content. To tell our coworkers our ideas. To tell Bill Gates how to run his company! Isn't this all wild?Meanwhile, my mate Alan Moore (no relation) blogs an FT article looking at the fragmentation of mainstream media. Now there's podcasting, so just about anyone with talent can have their own radio show.
(The one I listen to fairly often is Adam Curry's Daily Source Code. His latest - From the A8 - was broadcast from the wheel of his Audi on the way home from Schipol. Amazing quality and this guy was born to do this. Juggling SatNav, incoming traffic reports, various bits of recording gear (I guess), and still finding time to chat to a listener waving an IPod from an adjoining car and plan a stop to pick up something that's legal in Holland but maybe not elsewhere. What's more, he has really intelligent things to say while doing all this. The next one is gonna come from his private helicopter as he flies himself somewhere. Whoa!)
With this level of access to media, brands will have to be managed (if that's the right word) in a very different way. Looking at some of the brilliant bits of propaganda created by Joe Citizen in the US elections, the ability to create impact is no longer the monopoly of network news, nor of ad agencies. If folks are being liberated to do their own creative, they're going to want to be part of creating the brands they like, they're not gonna settle for watching Saatchi's latest mini-epic.
What people miss most today in their lives is connection. No focus group or survey will tell you this. No one will tell you they would like to feel more connected with you; the desire is too personal, the request too strange.I love the simple truth of this.
Discussing direct mail, he adds
Like too much marketing at its worst, this very term ["relationship marketing"] defrauds the public. The only "relationship" this letter suggests is a bad one. The author knows nothing of the person with whom he is "developing this relationship," any more than I understand and like someone who I happen to know [via a database] reads Time magazine, enjoys Sandra Bullock films, and avoids red meat.I liked Evelyn's coarser comment on the same theme
Spend a day reading nothing but press releases and you will want to puke.Her further comments are well worth reading in full. She refers to a vociferous online challenge against bad marketing. The part that really struck home for me was this
I think we should educate first before we go off to tar and feather marketers. There seems to be another depersonalization element in play by assuming that the people - be they salespeople or marketers or businesspeople - on the other side of the table aren't as human as you and I (putting on my customer hat). It takes two to tango and it takes two to create and sustain a relationshipI've noticed this undercurrent in Evelyn's writing before and it's been on my mind too. No-one enjoys a good rant more than I, but I see Evelyn's point: that a rant against insensitivity risks perpetuating insensitivity. And sometimes conflict can be a way of engaging, it can be encompassed in a relationship, not banned from it.
Anyway this is all getting too wordy. It's going to good to meet Evelyn in San Francisco next week and continue this in a real world conversation.
October 7, 2004
Attentiveness and the perils of training
It's not every day I get to quote Jean Paul Sartre, not least because I've never read him. But Brian Alger points to this quote, approvingly.
The attentive pupil who wishes to be attentive, his eyes riveted on the teacher, his ears wide open, so exhausts himself in playing the attentive role that he ends up no longer hearing anything.Brian goes on to bemoan training courses where one person talks and everyone else is meant to just sit and listen. What someone called the "flip-open-head-insert-knowledge-close-head" model of learning. Couldn't agree more; I weary of lectures and presentations unless the speaker is utter scintillating. Seems such a waste of the collective imaginations of all present.
Actually, much marketing seems based on the same idea - sit still while we tell you how marvelous we are. Too much branding is too busy shouting at me to allow for the possibility I might have something to contribute.
Oh, and I've not read much Marshall McLuhan either. (What I love about blogs is I can feed on the choicest morsels filleted for me by guys like Brian.) He serves up this little gem from McLuhan:
Environments are invisible. Their ground rules, pervasive structure, and overall patterns elude easy perception.Which is a rather classy, ten-dollar version of the threepenny "not seeing the wood for the trees." Ok, I'll stop being facetious and quote (again, thanks Brian) Erving Goffman who says
Reinforcing these ideal impressions there is a kind of "rhetoric of training," whereby labor unions, universities, trade associations, and other licensing bodies require practitioners to absorb a mystical range and period of training, in part to maintain a monopoly, but in part to foster the impression that the licensed practitioner is someone who has been reconstituted by his learning experience and is now set apart from other men [i.e. - people]I think that's a good example of the way training can become quite counter-productive, keeping us away from the scary but enticing experience of journeying into the unknown together, in favour of the dull safety (?) of experts who "know". I'll leave you to complete the comment I could make here about marketing gurus.
Embracing the unexpected
This year's Applied Improv conference has a theme of Embracing the Unexpected. Which is kind of handy, as the original venue has suddenly become strike-bound. At five days' notice, the whole event is moving out of the centre of San Francisco to a hotel down the peninsula in Burlingame. I'm looking forward to being there on Tuesday!
Barring further unexpected events, I'll be in Washington on Sunday and back home Tuesday week.
And I'm spending all of November and a few days of December in New Zealand, starting in Christchurch then in Nelson. With a sidetrip to Melbourne/Sydney at some point. This is basically a mini-sabbatical for me, though I shall certainly be blogging from whereever I end up.
October 6, 2004
The search for meaning
Good quote spotted by Anita Sharpe at Worthwhile:
"Every age has a critical shortage. In the industrial age, it was money. People in industrial society were willing to give up time for money, and in many areas of the country that is still true. In a postindustrial age, the critical shortages are time and meaning. And people will only give up their time for meaning.I so agree with Hawken. So much brand communication leaves me wondering, why, apart from the money, would anyone want to do this? (See my rant on Cheerios' efforts to hijack motherhood for a vivid example of what feels pretty meaningless work to me.)
"It follows then, that one of the challenges facing American business is to add meaning to commercial life. That's difficult for a company to do unless it is able to impart to its employees the meaning of the company. A lot of companies have lore; they have history; they have tradition; they have huge markets; but they have no meaning
"Why are we here on earth? What am I doing? Who benefits from this? These are valid questions for businesspeople to ask -- and answer, with no words over three syllables and no business terms. When you look at your business with these questions in mind, it looks very different." -- Entrepreneur and environmentalist Paul Hawken
Perhaps my only pushback on this quote, and a gentle one, is on the suggestion that it is for the company to impart meaning to the worker. While that sounds laudable, I think the deeper reality is that this is a collaborative thing, not a doing-to exercise.
October 5, 2004
Reicheld on Loyalty
Another gem from the ecsw newsletter. Fred Reicheld on loyalty:
There's a paradox at the core of loyalty. Business is the pursuit of self-interest. Loyalty implies self-sacrifice. So business loyalty is an oxymoron. A customer is not going to be loyal to most organisations because most organisations have their own interest, not the customer's, at heart. When the Harvard Business Review was choosing a cartoon to illustrate a paper of mine on loyalty, they chose a dog.
Last evening I went to a talk organised by Fast Company of Friends in London. Steve Denning discussed the role of narrative in organisations, highlighting how he used storytelling to persuade the World Bank to reinvent itself as a source of know-how, rather than just as a long--in-the-tooth lender of money. Steve emphasised the value of short, factual stories presented without great fanfare, in changing perceptions and thinking. He's writing his next book in blog format here. Good stuff. I found myself nodding in agreement with the sentiment of his latest post - Don't Waste Money on Inscrutable Ads
October 4, 2004
I've been experimenting with Google Adwords as a way of building site traffic, both for my own site, and for the Clarity Partnership. So far, it's been very engaging, albeit in a rather geeky kind of way.
I love being able to get up-to-the-minute (almost) statistics on the keywords and ads that are working. This allows me to finesse all sorts of aspects of the ads very quickly.
It also strikes me as a very cheap way for a company to test out catchphrases. Instead of expensive market research, just chuck a few quid at adwords and see which ones drive traffic. The feedback is fast - so you can play with phrases on the hoof. Miles cheaper and faster than surveys and focus groups - and arguably more realistic too.
October 3, 2004
It's great that the spread of technology empowers individuals to create their own mini TV ads. This was posted by Oliver Willis: RNC Redux makes a biting point about the Republican convention in the US.