Year: 2011

Transformation secrets: Please don’t try to change your brand

Change is on everyone’s mind at this time of year – or more particularly people are preoccupied with resolutions of change. Hopes of transformation fly high. But most of us will lapse from whatever pledges we make, not because we don’t really want to change necessarily but because the habit of what we have done or know well is too comfortable for change to endure. Companies are no different. As Professor Robert Sull put it so well back in 1999 in a paper titled “Why Good Companies Go Bad”, organisations, just like individuals, tend to snub the transformation they really need to decisively shift their reputation or market share in favour of persisting with established patterns of behaviour that they are comfortable with. Sull dubbed this phenomenon not just as inertia but as “active inertia”, because companies keep themselves busy with activities that, conciously or not, are often directed away from the transformation they claim to want and towards variations of business as usual. Professor Sull’s point was that such sustained patterns of behaviour degrade …

The Balanced Brand: some preliminary thinking

go to link What is it with me and earthquakes? Last Christmas, I was in Christchurch for the Boxing Day shake. This year, I was there on Friday, and it happened again. They are scary – and it’s interesting how different people are scared about different aspects. For most, the fear of death and injury is prevalent as you’d expect – but almost as distressing for others are the noise, the shaking itself and of course the damage that brings silt to the surface, breaks possessions and puts everyone on edge. To all those in Christchurch, including of course my own immediate and extended family, my prayers and thoughts are with you. We all live with fears I guess, and they come to the surface at different times. That’s as true for business as it is in our personal lives. Today’s obsession with growth has it seems to me often overshadowed the more important strategic question of what do we want our organisations and our brands to grow into – how will they evolve, and how will the …

Seen and not herd

follow link What’s the real cost of the sales seasons on the high street?  That’s the question posed and answered by Laurence Green in this well-considered article in The Telegraph. Green quickly hones in on what he sees as two of the biggest enemies of effective branding today: the impulse to discount; and the compulsion to appeal to everyone that manifests itself in communications that stand out from no-one. What appear at first to be two completely different issues quickly condense into a single problem. According to Green, discounting comes at a cost that extends far beyond the lost margin. Their effect, he says, is to slowly unstitch everything that the company has been doing to add value in the minds of consumers across the rest of the year. Indeed Green goes so far as to suggest that “resistance to discounting pressure is one of the hallmarks of a strong brand” and backs up that claim by referring to an address by Mark Ritson of MIT Sloan in which the Associate Professor compared The Gap and Abercrombie …

Getting real value from your CSR

This thought-provoking article from McKinsey looks at what really drives value in corporate responsibility. As the authors point out, CSR continues to influence how companies and brands go about their business: carbon footprint, ethical and greener supply chains, volunteer programmes and philanthropy are now all par for the course. We all know that not being involved in such investments can have a negative effect on consumer perceptions, but do the activities themselves add value and if so what are the best ways for companies to make the most of that potential? “Some investments, of course, produce immediate and quantifiable gains, such as those from recycling or from manufacturing processes that save energy. But often, social investments are expected to yield longer-term benefits as engaged consumers step up their purchases, a broader investor base develops, or new talent flocks to a company’s recruiters … In these more ambiguous cases, how is a manager to know whether stakeholders will indeed respond positively?” Great question. Personally I’m always suspiscious when someone tells me that there are long term …

Passing the feedback test

Conflict resolution is one of those huge opportunities that so often goes begging. Ask yourself how many times you’ve been in, or watched, this scenario unfold. A client is upset with something that’s happened or has voiced concerns about a brand or some element of the service. The immediate, almost instinctive, reaction is to jump to your own defense; to justify in your own mind why things have happened, and to look to foist that justification on the complainant. You want to clear your name. Of course. No-one wants to be, or even to feel, like they are in the wrong. Here’s the thing. As my colleague Janelle Barlow puts it so well in her book, “Complaint is a Gift”, if someone bothers to complain, they do so because they feel emotionally engaged enough with what is going on to interact. The opportunity here is that they are giving you feedback and they are looking for, and judging you by, your response. Every complaint is a test – a test of your commitment to the …

Will they or won’t they?

So often it seems to me brand owners hope to bring about change rather than planning to bring about change. They see persuasion as an awareness issue rather than as a behavioural issue – often because they regard their product as the obvious choice that somehow, miraculously will spark a “road to Damascus” moment as soon as consumers encounter it. To that end, they pad out their media schedules with as much presence as their budgets can muster and throw huge amounts of energy and disarming levels of resource into whatever’s trending on social media. So I was very interested in an article on willpower in the NZ Listener recently that refers to key elements that persuade us to behave differently. It includes some great thinking from David Thomason and the planners at Draft FCB who, like more and more of us in the marketing sector, are looking to the behavioural sciences for clues on ways to shape brands and the behaviours that make brands gel for people. The article quotes from psychologist Robert Cialdini …

Absolute quality loses to perceived quality

This post by James D. Roumeliotis and Violetta Ihalainen of Whitefield Consulting, absolutely challenges my worldview as an unabashed meritocrat, but includes some fascinating points – particularly that absolute (objective) quality is far less important for consumers in their decisions about brands than perceived quality. As the authors explain, “perceived quality” is your customers’ view of the quality of a product or service both in terms of what they expect and also in comparison with how they perceive the quality of competing offerings. That means “perceived quality is defined as a measure of belief”. So – if consumers believe you are the best, then you are. Regardless of the measures you may put in place. Regardless of what the critics might say. Or the awards you may have received. For those of us who believe in the power of intangibles, this makes complete sense on reflection but it also contrasts with how we probably believe quality should work – or tell ourselves it does work. “Why can’t they see that our goods are better?” is …

Energy versus focus

Brands require huge levels of energy. They need to be promoted, they need to be maintained, they need to be serviced … just to keep them going. And that can lead some to believe that that is all they need. Surely, if you invest enough energy in this brand, it will succeed. You see this in those interesting exchanges which begin, “We’re going to spend this … and we want to achieve this”. I would argue that the emphasis needs to be reversed, “To achieve this, we’re going to have to spend this …”. There are some important distinctions in the order of these statements. The first emphasises the spend (energy) and ties it, hopefully, to an outcome. The second statement begins with the outcome and attributes a required level of energy to achieve it. A lot of marketers put their hope in the first approach. Egged on by the planners, they spend up and then wait for the tide to come in. It’s a little like saying that you’ll put a certain motor in …

The power of patterns

I have little doubt that news of a study by Facebook and Università degli Studi di Milano showing that Facebook has reduced the degrees of separation from six to four will inspire many to post advice on how and why to push everything Facebook’s way. According to the study, “99.6% of all pairs of users are connected by paths with 5 degrees (6 hops), 92% are connected by only four degrees (5 hops),” and the average “distance” between users is getting smaller over time. But I agree with Marc Schiller of Bond Strategy and Influence who pointed out in a recent interview posted on the AdWeek site that the key customer insights in a dynamic marketing environment come with brands adapting to movements in behaviours not shifts in technology. What really matters here is not that Facebook has reduced the separation between people, it’s that people have continued to employ Facebook to reduce the separation between each other. If you just focus on the how and not the why, there’s a very real risk of …