Month: September 2013

10 reminders for market leaders (prompted by recent events at Blackberry)

The distance between ubiquitous and anonymous is shortening. In 2009, Blackberry was named the fastest growing company by Fortune magazine. Four years later, it has less than 3% of the market. If you’re not driving the speed of innovation in a market, no matter how far in front you are right now, the market will overtake you. The first word is not the last word. Having an innovation doesn’t protect you from the next innovation, because, to quote Alex Goldfayn, “gravity pushes backwards”. If your innovations don’t align with where your key customers are heading, to reference Wayne Gretzsky, there’ll be no-one there who matters when the puck arrives. Every market leader thinks they can spot the disruptive change in an industry and that, once identified, they will then be able to quickly catch up and overtake the competitor. They seldom do. An extensive IP portfolio won’t save an ailing company because it only protects what you’ve developed. If what you’ve developed is now unwanted or unuseable, it’s practically worthless. Growing markets don’t always continue …

The irony of market research

Every brand wants the insights that great research brings. And every consumer wants the relevance. They want products that fit with them, service that gels with them, ideas that excite them, attitudes that ring true … They want brands to read their minds, even though they themselves may not be clear as to why they make the decisions they do. But no-one wants intrusion. And no-one wants the same questions and the same ratings system and the same format. Perhaps it’s because they know that the researchers aren’t actually interested in them at all. It’s not personal, it’s research. The people asking the carefully formatted questions are just looking for data. They just want another answer to their questions coming out of another mouth in a format that they feel comfortable with. It’s always hard to get people involved if they don’t believe that the feedback they give is going to make any difference. It’s even harder when they see brands then making changes that they don’t believe are in their interests as consumers or …

Nailing customer behaviours: big data and little insights

Every time I step out of New Zealand and into a big economic region, the two things I notice are the crowds and the scale. Looking out over row after row of A380s parked on tarmacs, wrestling for room on a crowded street in a busy Asian city or seeing the world go about its business in a towering CBD, the immensity of humanity and the pace at which life operates is immediately apparent. Recently I was struck by something else. Quite literally, at the other end of the scale. I was on a train travelling back into Kuala Lumpar from a meeting when I noticed that everybody around me had on headphones – everybody – and to a man, woman and teenager, they were wearing a look that said “Disconnected from the world”. (Of course that doesn’t just happen in Malaysia. I just happened to particularly notice it on this journey.) And I remember thinking at the time – I wonder why that is? Were they looking to keep the rest of the world …

Inspiration: Step 2 in building a purposeful culture

An amazing thing happens when you ask people to imagine their current workplace working to its potential. First, they smile. Then they hesitate. Then they want to talk about everything that’s wrong and why a better workplace is not real or practical or feasible. If you’re patient though and you persist, slowly, very slowly, they start talking about what’s possible. And once that happens, before long, there are diagrams and dreams and the volume in the room rises from a gentle murmur to an excited buzz. It’s hard to get people to quantify the possibilities. All their disappointments and concerns quickly crowd in to stifle the magic. But if you ask them patiently to put that aside and form a vision of what work should be like, aspiration slowly gets the better of them. This isn’t about creating a dream kingdom. In fact, what works best I’ve found is getting people to forecast what a “better us” looks like – and a key component to achieving that is asking them to find proof for what’s …

How would you like your brand story to end?

Bill Taylor has said that if your customers can live without you, eventually they will. Conversely, I’m fascinated by how so many industries will stick to business-as-usual for as long as they can before they have to change. In each case, the rules of supply and demand will at some point over-ride the sentiment of legacy. The more people who do what you do, the more easily you can be replaced, and the less noticed your absence will remain. Everyone nods at this point. But … That realisation actually spurs a fundamental question that businesses and brands should be asking themselves. And it’s a very uncomfortable question to confront. How would you like your brand to come to an end? To reference TS Eliot, with a bang or a whimper? Your answer will drive your strategy. Or rather it will drive the mindset behind your strategy. You can ride your current train of thought all the way to silence – do what you do for as long as you can until the margins become unbearable …

Brands in a no-attention economy

I’ve said for some time that brands seem to be taking more and more of their prompts from the fashion industry – in how they act and how they think. Not surprising, given that the upgrade economy now demands that brands refresh and update their products with increasing frequency. Indeed as Matt Baxter-Reynolds points out in this article on the likelihood of an Apple iWatch, “over the past dozen or so years Apple behaves more Louis Vuitton and Prada than Microsoft or Samsung.” That being the case, it’s interesting to look at fashion journalist Suzy Menkes’ recent observations on the pace at which the fashion industry itself is now forced to work, and to ask whether we can expect the same behaviours across the wider brand spectrum. Once, says Menkes, a handful of fashion houses produced four seasonal collections. But today, with thousands of designers in the marketplace, promotional shows in Asia, Dubai and Brazil and between-season showings, the industry has 138 fashion weeks worldwide, and schedules that pack in up to 264 shows over five days. …

What’s the plural of sale?

How successful is a sale when everyone else is in sale too? I wondered about this as I walked through a mall yesterday. Everyone was looking to shift what they could, however they could. Which struck me as an extraordinary contradiction. Because surely the whole point of being in sale is to be in a position where you are offering goods at a price that is unmatched by those around you – so that you can either make way for more goods and/or move on what you have and recoup something. When everyone goes into sale however, the dynamics change one of two ways. Either, everyone goes into a feeding frenzy, grabs everything they can and it’s all over in no time. Or the opposite occurs. It’s much harder to move goods because even your lowered price is not an active incentive. And you’re not going to recoup because in order to be seen to be in sale in a market where everyone’s in sale, you’ll probably have to keep dipping, below cost even – …

Not for what? Why the NGO sector needs to rethink its branding

No sector in its right mind should define itself by what it’s not. So why do non-government organisations (NGOs) and not-for-profits (NFPs) do exactly that: define themselves so proudly by what doesn’t get done rather than what they do? No is not a brand. Car manufacturers aren’t in the non-bike business. Food manufacturers aren’t in the non-hunger business. Phone companies are not in the anti-isolation business. So, excuse the pun, but what gives? Both the NGO and NFP labels, it strikes me, are useless ways of positioning those intend on delivering on a strong altruistic intention. First of all because the terms themselves carry no meaning. (Not being part of government doesn’t actually make anyone part of anything.) Secondly, because to be perfectly frank, every organisation is interested in making money – it’s just what they do with it that differs. And thirdly, and most importantly, because the NFP/NGO label doesn’t talk about the one thing that really motivates those who are being asked to support and donate: the difference that their support actually makes. …

Truth in advertising

Should brand advertising tell the truth: information vs inspiration?

A number of years ago, Stephen Dubner asked which industry makes the most misleading ads? His personal opinion was the companies that advertise closets. As he says, they always seem to be pieces of furniture that are bathed in sunlight, and that are owned by people who have three pairs of identical and very clean pants or skirts, but never anything unshapely like an accordion, or hockey stick.