Marketing starts with a story

Marketing starts with a story

Some things never change. As everything gets faster and more urgent, there are some fundamentals all companies should focus on. One of those is the need for a story around which to have the dialogue with its customers and staff. Too often messages are created in isolation or as a reactive measure to new channels or competitor actions.

A good brand story should be persuasive so as to allow people to answer that fundamental question about a company – “why?” Why should I join that company? Why should I choose that product? Why is that service better for me that that one? Why is that brand more interesting that that one?

The are 4 strands to a great brand story


A story needs to be clear – so that it is understandable by those who hear it as much as by those who tell. The elevator speech, the CEO’s rallying call, the way a call centre responds to complaints, the advertising messages – whatever the channel – be it personal, traditional, digital or accidental.


However many ways a story gets delivered across all the internal & external channels for those inside or outside the organisation – the story must stay the same. Each telling of the story may be amended to suit those hearing or telling the story – but the storytelling should be crafted to create the desired response. Just as important is to stay the course. Too often companies get bored with the story or new people arrive to make their mark or competitors


The story must be based on the fundamental purpose that the company exists – that DNA reason why that makes the offer stand out. The story must ring true form the customer’s viewpoint as well as for all those key stakeholders from the company’s people, their partners, the analysts or regulators. Your people’s behaviours must deliver the story as much as your marketing messages


Make the story interesting, emotional, cut through – crafting to the story to a human level so it can touch the audience emotionally. Make the story connect to the audience so it shines through the clutter, rings true and is remembered. Can you write it in a sentence & a paragraph? Can you craft some dialogue for your people so that the story is easy and positive to tell? Check it out with some customers.

As good old Max Bygraves used to say…I wanna to tell you a story.



*picture source

Marketers Action Plan …take some.

Marketers Action Plan …take some.

This morning, I met Stuart Pocock, managing partner of The Observatory, a global agency search and selection organisation. Stuart has a great insight on global trends facing Marketers and their agencies as we turn and face 2012. The Observatory believe that while clients who engage them have made a decision to change an agency roster, the solution maybe to fix a relationship (on both sides), before undergoing a selection process. Deciding on what is the best option clearly depends on each situation, but there are common issues that can help clarify why a decision needs to be taken.

Overall, many senior marketers are feeling increasingly constrained by being time starved and resource stretched. Their budgets are being reduced yet expected returns on these investments are increasing. Their own teams are being reduced while their agency rosters have increased. Senior marketers have to prioritise where they focus their time with a main agency(s) and often have to delegate others to look after other disciplines, sometimes not changing that focus as one discipline’s importance for the brand increases.

Bigger clients have extended their agency partners to handle new disciplines or countries. Each agency has a team made up of talent and account people, juniors and seniors. Their team’s make up are often procured on an FTE basis (full time equivalent people with % of timesheets being allocated to an account and costed) rather than on people basis (to create the best outcome, quickly). Too many junior people without the experience to cut through instinctively and create solutions. Too many assistant brand managers with the power to say no, rather than, yes.

The broad team structures mean that the processes are inefficient and slow. Too much duplication and checking in rather than creating and doing together. Making things truly integrated is hard when there is a distinct lack of collaboration as too many people have conflicting goals & KPI’s to be judged against.

There are too many silos affecting brands – inside a company and outside with the agency rosters. Silo’s who become disconnected to the customer journey they are meant to be supporting. Making that journey inconsistent and focused on a company rather than a customer.

Stuart’s summary answer to my original question about what’s keeping Marketer’s awake is telling…”Everything!”

Fixing everything takes too long. Worrying about everything causes inertia. Worrying about what to do in the unknown face of another recession will add to the fear. As Dale Carnegie suggested, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” Taking action is vital. But what? We suggested some a couple of weeks ago on Double Dip Marketing.

What will help is to create a few, small, incisive actions – with an immediate next step and a way of capturing, and then sharing, that learning. Actions that that can stimulate a brand with the customers. Actions that can change the way you do things inside your influence sphere. Create a small, senior team from your agency and team – and deal only with them. Recreate your brand story to ensure all touch points inside and outside your organisations are on song together. That way means collaboration, which is the best way to integrate. And the best way to create.  And use both of these actions to innovate at warp speed.

As Marketers face up to 2012, there are many things, fuelled by media headlines, that are causing fear and inertia. But there are still unlimited opportunities out there for brands to take action and start a momentum that will help them grow and gain significantly as markets turn again, which they will.

Brand as communications. Fail. Brand as service. Win.

Brand as communications. Fail. Brand as service. Win.

Image by Econsultancy in association with Foviance

Brand spending is different to brand experience. A brand that concentrates of providing a positive experience will always do better than a brand who simlply promises (= only communicates) such an experience.

Econsultancy published a survey this week on the most important tenets for retailer brands to focus on. The most important area for retailers to focus on – whether that be online or in physical stores or across the whole journey – is the quality of service. The prime influencer, even in these tough times, is not price. It is not communications or advertising. It is not even quality or products. It is a positive customer experience.

Equally critical to note is that a positive customer experience then leads to almost three quarters of consumers to recommend a retail brand.

A customer journey for retail has many touchpoints to influence customers & reinforce the overall experience. The danger of 20th Century brand thinking is that the brand is thought only in terms of communications, in terms of image, of logo, of website design and as a tactical weapon to stimulate consumers.

Brand is vital throughout the journey – in ensuring the whole experience is positive and consistent. The brand story starts with the staff, from the board to the support people; from  those on the retail floor and on the phones to those in after sales care. The brand should be in the performance appraisals with the same KPI for the CEO, the CMO, the CIO as well as all the people who actually meet, talk to and actually deal with customers.

Brand is not simply about communications anymore. Brand cannot be how something is executed.  Brand experiences are designed and planed to influence the whole customer journey. Marketing understand this but not all management do. Marketing’s influence on other departments like Sales, IT, HR, Supply Chain is decreasing. Too many departments act as silos, and create their own KPI’s to keep their own departments on message. The trouble is that is only part of the overall message. The brand story is about the customers’ experience throughout their journey with the retailer. A brand led KPI system that focuses primarily on the customer experience can help bring these silos back together.

The Econsultancy survey makes clear the importance of good service = good experience. It demonstrates how communications are increasingly less important. However, they limit their description of brand to communications and consistency. The best retailer brands are all about a positive experience. One that is promised and delivered throughout the customer journey and as rated by the customer not the retailer’s specific, separate departments.


RBS is back in the black. As a stakeholder, is this good news?

RBS is back in the black. As a stakeholder, is this good news?

What should we make of RBS’s announcement today that it is back in the black? As its 83% owned by the British taxpayers, we should have a view. The headlines are a bit confusing, speaking of a pleasant surprise, of more job cuts, of less Greek exposure, of a higher portfolio of liquid assets, of better write downs or muted response on the FTSE.

The story is being hidden by some mind boggling numbers.

  • £2 billion (Q3 pre tax profits up)
  • £1.5billion (Q3 Bad debts down)
  • £1.1Billion (Investment revenue down)
  • £4.1Billion (Retail revenue held)
  • £6.4Billion (Q3 revenue)
  • £3.5Billion (less exposure to Eurozone PIGS)
  • £28.5 Billion (Q3 new lending)

What’s the story? Q2 loss now Q3 profit – good news? No, it’s slow, steady progress. If British taxpayers are the brand owners, the key messages seem to be

  • RBS are falling behind its 5 year recovery plan – it’s a tough market for everyone (ask the LloydsTSB CEO)
  • More job cuts are due at the year-end results meeting
  • Small business loans remain muted.
  • The bad bank division is still bad.
  • Shares remain 50%

As stakeholders, we need a story we can follow. RBS is on a road to recovery where we will all hopefully benefit a little. That was the plan. Is that still the plan?

Double Dip Marketing … 3 (of 3)

Double Dip Marketing … 3 (of 3)

Yesterday we looked at the seismic shifts in brand thinking since the last Double Dip recession – firstly, brand is legitimate currency in the boardroom and in the sharp gaze of the CFO and financial analysts and secondly, the digital impact in 21st Century has meant that branding skills are lagging behind the needs of today’s brand.  21st Century brands belong to the customer not the company and the result of the Double Dip contagion of fear has caused inertia.

Here are 3 types of action that can help break that inertia quickly.

Change how you do what you do

  • organise around customer needs not your organisation’s needs
  • Celebrate the highs on your customer journeys – create small customer focussed teams from across the silos to reward customer experience
  • If you have too many agencies, all overlapping yet individual, pick a top team from across them to work with you directly & then let them manage the rest of their teams  – and pick only top talent (it’s unlikely they all work in same agency).
  • Have a “non exec member” on both teams – as your brand or customer’s eyes & ears.
  • Focus  – agree on 3 things you can do now and prioritise your effort there – don’t shave a little off all budgets so rendering them all ineffectual or spend too little of your time and try to do everything – be brutal in just 3, the 3 things that can ignite your loyal customer experience.

Recreate your brand story

  • Understand the customer’s view of your strengths – be concise to avoid misunderstanding & miscommunication – write it in a line, a paragraph & a page. That’s it. No more.
  • Not as an advertising idea or a website landing page…it needs to be a song of praise to your staff and customers – sung by your exuberant CEO
  • If fear is contagious, optimism is infectious – find the positive. Make a little movie for your intranet. Live up to the story.
  • Say it out loud a lot inside your company– spread the word to get it sharp – feed it into the top team from those agencies you’ve formed and let it seep out in your communications
  • Over-focus on the customers you have and not on your competitors. Communicate your strengths not their weaknesses. Don’t be defensive – that’s so last century. .
  • Stop debating and start that dialogue with your core customers and be crystal clear and open – publish the conversation and invite more to join in and engage.

Innovate at warp speed

  • Only use small learning environments and teams. Pick a small project to keep the learning close. Don’t put all your efforts into making one big bang.
  • Test out swiftly – digital allows you to innovate & tweak & measure & test & learn & move on again.
  • Use your new team(s) to spread the word internally and at the agencies about new ideas and trials so they feed in as well as spread the word – be optimistic as that can spread even more quickly than fear!
  • Crowd source ideas with your customers on a project. Open up a channel which shows them it’s their brand not yours.
  • Share regular updates  to your staff and your customers  – start your own public lab of ideas on a new website

There are many more actions you can take to break out of the inertia brought on by fear. Taking a few small, smart actions around your brand will unleash positive, creative energy inside your company and importantly with your customers.  Fast and frequent should guide you.

As Dale Carnegie says, go out and get busy.

Double Dip Marketing …part 2 (of 3)

Double Dip Marketing …part 2 (of 3)

Yesterday we asked what to do in the face of a Double Dip recession, where there was no clear best practice for marketers and fear is causing inertia. Two significant things have changed since the last Double Dip recession in the early 1980’s.

Firstly, brand actually matters & indeed is more important than ever – recognised everywhere in Fortune 500 company P&Ls. In the early 80’s the CFO didn’t regard brand at all. It wasn’t considered as a core business driver. Today it is oft quoted by CFO’s and Business Schools as one of an organisation’s crown jewels.

The second seismic change is of course the digital world of personal computing, the web and social connectivity and, with it, the democratisation of the customer’s voice as the prime influence on brand. Many of today’s top global brands are themselves digital and have a fundamentally different relationship with their customers than those product led brands of 20+ years ago. The brand’s relationship with its customers is much more important that the relationship with the company providing the product or service. Brand is about the role it plays in a customer’s lives not the messages being broadcast at them by the company.

The impact on marketing has been significant:

  • A sharp increase in C-suite focus on the company’s brand (but not always a place at the top table for the CMO);
  • Proliferation of new disciplines and agency relationships to cover digital & media proliferation (result being interagency politics, bickering about who is more important, being compounded by a decreasing influence by the CMO across many of the organisation’s silos)
  • Brand strategy is not treated with the same focus as brand execution
  • An increasing importance on spending efficiency, sometimes over that of effectiveness (and often without a clear brand hymn sheet that everyone sings from)
  • An increased turnaround of people climbing the career ladder (with average tenure of marketing managers slipping under a year)
  • Brand stories being interpreted differently along the customer journey – so weakening the customer experience

Add to this the increased pressures of time and budget, juggling too many balls too quickly has resulted much inertia and frustrations.  And now the fear of Double Dip has brought some Marketers to a shuddering halt. Their Boards have become even more risk averse and demanding. Budget cuts have returned and yet growth initiatives are expected to succeed immediately.

Inertia increases stress and, as Dale Carnegie said; fear needs to be broken by action.

Here are 3 things you could do quickly.

  • Change how you do what you do
  • Recreate your brand story
  • Innovate at warp speed

Read about these actions in part 3 (of 3) in more detail tomorrow.