Let’s not talk ourselves into a Double Dip!

Let’s not talk ourselves into a Double Dip!

Interesting reporting today on the British Chambers of Commerce’s (BCC) latest quarterly report which suggests that some 6000+ British Businesses believe that the British economy is weakening but may well just stagnate rather than slump back into a double dip recession. The reaction seems to be either one of gentle relief and a tad of optimism or one of cautious disbelief and a tad of pessimism.

The danger lies in talking ourselves into the latter, worrying further about the effects of further indecision over in Eurozone-land, so that we do then spin into a double dipper. This negativity will add further worry and mean many companies will continue to cut back on people and delay much needed innovation by becoming stuck in yet more inertia. Action is needed to break out of inertia. New actions.

While it is really hard to successfully launch new initiatives in the speed needed today, the danger of not doing so and falling back on tried and trusted processes and messages will allow competitors (both existing and surprisingly different ones) to reach out to your customers with something new that they value. That will leave companies trying, as Einstein said, to ”solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

The BCC is right when it urges action to be undertaken to boost business confidence. But whether that is a reduction in VAT, the removal of the 50% income tax rate or equalisation of corporation tax to woo back those HQ’s is out of the their hands. What is in the hands of the BCC’s members is the ability to try to bring in some creativity, some innovations, some new forms of testing out new ideas – but quickly. Bringing in some Business Creativity could allow companies to steal a march of their own.

There is a chance that the UK will survive the threat of Double Dip, but there is more than a fighting chance for companies, who take some quick, innovative action now, to not only survive but thrive.

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.

6 tenets of 21st Century branding for brands to survive the downturn.

6 tenets of 21st Century branding for brands to survive the downturn.

With the global economy’s continual reduction of growth estimates and increasing predictions for a double dip recession, more companies and consumers are not surprisingly becoming distinctly risk averse. Media pundits and headline writers continue exacerbate this.

This results in a further reduction of confidence and an increased inertia by many companies to save their cash, reduce costs and continue to delay hires that were identified and approved before the summer. Worse, more people are being laid off and a generation of youth face an incredibly tough start in their adult life.

The US is deflecting its economic issues with the Presidential hoopla and even from the UK, we saw how it really hyped up the post Thanksgiving sales day of “Black Friday” – early reports suggest a success but mainly for the bigger safer stores (like Costco & Wal-Mart) rather than those already weaker chains where bigger discounts may not have been offset by enough sales. It leaves us all wondering what their longer term plan to ignite growth is.

The UK still watches the Eurozone nervously and George Osborne, the UK Government’s Finance Chief announces his Autumn report with an expectation to say Plan A remains (A = Austerity) & no Plan B exists. He’ll announce that macroeconomic growth with be stimulated by the twin forces of “Credit Easing” for small business loans and “Infrastructure Investment” programme (paid for by allowing UK pension funds to invest as well as further cuts in benefits), which are geared to encourage new jobs as a prime outcome.

If jobs are created, great, but this will be a slow injection of positivity. Those consumers with jobs (still the majority remember) will need to drive the economy by continuing to spend, invest and survive. This is what will get us all through this downturn. It always has.

Brands are as important as any factor in helping this growth – however slow.

The stakeholders of 21st Century branding need to recognise this. Brands remain about having a meaningful relationship with their customers. Meaningful as determined as much by the customers than the companies. Meaningful as determined by value for different customers and their communities rather a set of values (= cold words to put on a website or on the walls of Head Office).

There are 6 interconnected tenets for brands to consider – even in these difficult times

  • Choice
  • Preference
  • Useful
  • Sharing
  • Dialogue
  • Open

Choice: Consumers and customers have and need choice – whether to spend more or less, now or later, this brand or that brand, that service or a new service. Keep the choice relevant and not static. But they will choose, even if it is between paying for a utility rather than a new sofa. Share of wallet not share of voice or share of category.

Preference – A choice is influenced by factors of loyalty, price, current & past experiences, relevance to the person, whether the customer feels they are understood rather than taken for granted.

Usefulness – The 21st Century Brands that will succeed will be those that are most useful – that understand their role in customer’s lives and constantly demonstrate it. They are flexible, relevant, fresh, consistent, upbeat, honest – however the customer describes useful – and there will be many different descriptions for the same brand.

Sharing – brands that give back will succeed. Give back to all their stakeholders rather than simply their shareholders. Indeed, those brands that represent firms that continue to chase profit at all costs will fail. Giving back, in various degrees, to their staff, their consumers, their customers and suppliers, their communities and the world. While the short term economic conditions will affect the scrutiny of this balance, ignoring it will have dire impact on the brand’s ability to survive a return to growth. Conscious commerce is a business model that works and will be a prime economic driver for the years and generations to come.

Dialogue – the only way to understand these dynamics is to have a constant dialogue with customers. That means listening rather than talking at or broadcasting to them. Today’s brand research revolves not around a launch or a crisis but through regular (weekly), expansive, free form dialogue with hundreds and thousands of customers – not a few small irregular focus groups or tick box awareness studies. This is more possible via the online communities and social research skills today than ever before.

Open – Throughout the 5 tenets described here, there is a need to be open with your staff, your customers and your communities. Open means honest, regular and relevant. Act on and admit errors and address complaints quickly. Celebrate positive news. Trust is so much easier to lose than to gain (and significantly more so than to regain!)

I wrote earlier on the dangers of Inertia for brands. Actions can be small and meaningful if brands intend to learn from them. As we look to 2012, there will be brands that succeed. These brands will fuel the growth we need to keep ahead of the downturn as well as driving us out of it.

This is not an exhaustive list. What would you add? Leave a comment or forward to others to do so, please?

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.

Double Dip Marketing

Double Dip Marketing

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.
Dale Carnegie

Sir Martin Sorrell has downgraded WPP’s growth forecast this morning in the face of another possible slump.  What do marketers do in the face of this Double Dip Recession? There are best practice theories about what to do going into a recession (CFO led cost optimisation culls), what to do in a recession (a focus on stealing share of voice & mind) and how to best catapult yourself successfully from a recession (innovate, innovate, innovate). But Double Dip theories are not so clear…mainly because they are rare.

The world’s economy seems to be treading water while commentators and politicians debate whether we go back into a Slump. What is clear is that the main driver is fear – fear of another debt-fuelled collapse of major financial institutions & some national economies.  Fear causes inertia.

This recession is characterised by a lack of trust – banks don’t trust each other and no one trusts a banker; Governments don’t trust its advisors and voters (still) don’t trust those they’ve voted in; Credit agencies don’t trust countries anymore and Newspapers are closing down as their own actions (or inaction when caught out) mean loyal readers lose that trust built up over generations.

Yet the biggest companies are healthy and be they Fortune 500 or Shanghai Composite Index, they are hording cash and show good balance sheets. Inflation and uncertainty are hitting consumers across the Western World and Asian exports are slowing. Job security is wishful thinking. The Eurozone leaders finished at 3am yesterday morning but they sound as if they are waiting for the G20 to sort their survival plan. Blame is stirring peaceful anti capitalist greed and the Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral has resigned in support of the protesters.

There is a real role for brand to help restore trust, to bring optimism and to ignite growth. But marketing budgets are under threat again. Trust is seeping away. Fear is rising and causing inertia. Inertia increases the stress. Decisions are put off.

Do you stick, twist or double down?

Part 2 (of 3) will follow tomorrow…