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.

2012: Looking forward … optimistically.

2012: Looking forward … optimistically.

Many myths have circulated about this coming year – most stemming from the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica (Mayans were a tribe in this civilisation) predicting cataclysmic events on December 21st. As at the start of any year, we are seeing many more predictions – some frivolous and some hopeful – but a lot are gloomy and serious – from economic woe to further environmental damage.

The gloom will effect society in general and hurt billions individually. The start of 21st Century is literally seeing change happen – via the 24/7 connected world on a screen in their pocket, on their lap, on their desk, on the move…on…always on. The changes could be as fundamental as the Industrial Revolution but are happening incredibly fast and being unprecedentedly viewed in real time. The economic woes have trumped the environmental danger in the immediate turn – as the effects are still to hit, while people’s wealth-led expectancy is being threatened daily.

The economic cycle will turn and will get better. For some economies that will happen in 2012 and for others in a year or two. There will be winners & losers in economies that emerge stronger as well as those that slump. In business terms, this is already apparent with the shifts from West to East, from big to small, from company to consumer, from mass to value.

Companies that act to recognise these shifts by experimenting with new business models, with an outside-in view of the company’s offers via innovation, honesty and awareness of the effect on their communities will survive and maybe even thrive. Those who cling on to outdated models – chasing shareholder profit programs, cutting for the sake of promises for quarterly meetings, fixating on competition before customers – will be left behind.

Brand can be a positive asset for all companies – it can be a central pillar of support to staff and customers, representing the emotional truth of a company’s offer – whether a service or product, whether local, National or International. The traits of a 21st Century brand demand a dialogue with customers, ensuring the offer is useful and open. Those companies that use their brand successfully to meet the challenges facing their customers will likely overcome the challenges they themselves face. These companies already understand the value of Conscious Commerce and will extend this further in 2012. These brands are positive and optimistic for the future. And for some massive multinationals and emerging markets, this will not only affect the economic challenges they will also begin to address the environmental and societal challenges positively.

Therefore on December 22nd, 2012 – a potentially massive “morning after the night before” – I’d love to look back and see the following successes… my personal brand led predictions I guess

  • Unilever’s Sustainable Living takes off – their goals are commendable
  • London 2012 Games are a huge success and the Legacy kicks in – living up to the brand promise…
  • BRIC growth continues and we see true global brands emerge from the emerging markets (Tata is a good start)
  • The UK’s biggest misfiring brand – the NHS – reasserts a central core value of care rather than one for performance

And of course that there is a morning on December 22nd….

Is Brand 3.0 better suited to B2B marketers?

Is Brand 3.0 better suited to B2B marketers?

Business to Business (B2B) and Service Brands have long needed brand thinking that is different to the Mad Men inspired thinking that broadcast messages to consumers and relentlessly defended the positioning against competition. Customers and Users have moved on. Services and products cannot be based on a transactional basis alone because customers demand more understanding of their own “unique” needs.

Customers are complex and demanding of experiences that are rewarding – not just for themselves and their own company and customers, but for the communities they exist in. The bigger companies exist in communities that can be better named as society and the Multinational’s community impacts on the environment, mankind and future generations – think of Paul Polman’s Unilever Sustainable Living program or Bono’s Product (Red) or the Microsoft’s legacy work of the Gates Foundation. Sustainability is now a core tenet of 21st Century growth and companies on both sides of the B2B equation know this. Soon Procurement will look not simply for lowest cost tenders but how future offsetting on sustainability policies are incorporated. Carbon trading is becoming regulated by the governments and will soon be a mandatory prerequisite in many big tenders.

Great B2B marketers know the value of Partnerships and that by innovating new products and services via partnership can mean that Enterprises can shape and test new business models – but also that they will see new revenue streams to lift their old models.

Understanding the wider benefits for the customers’ communities and using new partners & business models to grow will add value to the company’s offer by adding an enhanced benefit to the customers (& their own customers & staff). Another tenet for the 21st Century is speed. Expectation for improvements, for new, for understanding or for better…all to be delivered at faster speed. For some more traditional companies this is harder to achieve than for some newer tech enabled successes. Companies that may suffer from “Silo Slowness” will need help in change & marketers can help bring this need for speed to fruition by bringing more business creativity initiatives into the organisation’s processes.

Marketing in a B2B environment has never really been a pure communications role – the organisation has traditionally been geared up for service – so an understanding of the customer journey (or their customer’s customer journeys) is already part of successful B2B companies. Marketing must be relentless in understanding customer’s needs – not what they were but what they are & importantly will be – not just insight but foresight.

As marketers, their roles are complex and can be a mix of investigator, integrator, innovator and instigator. B2B marketers have to help bring a company’s focus to customers future needs – and today that can mean being useful & optimistic.

In order to connect to their customers they must be useful – consumer marketing is many ways are still learning this. Engaging customers is not simply a good story well told. Mad Men thinking is fast being left behind. Indeed B2B never needed Brand to mean advertising campaigns or corporate logo – they needed brand to rally the staff and the service around a customer’s needs. Cisco and Oracle are fundamentally benefit driven. Brand as communication was termed tactics not strategic – strategic brand thinking centred on R&D for their customers. Today’s economic woes mean the inertia many companies are struggling with needs marketers to look positively into the near future and identify some quick opportunities and highlight possible actions that can lead to grab them.

Where B2B marketers can struggle is when the organisation is geared in delivering products or services that are complex – in the building of the product, in the testing, in describing or in their delivery/installation. Such companies can consider they’re a specialist and will be run by engineers or technical experts who have grown up with the company or the category. These leaders will understand the complexities of the offer/service and develop it incrementally year after year. Innovation may well be inherent inside the culture (as they are always seeking improvements) but this innovation will be familiar rather than surprising. Incremental sales and efficiency are valued and expected. In such companies, Sales and Marketing often work as a service to the engineers and developers. Country & category operations run the same way. Customer service will be ensuring products/services work as promised and lessons learned are shared back to organisations sporadically. These leaders believe marketing as a support function should deliver 20th Century branding.

Marketing can still be useful – but needs to be heard. This can mean being challenging and even disruptive – but from a need for change perspective, engaging cross discipline teams on new initiatives, on creating a few, small actions that are future facing, the results of marketing’s voice may rise.

Without an effective voice from marketers, B2B companies can over focus on their product features and then attack with pricing tactics vs. competition, and not the benefit experiences their products and services deliver to their customers. Benefit driven pricing can be higher if they are clearly valued. Cost optimisation comes to the fore, everything is shaved & discounting can become a primary sales strategy, and they have to price their products like a commodity.

B2B marketers can succeed & own the new brand thinking by

  • Great insights and foresight on the customer’s needs
  • Innovating partnerships for new business models (& new revenue)
  • Drive value via the benefits for customers vs. simply delivering best competitive pricing
  • Seeding the internal story around the brand so building the value to customers communities

Too big. Too slow. Too much noise. Choose to collaborate & create rather than efficiently manage

Too big. Too slow. Too much noise.

Choose to collaborate & create rather than efficiently manage

I had a good discussion over the weekend about the future alignment of big agencies and big brands. The debate focused on three core issues

  • How we need to test more things out to meet the changing needs of customers
  • How much quicker everything has to be
  • If the big agencies are geared up for such fast turnaround & innovations

Really the debate was around the final question – I know they are trying to change but not always succeeding. Time is running out. I believe that this current downturn will cause fundamental changes to the relationship between clients, brands, agencies and consumers. The pressures that will force this tipping point are both from clients and from within the agencies and, specifically, their top talent.

The proliferation of specialist agencies that started 20+ years ago with media separating from creative, relationship marketing execution separating from advertising, identity studios involving into brand consultancies, the rise of digital specialist beyond web developers and online advertising and the formation of a few places that are more generalist idea not execution offerings has left clients dealing with too many agency contacts, all great at some things but not everything. During the same period, the Management Consultants have proliferated exponentially inside many of the same clients. It’s no wonder senior clients feel time starved, over advised and generally frustrated.

Even though many of the Holding Companies have been successful in pitching a “one-stop-answer” for Billion Dollar businesses, these pitches are so in the sights of procurement that the decision is only over lowest price and how many people (sorry, FTE’s – full time equivalent people) are involved in the deal. Therefore the focus is driven by a combination of efficiency (to make the deal profitable) and management (to ensure consistency of service) as much less on delivering better creative ideas. Consumers and customers (and indeed staff) need to be understood, connected too, delighted and heard, which are driven by creativity, insights, cut through and smarts = better creative ideas.

Sure, the Holding Company has a number of specialist agencies who are geared up to deliver their specialism brilliantly – and they do. A lot of clients form their own rosters of specialist agencies who are world class at their specialism. There is great talent in these agencies – but too much overlap and duplication stops the talent performing at their best for the brands.

The overlap takes the form of big teams with too many different disciplines working apart and only occasionally meeting. A big brand may have between 5-7 agency teams working on it. These teams usually work in different agencies or on different floors within big agency groups. All teams have roles that are specific to the agency and not for the client. They are assigned by a basic billing model that allocates a percentage of time per task.

Too many agencies still have first-point-of-contact people who represent the agency to client rather than create things or provide insight. Many of these traditional roles are replicated across each of the client’s agencies – whether from the same holding company or not. Too many account managers or project managers or junior this and still-in-training-for-that. Important internal roles, less important external roles, but all the roles are accounted for, paid for and in each process from each discipline & in each agency. Clients also have proliferated roles to look after executional disciplines and follow the process to execute things with too many levels and with a niche focus aimed inside a company rather than in gaining real insight with their consumers outside,  in order to provide meaningful, rewarding experiences that is demanded of 21st Century Branding.

We hear a lot about noise from a consumer’s perspective with millions of messages in too many channels – ironically there is an internal noise in these agencies that can be distracting for both clients & negates the very reason they may have hired agencies in the first place – namely to create and improve brands and their relationships with consumers, customers and staff -  but also the noise affects the top talent inside agencies. The ‘noise’ takes to form of

  • Running an agency – reporting, communicating, managing, meetings, meetings
  • Reporting to the holding company
  • Internal processes (often to update people for not at client meetings)
  • Being allocated to other clients (it’s not uncommon to add the FTE percentages so that people are allocated 3 months for every one month of time)
  • New business gathering
  • Training younger people – or use them as blockers.
  • Meetings, meetings, meetings, politics, politics, politics

This noise not only distracts the top talent away from building brands, it frustrates them. Everything slows down the processes of creativity. The talent spends less & less time with the client and at the client and/or in the world learning – it has a big knock on frustration at the client too. The frustration has always been there, but today, the holding companies are so pervasive, a lot of options for clients and agency talent can seem to be out of the frying pan & into the fire.

Their clients need talent to succeed in getting new ideas our more quickly but are getting increasingly frustrated when the good ideas are slowed by over burdensome process & models and or in forms that are difficult to test – these days testing has to be done in real markets not in real market conditions or focus groups and be small enough to fit on a model of “do, learn, do again, do different.” This includes having dialogue with consumers on a weekly basis not in annually or for a big launch.

The change has begun. Some of the clients are early adaptors. Much agency talent are leaving to collaborate with other talent to create new models, to choose to work on projects they want too, or with other talent they respect. The freelance model of choice. Smaller creative boutiques are happy to recognise they don’t know everything but know enough talent outside to mean the client can get access to the best talent. Clients are picking specific teams from their agencies to work directly with together rather than via each individual agency. Virtual networks, collaborative villages used to be the prerogative and vernacular of tech start ups.

Hence the rise of “open source collaboration” – whether within smaller, more fleet of foot, agencies set up to keep that way or choose to work as an individual or dynamic team to focus on creating & making things. Clients want to work with the best creative and strategic talent. They are rarely all in the same agency. And they are always the most sought after in the agency. Holding Companies don’t always give top talent the freedom of choice or the full freedom to create. Clients themselves  have too many balls to juggle to stand still.

Creative collaboration direct with clients and consumers is one way of ensuring that breakthrough ideas are tested quickly in order to build growth back into a clients business. At the same time, it breathes passion back into creative people – right and left brained brand builders who want to make a difference  – who are not turned on by efficiency and management process that they are increasingly frustrated with.

Smaller, faster, focused creativity is like adrenaline to the best agency talent – not managing efficiently. It’s choosing to give your all to a project or a brand. The same at the client. The same for consumers. The effect is positively infectious. Of course there are times when it still happens at big agencies and big brands. At pitches and launches – in times of crisis management. The trick is to make these acute one off periods more regular, more often. Otherwise what will happen is that creative brand projects will be worked on by a creative collective – to deliver a powerful impact to a consumer’s experience or a meaningful role for a company’s staff on the customer journey.

These collectives will not be retained to work beyond the agreed project. Another project could follow but not immediately with the same brand. The teams will mix and match themselves over time to complement each other to drive each solution and then move on to choose another. As this process developed, creative talent & innovators will merge with other advisors in the management consulting field. Choosing to collaborate, whatever the fee or reward is for the collective or the client will be based on short term shared goals and outcomes. This form of collaboration provides the opportunity  for each person, client or creative, to keep being curious,  right or left brained, to make an impact, to be a part of a wider community, to solve difficult or interesting problems quickly and feel increased self worth, beyond the measure of a salaried job with the accompanying processes and management responsibilities.

So yes, it was an interesting debate on Saturday night. An optimistic one too, because these are times of change, where action will trump inertia, and fear fuelled doom mongers do not have to be right. The debate happened at a charity ball for Mencap’s Grove Cottage. The power to do good by many for a few was apparent, in our little community.




Like a Virgin. Still like a bank?

Like a Virgin. Still like a bank?

It will be interesting to see how the Virgin brand trickles into the new Northern Rock. The UK’s Chancellor George Osborne said: “The sale of Northern Rock to Virgin Money is an important first step in getting the British taxpayer out of the business of owning banks.” Quite right.

He then threw in “It represents value for money, will increase choice on the High Street for customers, and safeguards jobs in the North East.” Err – not so sure. The Value for money is debatable – Virgin may agree and jobs are indeed saved.

Key will be whether it will be a choice on the High Street. High Street Banking is in need of a boost. It needs to change – but most commentators are demanding the change reverts back to old school, safe, risk averse, boring banking. That is not Virgin.

Virgin will add a bit of fun, of freedom – customer service & easy, simple forms & processes and the like. Certainly, this will be differentiation from some of the dreariness we’ve witnessed since 2008’s collapse. Virgin have secured a big infrastructure, they’ve bought the backbone & the book to bring their upbeat philosophy into play without being niche. Virgin Money’s bank will be about 10% the size of the UK High Street duller offerings. Small enough to be flexible but big enough to make a noise and attract new customers.

They have a chance to test out what will work quickly before rolling out over the whole country – talking to their customers while developing the Virgin version of daily banking. Creating a different brand experience for banks. They will I’m sure take a positive view of lending to smaller entrepreneurial firms that the Bigger Banks are ignoring. That will make them stand out quickly – more than a new facia and interiors that will replace of the Rock.

So good news I hope – the sector needs it. We all do.

Unilever Global CEO Paul Polman: The agenda of 21st Century Business model

Unilever Global CEO Paul Polman: The agenda of 21st Century Business model

Really powerful talk by Paul Polman to the Annual One Young World Summit about sustainability and the challenges this raises. He is clear of the role of business and the role of brand in 21st Century.

He says, as boss of this massive global firm (170,000 staff, 2 Billion consumers in 150+ countries) , he is not accountable to shareholders. He is not driven by simply raising profits and cutting costs.

He is accountable to his consumers, his staff and to their communities. Accountable to the sustainability of the world. For companies such as his, he wants them to stop using technology to reduce the negative impact on communities and move Unilever to actively making a positive contribution to society,

Unilver wants to grow of course, but Paul says he wants to decouple growth form the environmental impact on the world. Unilver wants to actively improve the health and wellbeing of 1 Billion consumers.

He says the world needs leadership but says he serves his company not leads it. He is a leader and one that inspires. Well worth a look, but more importantly, well worth learning from…is your brand giving back?

21st Century Brands need a purpose to stay relevant

21st Century Brands need a purpose to stay relevant

Umair Haque of Havas Media neatly sums up what 21st Century Brands have to have in order to succeed

Where 20th Century branding was fixated on differentiation in a competitive positioning based battlefield. But in the hyper-connected 21st Century world the focus is on customer involvement.

The shift equates, says Haque, involves moving from differentiating to actually making a real difference to the customer – in human terms. Positive, optimistic, real differences will count.

Having a purpose.

Earning a role.

Living up to that role.

Recent research undertaken by Havas Media into Meaningful Brands shows that gobal customers are happy enough to dump 80% of the brands they use without much of a second thought.

That’s 80% of the brands they actually use not the hundreds of similar ones clamouring to be used.

It also shows that those brands that have a purpose – one that improves the lives of the customer or their communities or their/the world resonate strongly. This is more apparent in the emerging markets – which is where the future growth for all brands is coming from…

The analysis suggests that the next generation of brands will come from emerging economies. People in fast growing economies, such as Asian and Latin American markets, record a stronger and healthier relationship with brands. The proportion of brands making a notable positive contribution to our lives increases to around 30% in Latin America, compared to 8% in European markets, where people tend to be more sceptical and less engaged with brands. In the US it’s 5%.”

21st Century Branding is moving on. Is your brand ready, willing & able?


Microsoft Sustainability is an optimistic vision

Microsoft Sustainability is an optimistic vision

Was just sent this video on another Microsoft Productivity Vison – this focus is on sustainability and though echo’s the one I reviewed earlier, the production and outlook gel really well. This feels much more uplifting and involving.Optimistic message for the brand. Liking it.


Even for the Unbranded, Optimism is infectious.

Even for the Unbranded, Optimism is infectious.


I passed the Occupy camp outside St Pauls this morning and there was an interview underway in the drizzle. A reporter was asking one of the protesters about how she felt about the impact they were actually having on the Church rather than their targets in the City behind her? She wasn’t there for the Church, she said, the Church was there for her. Indeed, she expected that Capitalism would learn soon and give back. She had expectation, hope and indeed faith that they would.

Above her was the banner, “This revolution will not be branded”

Yet in simplistic terms, there are brand symbols appearing with the masks and posters.

One thing we should all share is their “brand value” of optimism. These days fear is contagious and we should all remember that optimism is infectious.

“My optimism wears heavy boots and is loud.” Henry Rollins

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” Nelson Mandela

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory.” Howard Zinn

“Oh Wow. Oh Wow. Oh Wow.” Steve Jobs

Conscious commerce is a vital strand for 21st Century Brands not a CSR initiative

Conscious commerce is a vital strand for 21st Century Brands not a CSR initiative

Read Dean Crutchfield’s smart post today on the goals for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Dean quotes Peter Drucker’s quote “If you find someone focusing on CSR, fire him, and fire him fast.” While Dean disagrees with Drucker, I’m not so sure. We all see many examples of CSR programmes being totally at odds with the DNA of a company or their customers. This is evident in companies where the brand is left in the realm of Marketing Communications – very 20th Century thinking. CSR is oft the prerogative of those in the C-Suite who are not marketers and serve different goals to that of the brand on the customer journey. These CSR programmes are the ones I think Drucker means.

21st Century brands put customers and staff at the centre of their brand and their offer.  The thinking is that the brand owner is the customer and their individual experiences count most. Many of these experiences are shared with peers – mostly via social networks. If you dig deeper to understand the customer’s hopes and fears, in addition to their specific use of your product or service, companies will know that there is a growing thread of giving back to communities; to the poorer sections of society or the world or to just trying to make a difference. This is not lip service, especially to people born after the greedy 1980’s of Gordon Gekko’s Wall Street.

This Halloween the world is a scary, gloomy place– especially as influenced by media and politicians. Those who followed the Baby Boomer generation have become more disillusioned than anyone.  They’re used to having a voice and the OWS movement is a natural result for the protest of the smart as well as the disgruntled. Interestingly, there is real empathy and support of the OWS and of those in St Pauls in London. Although the messages from these peace camps are often confused, they are calling for capitalism to give back. There is a real feeling of optimism behind the messages of frustration. The collective view is spreading across the Western world.

As Dean reminds us, conscious commerce is not new. Making profit while giving back is behind some successful initiatives in the past few years – think Product (Red). In these tough times, brand choice is a conscious decision by many customers, one that is less influenced by price (everything seems discounted at the moment) and more by how it touches their emotions. This will not be accomplished by advertising trying to tug at the heartstrings, nor will it be in small and  overhyped CSR initiatives that try to  please some nameless stakeholders.

Giving back is being demanded by a growing and vocal minority. As their voices increase and influence more and more, will companies and their brands recognise this new 21st Century business model?