Category Archives: Big Idea

Optimism, the power of positive thought and the future of your business

I’m an optimist.  I recognised this many years ago and I’ve been reminded of the fact daily ever since.  I look around me, see and hear the responses others have to situations that we are all facing and its obvious that my responses are different.  I don’t know why this should be and and I’m not about to start trying to understand it, but what I do know is that it impacts in many ways on my life and never more so than right now.

With the economies of just about every country now in turmoil every business, anywhere in the world is having to make significant changes.  If you have followed my work for any length of time, you’ll have probably picked up that I like change.  Change is good, same is bad.  You are only as good as your NEXT big idea.  I can’t stand companies who strike it lucky and then settle into the rut of replicating what they did time and time again to milk it for all its worth.  I don’t like them because there is an inevitable consequence to this approach – failure.  The world moves on, customer needs change, attitudes swing, everything is in a state of flux.  It is a very lucky business that has a product that will be equally successful through time with no change at all and right now I can’t even think of one.

I’ve been inside more companies over the years than I could even list and it has become clear to me that successful companies all have a spirit of optimism.  Talk to their employees and their chatter is about HOW they are going to achieve things not WHETHER they can achieve them and that’s simply because they don’t consider for one minute that they won’t get there.  And why should they?  Anything is achievable.  We are our own limitations.

I have never been far away from sports of one kind or another and the great sporting enlightenment of the last few decades has been sports psychology.  At an elite level most athletes have equal capabilities.  What separates them is most often belief in their ability to succeed.  That’s where visualisation plays its part.  Most athletes these days will sit and visualise their success, sometimes for hours.  This conditions their brain so that it doesn’t consider failure as an option and that in turn enables them to perform to their full potential.  It works, but if you don’t believe me consider this.  Within twelve months of Roger Banister achieving the one-minute mile, 37 other runners did the same thing.  What caused this surge of performance after years of believing it was impossible?  The belief that it could be done!  I’ve seen sportspeople who habitually performed below their skill level, transformed.  What’s more, once they realise it’s working it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle – confidence increases, performance increases, success increases, confidence increases etc…   It also works with sportspeople who are not in the elite group, even weekend warriors.

Anyway, back to business and why its clear to me which companies are going to make the transition that will earn them a place in the new world market.

I hear organisations all over the world acknowledging that they have to change to survive, but very few actually end up making the changes that are necessary.  The reason for this is a combination of comfort with the status quo and fear of failure.  Firstly, these organisations don’t have the change culture that I mentioned earlier (You are only as good as your NEXT big idea) so it’s not their habit to constantly look for improvements or changes. Secondly, they are, both individually as employees and on a corporate level terrified of doing something that will go wrong.

This fear is based on the failure to recognise that we are all capable of succeeding at anything.  Anything is possible it’s just a matter of how badly you want it.  If one company can innovate then you can.  It’s just a matter of self-belief.  My advice is, instead of focusing on the potential for failure, turn your attention to the risk of failing to exploit an opportunity, because that’s all that matters.

Attitude change like this has to start at the top.  If you are a manager who accepts failure as inevitable or who doesn’t assume success, you need to pay a visit to a motivator or business psychologist, or you could quit of course if you think you’ll never make the change! (think about that comment, it’s deep)  If you choose to re-focus your mind your next step has to be to eliminate all the doubters in your organisation.  You can do this either by firing or re-training them.  The latter is the best option of course, but you are going to have to focus a great deal of attention on internal marketing to pull it off.

Once you have introduced your organisation to positive thinking you’ll be surprised what you can achieve.  Someone asked one of my contractors this week how sure they were that they would deliver a particular task.  “Absolutely” was the unhesitating reply, but the questioner wasn’t convinced.  “How can you be so certain?” came the response, to which my contractor replied “Anything can be done, its just a matter of how much time or money or effort you put behind it”.  That task would never have been attempted until we came on the scene, but they’ll do it now and it will work and it will improve their business performance and I know that because my contractor recognises that anything is achievable.  What’s more, like the cycle of positive thought I referred to earlier, the achievement will fuel further, bigger achievements for the company concerned.

It definitely pays to be an optimist.

Fairy story beginning for a neat social campaign

Every now and then someone comes up with a really great idea that deserves a second look.

Not only is this commercial from the Guardian a great idea well implemented, its part of an integrated on-line campaign that is equally smart and undoubtedly destined to generate some big numbers.

It used to be that anybody with half an idea could generate a following in social media, but audiences, particularly in developed Western markets, are now so refined that being on-line is no longer novel enough in itself to get results, you have to have that big idea, just as you do with any other medium.

I’ve just launched an integrated grass-roots and social campaign and I know how tough it can be to overcome the expectations of businesses that simply doing something digital achieves instant success.  It takes good planning, hard work, the all-important “big idea” and time to recoup the investment in an initiative like this, but because The Guardian don’t appear to have skimped on any of these my guess is they’ll get their pay-back.

What do you think?

Its silly season in the retail food sector!

I don’t normally waste my time drawing attention to specific examples of advertising that are plain rubbish, but it seems like silly season for the UK retail food sector at the moment and I simply can’t ignore it.

The new campaign for Sizzling Pubs leaves me speechless its so ridiculous, but nowhere near as mindless as the commercial for Harvester.  What the blazes are these people trying to do?  Together, these two campaigns prove the point I was making a few weeks back that marketing is dumbing down.  These simply have to be examples of inexperienced marketing managers who lack the confidence to tell their agencies, when they present this crap, to stop having a laugh!

I can imagine the scene.  The agency guy making out that a rap, which in Harvester’s  case doesn’t rhyme or scan, is the kind of “groovy” solution that will appeal to a hip new target market and the client failing to notice that they had buried any product benefit there might have been beneath the awful treatment and not having the balls to draw him a route-map to reality.  Is the story here the diversity of the menu or is it just a case of having to come up with a commercial to disguise the fact absence of a proposition?  Whichever, it failed.

The Sizzling Pubs agency guy has clearly allowed self-love to obscure the fact that even if they can work out what the blazes is supposed to be happening the behind-the-scenes antics of the ad. business is about as enthralling to the target audience as a day watching paint dry.  Its neither funny nor interesting, but because I know how hard food retailers like these two are working to come up with a point of difference these days, its particularly galling to see what could be a genuine opportunity flushed down the toilet.  If Sizzling Pubs are successful it will definitely be despite their advertising and that’s a shame because, without breaking sweat I can think of a number of entertaining ways of getting the idea of sizzling food across.

Need an illustration of integrated marcomms? Should have gone to Specsavers.

I realise that this campaign has been around for a while now, but I find myself eagerly awaiting the next commercial, which in itself is an indication of just how good it is.

“Should have gone to Specsavers” is, on the face of it not a particularly strong proposition.  For one thing it doesn’t actually make a promise, but what it lacks in directness it more than makes up for in the way it has exploited all the opportunities it creates.

The tag line is in the vein of the Tesco “Every little helps”, although I would suggest that Tesco’s is more of a promise, but Specsavers stick to the golden rule by illustrating why I should belive that message in different and highly amusing ways every time they wheel it out.

I like this because it is a big idea that they are exploiting to the full.  “Should have gone to Specsavers” may not be a smack-you in-the-face proposition, the promise is inferred rather than made outright, but I particularly like it because the individual tactical messages back it up with hard facts – discounts, deals etc.  I’m also confident that Specsavers’ data will show that the use of humour has transformed a boring commodity business into a desirable brand by giving it a clear and desirable personality.

In my opinion, Specsavers is one of the very few UK business right now that is producing efficient advertising and demonstrating to everyone how to get maximum bang for your buck by aligning tactical and strategic messages.  That’s integration!

Saatchi & Saatchi London and T-Mobile. A big idea worth sharing

Its not just because I’m one of the old Saatchi alumni and I’m sure I am not alone in this, but I get a kick everytime I see this campaign.  In fact, although I have worked for most of the big mobile operators over the years T-mobile hasn’t been one of them, so why am I giving it space here?

The answer is simple.  Its a great example of something that I have been banging on about for years – “The big idea”.  In the old Saatchi days, this is what we did – Silk Cut, British Airways, Intercity, there’s a long list of big ideas that have originated in Saatchi.  For years now though I’ve felt that (and Kevin Roberts will hate me for this) the old place had struggled to get its head as far above its competitors as we used to, but looking at what has been coming out of Charlotte Street recently, I have to say, things are looking good.

Keep it up folks!

Brand Britain or Big Society. Could Cameron use some marketing expertise?

It may be another word for the kind of national service the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have only recently abandoned, but it seems to me that David Cameron’s “Big Society” idea is missing a basic ingredient for success.

Those who have followed my comments on National Branding in the past will understand where I am coming from on this.  I’m all in favour of a self-supporting society and a move away from the nanny state that far too many of us have grown to rely on, but are those who are driving the Big Society initiative seeing it as a step towards Brand Britain or reliant on it?  My feeling is that in order to get there you have first to nurture a feeling of belonging among the populous and, judging from the debates on the Big Society that are currently taking place, this just isn’t there and the media are doing their usual best to divide us still further.

I see there are a number of facets to the Big Society.  There’s the need for us to stand on our own feet as individuals again, there’s the need to cut the cost of the services and resources that have supported the lazy and over reliant among us and there’s the belief that by focussing on community and encouraging people to participate, society and our nation can begin to realise the many opportunities that a community mindset opens up.  However, government is missing far too many opportunities to “big up” British and Brits’ achievements and, as I have said before, this is a key component of any Brand Britain development programme.

If I am reading Dave’s agenda right, I can’t see anybody grabbing and managing this initiative nor can I see what is being done, apart from a lot of talk (which has its place, of course) to get everyone on the same page.  If the “Big Society” is, after all just a money-saving scheme, then David Cameron is surely missing the bigger trick?  Anyway, ultimately it won’t work, because the people who are supposed to be implementing the programme at local level have neither the skills or experience to make the right judgements or the motivation that a real Brand Britain campaign would provide.

Cameron and the Tories may have come closer than previous governments to getting this kind of campaign right, but we need a whole lot more internal marketing and brand-building to be brought to bear if the Big Society is going to be the really worthwhile initiative I hope and believe was the intention.

Innovation – When less is definitely more.

I guess it’s the current climate, but I seem to spend a lot of time these days, talking to people whose businesses are struggling and very often they are in a mess because they are overstretched.

Nowadays, we are all having to achieve more with fewer people and one of the first things that tend to suffer is innovation or the product development programme.  However, if you are not working on your next big idea right now, you probably won’t be around for long.

Because acquisition is so much more expensive than growing your existing customers, you can’t afford to do anything that will reduce your customer satisfaction rating, in fact, you should be ramping up your CRM and innovation will play a central role in this.  So, how do you continue to innovate when you are already looking to do more with less, ?

The only way to go is to improve your prioritisation.  I was talking to a business recently that was very proud of its innovation.  However all they had were ideas, no marketing, so they hadn’t sold anything.  In fact last year they flushed the best part of a million euros down the toilet, developing a product on a hunch, only to find as they rounded the final bend, that nobody wanted to buy it.  Believe it or not, nobody had thought to research the market as when they first came up with the idea and before they started developing it.

By all means, talk to customers or dig into your competitors’  businesses, just be tougher on yourself, introduce more stringent criteria for taking an idea into development and if an idea passes the test, give it all you’ve got.  Your success rate will improve.  When, like now the business bar is raised, its far better to have a handful of great ideas than hundreds of half-arsed ones.

It doesn’t only apply to product development.  Innovate and prioritise in every area of your business and you’ll be surprised how efficient you’ll become. Design an idea development process, keep your objective firmly in your sights, establish criteria for every step in every innovation process and don’t waver.  It takes discipline, but if you stick at it you’ll come out on top.