Category Archives: change management

Turning the page on publishing

Stitched Panorama

If you are in the book publishing business right now you might be bracing yourself for an HMV-like end, but it seems to me that publishers still have options and if they make the right choices the end, however it arrives, could still be a long way off.

Those of you who followed my campaign a couple of years ago to try to persuade HMV that there was life after i-Tunes will know that I can’t resist a challenge.  That exercise saw me gathering a bunch of marketing folks with fertile minds on a kind of LinkedIn crowd-sourcing basis and trying to persuade the HMV CEO to listen to a few ideas we had on reviving their business.  I’ll leave you to judge for yourself what his rejection of our offer says about the relationship between success and the “open to ideas” philosophy that I have always promoted.

I’m struck by the similarities between the publishing and music industries.  Both are victims of the digital onslaught.  Technology has provided an alternative to their physical products, everyone is an author these days (even me), pretty well anybody can get published, readers don’t have to leave home to buy a book and last week you could buy any of the UK’s top 10 selling books online for 78pence!  This latter fact is a symptom of another phenomenon, the tendency of business in other sectors, in this case Sony, to give away the publishers’ raison d’etre, in their pursuit of sales of their own dedicated hardware eg tablets.

Publishing also has a similar structure to the music business.  There are publishers like Harper Collins who own numerous brands, they each support many authors and their books are distributed through physical stores and on-line.  Three levels of the business, each of which is under attack.

There are two keys to the future of the book business. The first is brand. It seems to me that publishers have been very slow to develop the brands they own. There are few sectors where brands measure up to the description “community” more than those of a publisher. You’ll know if you’ve been on this blog before that I believe all brands to be, by definition, communities and publishers’ brands are far more readily represented as communities than food products or cosmetics, yet, when I look at publishing houses I can’t see much evidence of them either recognising this or exploiting their good fortune.

The second key is the physical retailers. The front line book stores are suffering the same pressure from e-commerce that HMV did. Businesses like Waterstones are probably making a better job of competing than the music retailer did, but they have a long way to go before they maximise their assetts and even further before they could claim to have a model that will sustain them in the future. Like HMV, physical booksellers need to be more radical in their thinking. Instead of adapting their current model they should be experimenting with complete, ground-up rethinks. My worry is that, again like HMV, they are failing to recognise not just the requirement for such radical thinking, but the urgency with which they need to get on with it.

They might take a leaf out of the book of Ralph Halpern. When he headed up Burton Group he was said to have twenty or so retail formats on test in pilot stores at any one time. It worked for him and I firmly believe that, like any product manufacturer, retailers need think at least two store generations ahead in order to ensure continued success. John Selfridge taught us that retail is about entertainment and bookselling, more than most other sectors, is firmly in the entertainment sector. This means that bookstore owners have to ask themselves, “are my customers looking forward to their next visit to my store in the way they would a football match, concert or theatre?” Sadly most retailers I come across set their bar far too low in this respect. Customers should be feeling like a young lover about their next date with you.

Actually record shops used to be like that, In fact record shops used to be real communities too. I remember hanging out in a record store in Birmingham each Friday when albums were traditionally released, sampling the new stuff and discussing it with the store guys and anybody else who felt like chiming in. You could spend hours at a time in there and I often did. Come to think of it, there was a musical instrument store up the road from the record store with a similar vibe. I met Ozzie Osbourne and Tony Iommi from a new band Black Sabbath there once and they invited me to their gig that evening in the back of a pub in town (Now that dates me!) These days I can get the same kick from a visit to a bike shop like 718 Cyclery in Brooklyn. All these stores are interesting and engaging in their different ways. That’s missing in a lot of retailers these days and its where the answer could lie for retail book stores.

Its not surprising that some of the thoughts I had on HMV apply equally well to bookstores, but these in turn were based on a train of thought I evolved with a mobile phone operator a few years previously. A growing number of retail sub-sectors have to understand that they need to approach selling from a new direction, engaging customers in other areas of their lives creating an environment and establishing conversations into which a sales message can be introduced.

In a similar fashion, a few years back I created a magazine for Philips comprising features on successful projects in highly specialised business sectors. The features were compelling to the target market, but more than that, by ensuring that they were each written as a showcase for specific Philips products and concluded with a call to action and a contact device, we turned an entertaining magazine into a powerful sales tool that is still doing the numbers. I’ve also created community projects for manufacturers and service providers. Introducing products and services to consumers in the context of other areas of their personal lives engages them on an entirely different level. This I believe is how bookstores need to start thinking. Its not new of course. Its commonplace in the US for bookstores to be incorporated into coffee shops or restaurants, an idea that has been adopted in parts of Europe and even the Middle East (I have such a venue close to where I currently live in Bahrain).

While the front-line would benefit from radical thinking, publishers need to start making things easier for themselves and instead of engaging head-on in a battle with digital and e-tail that they just won’t win, turn the page and focus on the aspects of their business that their competitors just don’t have. They need to tighten up their brand definitions, get a better grip on their customers and start building relationships with them based on something other than price. Forget readings and signings, they aren’t sufficiently radical to make the difference that this sector needs.


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.

Blue may be the new green, but does it suit your business?

So, the debate is pretty well done and dusted – the Green movement is dead. A victim of the same monarchical culture that has buried so many other great ideas and business over the years.  Adam Werbach pointed all this out to us in his speech “Eulogy for the Green Movement” at the Commonwealth Institute in San Francisco way back in 2004.  The mistake he made then was not to offer an alternative and as a result he was vilified by old Greenies, the press and a bunch of other people with no imagination or brains to work it out for themselves.  As he said, people don’t like being called “dead”!  So, he returned to the same venue in 2009 with the missing pieces, which he has called “The Birth of Blue“. Yes, without a doubt, Blue is the new Green, so start adapting your wardrobe.

In fact, Blue isn’t anything new.  Just as the demise of Green followed the familiar path beaten by Communism, a few religions and other movements that relied on compliance under threat rather than a voluntary embrace.  Adam isn’t alone in what has done, but where he scores the bonus is in introducing an imaginative and practical solution, in this case, by adapting a proven approach to a different problem.  I say proven with the certainly of first-hand knowledge, because along with all the other initiatives, cultures and institutions that have successfully adopted this kind of strategy, I have been following it for years with my programme of brand transformation that I call Brand Discovery.

History couldn’t possibly give us more conclusive proof that a culture based on strict rules will fail, yet its not surprising that governments worldwide have adopted a heavy-handed approach to getting us all in line behind the sustainability thing.  When you throw old ladies in jail for putting paper in her rubbish, or stick tracking devices and chips in wheely-bins you really can’t expect anything, but resistance from folks.  The same applies to any community, brand or organisation.  If you make a community welcoming, comfortable and rewarding enough people will want to be a part of it.  Conversely, if you want to drive people away from a place you make it threatening and unpleasant.  Maybe if we gave less thought to prisoner’s rights and conditions incarceration might represent more of a disincentive to criminals?  However, I digress.

Green failed because it didn’t welcome people to its community and brands fail for the same reason.  What constitutes “welcoming” is another discussion and will vary from one brand or community to another, but what I want to do now is focus on the process involved. Its simple really.  You firstly need to lay out all the facts and associated issues in a clear and unbiased way (something that governments just don’t seem capable of).  You then fuel debate and discussion and LISTEN (something that few organisations of any kind find natural). People will work out their own relationships with the problem or issue at hand and if you really are listening, you’ll discover that they are writing your strategy for you.

Sustainability, affects us all.  It influences communication, travel, jobs, in fact pretty well everything in everybody’s life.  As our schoolkids are learing (and these future customers are way ahead of us on this see Graeme Codrington’s Hanna’s Rules) nobody can avoid it, so its really just a matter of helping people understand how it affects them individually.  Then you can start to offer them suggestions of things that they can do to help, if not themselves, their kids, avoid a future that’s far less inviting than that which we have today.

Brand Discovery encourages brand stakeholders to nominate things that they can each do to ensure that they are contributing to a bigger shared objective – the delivery of a brand promise.  Blue takes the same approach by asking people to nominate a DOT – Do One Thing – that will bring them closer to living a sustainable life.  What Blue also realises is that entire national populations are too large to work with successfully, so it relies on dividing nations into smaller work-groups.  They, cleverly chose businesses … large ones.  Their first candidate was Wal-mart, a community of almost two-million employees, not to mention partners and suppliers (I’ve visited countries with smaller populations!) where the approach has proven to be a great success.  More including Morrisons and Sainsbury’s in the UK are following their lead.

The issue isn’t going to disappear by itself and the emerging generations of customers and consumers place sustainable living far higher on their list of priorities than we or our forbears have so its not difficult to see the attraction for a corporation of engaging in sustainability.  In fact, businesses that don’t embrace the cause are going to suffer big-time in the future.

However, if you think it’s just a case of flying a sustainability flag outside your corporate HQ you are wrong.  Apart from their understanding of the importance of sustainability, emerging consumers have inherited a realisation from our generation and they just mistrust pretty well anything that the corporate world tells them, so you are seriously going to have to walk the talk.  What we are talking about here represents a significant change for most organisations.  You are going to need a strategy and there are few organisations around with the perspective and in-house resources to tackle this alone, but before you even find your partner to help you with this you need to understand that blue really is your colour and be ready to trust in your chosen Gok Wan.

In the coming months I will be working on this with my clients, testing out, ideas, introducing initiatives and all the time doing all I can to live sustainably.  Next week I’m off to Marketing Week Live in London and, as I try always to do, I’ll be minimising my carbon footprint by travelling by train.  I’ll be tweeting as I go and hopefully producing a bit of audio on or from the show.  Among the questions I’ll be asking of the people I meet there will be how their organisations are rising to this challenge.  So follow me on Twitter @thefulltweet and make your own contribution.

Vuvuzela, diversity and what it could mean to your business

I have heard a lot of bellowing this week about the vuvuzela and while I can’t help wondering if people would have noticed it at all if the England team were performing better, these objections do carry a whiff of xenophobia.  These instruments originated as the horns of wild animals and their tin successors have been a feature of South African celebration for years before the mass produced plastic version we have seen (and heard) this week came on the scene. Why can’t folks just celebrate the richness of diverse cultures?  Until we do, I can’t help thinking that we may be missing out on a few business opportunities.

The world is shrinking.  The Internet, transport and popular media have seen to that and if any of us are going to be able to afford to fly anywhere in the coming years, it is ultimately destined to become one big melting pot.  For years I have been building project teams, virtual and real, comprising all kinds of people with all kinds of insights and attitudes from all around the world.  There’s no doubt about it that Western experts have contributed disproportionately to the work I have done in the Middle East and the developing markets of Central and Eastern Europe, but that doesn’t mean the traffic has been all one-way.  I’ve found the contributions of locals to be invaluable.  In countries where budgets are tight and social conditions are such that people habitually fix rather than replace things I discovered unmatched determination to deliver complex solutions with the most basic materials and equipment and people who will learn new technical skills on-the-job, sitting up all night with text books when students in the UK would be falling in and out of pubs.

I’ve also learned more about sustainability that I thought possible from people like my Central European wife who was brought up in an education and social system that lived in far-closer harmony with the land that few Westerners of my generation have.  I have a son of thirty, who, brought up entirely in the West, lives in a disposable world, and a daughter of eight, most of whose life has been spent in Prague and to me the contrasts are stark.  My daughter takes my son walking in the forest, explains the medicinal properties of wild flowers and shows him where the wild edible mushrooms, strawberries and garlic hide, just like her mother and grandmother.  She’s keen to teach him to ski too, the expensive Western pastime that is cheap and accessible to Central Europeans and at which she’s been expert since she was three years old.  In return, he’s introduced her to all the cool things on the internet and contributed greatly to her fearlessness of technology.  Oh, and he’s taught her a few rude words that have horrified her teachers and fascinated the chums in her school English class in Prague (Did you know there are no really rude words in the Czech language)!  So much for cultural exchange!

Together they have achieved a synergy and a balance that has benefited them both.  Businesses in these developing markets have been in no position to resist the infiltration of skills and concepts and they have undoubtedly all benefitted as a result.  I can’t help wondering if a few of the Western organisations I have come across over the years wouldn’t be much better off now had they chosen to embrace and learn from other cultures rather than look for opportunities to oppress them or belittle their differences.

I was talking to a recruiter last week who told me that because there are so many candidates for jobs these days, hirers are increasingly selecting only their look-alikes for interview.  Now we all know that every business is only as good as its next big idea, that innovation is a product of diversity in every area and at every level of the organisation and that with all the rules of business having dramatically changed in the last few months, innovation is more critical than ever to the survival of any business.  So, as recession lifts and hiring starts again, maybe we are in danger of rebuilding our businesses to a model that excludes the very thing our survival depends on?

So while the South African people are largely welcoming their visitors from around the world and benefitting in no small measure from what the influx is bringing, you might like to give a thought to your own reaction to the vuvuzela.  If your knee-jerk reaction is to jump on the ban the vuvuzela bandwagon you should ask yourself if you take this attitude to work with you and if so whether its working against the success of your business.  It’s not just a matter of embracing other ethnic types and different cultures, but appreciating different perspectives and being open to the alternatives that these can offer you both at work and at home.

Your future is bright young things. So invest in your brand community.

I hate to be repetitive, but for the second time this week I find myself shouting “hear, hear!” to a piece by Graeme Codrington.  This time he’s talking on the subject of employee relations.  In particular the challenge of holding on to the bright young things that represent the future for all of us.  But, while I agree with what Graeme says, I see this from another perspective – the perspective of “brand community”.

Graeme, as usual, is right (don’t you just hate folks who are always right?).  Too few organisations focus on creating an environment where employees feel they really belong – a community.  In this article he talks about the old days of outback mining companies that established towns and provided all the facilities their employees needed to live with their families, because they knew that without this infrastructure they simply wouldn’t have any employees.  He also points to the fact that initiatives like these were early victims of the bean-counters, looking through distorted spectacles for ways of squeezing more profit from a business.

So, what has an outback mining community to do with a modern business?  Well, it’s not as different as you may think because whether they are rock-face workers or the smart graduates that an international business needs to build its future on, when there’s a shortage, there’s a shortage, and belive me, there are definitely not enough bright young things to go around.  If you doubt that, just give a thought to the last time you marvelled at some meaningless procedure a business that you were dealing with insisted on taking you through – smart people don’t waste your time (or theirs) with stuff like this!

Graeme talks about investing in the things that make work a great place to be.  A while back, I visited an organisation whose offices were so much better and more comfortable that the homes where the employees lived, that they socialised there too.  In fact it was sometimes difficult to persuade them to go home at all!  However, it isn’t quite as simple as office bars, sofas and a few pot-plants.  My real interest in this subject comes from my passion for brands and my belief that while, as Graeme says, there’s a cost involved in making yourself the employer of choice for smart people, it doesn’t have to be as big an investment as many might think.  I see this as a part of the marketing function and in most organisations there a budget for this and, if you do it right, it is guaranteed to bring a handsome reward.  What’s more I know that with the technology we have at our fingertips today, you can measure anything and that includes the return you get on investment in your “brand community”, so the proof that this kind of investment pays-back is there.

In fact, one of the founding principles of my Full Effect Marketing is that a small proportion of your total marketing investment re-directed to internal marketing will bring a disproportionately high return.  And, have no doubt, what we are talking about here is “marketing”; specifically building a brand community where all stakeholders (investors, partners, suppliers, customers AND employees) feel a sense of belonging and ownership.  It works like this:  great brand community = happy and dedicated employees = consistency over time because they stick around = improved return on training investment = better decisions = smarter (and more efficient) execution = happy customers = job satisfaction … you get the idea.  Its called “Brandship” and yes, you have individual Brandships with every one of your “stakeholders” (I hate the word “stakeholder” too so let’s just talk about “community”).

The chance of you being a lighthouse organisation in the future (or even being around at all, given the competition we are all going to face) is very much based on the desirability of your “Brand Community”, not just for customers, but for employees.  But there’s another aspect to this.  A brand community isn’t something that’s dictated from the boardroom.  Employees aren’t going to respond to a community that YOU think they should like.  It has to be a place where they genuinely feel “at home”.  A place that they have created.  In fact, the organisation doesn’t even own the brand community.  You just get to be caretaker or janitor.  A powerful brand community is a product of and owned by its members so if you want to create the real thing (and I suggest this should be your objective) you are going to have to engage another Full Effect Marketing idea, which is that all your communications should be two-way, because you are only going to get it right by listening.

Who has come across a large organisation where all the employees get a free pair of Replay jeans?  I have, because we did it at Oskar Mobile in the Czech Republic that not only became the world’s most successful third operator ever, but, against awesome odds, were nominated World’s Best Mobile Operator; success that was driven entirely by their brand community.  This and many other initiatives like it were prompted by employees themselves, who also made a movie themselves about what a great place Oskar was to work.  The movie in turn was distributed to recruiters and shown at conferences and job fairs as well as posted in the Internet and as a result they were getting thousands of unsolicited job applications every week.  The original Saatchi & Saatchi was a community that worked and played together and it was this that drove our international growth.  I remember walking into a recently acquired agency in Helsinki and being bombarded with questions from everyone about the people and happenings in our London Charlotte Street offices.  Our London softball team had shirt with “Official softball team of the biggest advertising agency in the world” printed across the back and people in our offices around the world wore it with pride.

This is what I mean when I talk about Brand Communities and it’s why I created my Brand Discovery programme.  Every day the idea of the central role of “brand” in any business is gaining more credence.  If you aren’t focussing on this already you should be.

The things your mother doesn’t tell you

There are a suprising number of quite sizeable businesses out there that, when they are under-performing call in a consultant to tell them that its anybody’s fault but theirs.  I’ve always told potential clients “don’t call me if all you want to hear is how great you are”.  For one thing life ain’t like that and for another that isn’t my job, go ask your Mother!

I’m quite clear about my business role.  I’ll introduce you to the good and bad in your business, help you work out what you need to do to fix the bad and make the good even better. If you don’t want to put the work in, I’ll settle, with a little frustration (because I hate to see anything that could be fixed, not working) for watching your business go down with all hands, but if you are up for the challenge I’ll be there with you every step of the way as you put your plan into action.

The business environment is highly geared.  If you are not focused on being the best in your class, history leaves us in no doubt that you are on a short road to nowhere.  Sadly I’ve encountered two businesses in the last couple of weeks who think they can beat the odds.  Of course, they won’t.

The first was a sports equipment challenger brand with an inflated opinion of itself and the second a digital content company that behaved like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis – what they needed to do to fix their problem was against their religion.

The sports company was like a lot of mid-sized businesses stuck in their original, small business mindset.  I organised a “meet the end-user day” where sporty people tested their products, wrote reviews and entered them in a prize draw.  The feedback was clear.  The products were far from cutting edge, weren’t exciting, weren’t what customers really wanted (although at the right price they might consider some of them) and the prices were too high.  The company’s principals decided the customers didn’t know what they were talking about.  At the price points that customers were talking about the business would operate at a loss.  My conclusion: this isn’t a business, it’s a hobby!

The content company was one of a group of businesses that had been acquired over time by a larger group.  They are good at what they do, but are finding themselves in the same position as a lot of other marketing services businesses in recent years – doing a lot of one-off jobs on low margins for medium-sized businesses and not making a lot of money out of it.  Although for many marketing services firms much can be achieved by the introduction of a decent management information system, what this lot need is to get out of the commodity-supplier rut, which, for a marketing services firm, means putting their offer in a  broader context, leading with and owning their clients’ strategy.  These days, positioning your marketing services business as a production facility is like putting your own head in the noose.  The problem for this business was that other businesses in the group owned the strategic mantle and strategy was seen as “out of bounds”.  A case of woolly thinking, maybe both at group and business unit level, which until that was sorted out was going to continue to condemn them to the treadmill – a lot of hard work for little return.

SMEs that I encounter often don’t deserve to be anything more.  The confusion between hobby and business mind-set is a common malaise, but, more fundamentally, the people running these businesses frequently aren’t being honest with themselves.  A consultant like me isn’t in the business of being destructive, but we are there to  deliver home truths.  If you can’t take it on the chin then perhaps you shouldn’t be in business.  The important thing though is for consultants to always present the reality with a clear and practical solution to the problems it represents.  If the solution is still rejected, we sadly have to accept that these organisations are the runts in Britain’s new business litter.

Internal Marketing may be the key to post recession survival, but its tougher for ex-public sector organisations.

First it was the Post Office, then British Airways and now it appears that British Gas front-line employees are in revolt.  When your customer-facing staff are slagging of the organisation and/or it’s management you are well and truly buggered, but when is the penny going to drop here?  This isn’t about the evil hand of capitalism trying to squeeze the life out of dwindling customer base or white-knight customer service operatives standing ground on behalf of their customers.  Its  about one thing, pure and simple.  The failure of management to get employees behind the brand.  Brand Building is the fundamental of business today and it all starts with internal marketing – that’s where all of these organisations are failing.

I don’t want to make light of this.  For these organisations, each of which have among the worst industrial relations records in Britain, it’s a tough challenge.  Why these three in particular?  Well, there’s a clear common denominator here – they are all old public companies.  People who joined public sector organisations in the past and probably to some extent today, are motivated differently from those in the commercial sector.  They rarely think so, but it’s true however you cut it.  Order, rules that protect them from having to do absolutely anything that isn’t in their buttoned-down contracts of employment, endless holiday entitlement and decent money that turns up every month, regardless of how hard they work and how much they care – this is the world of the public sector employee.  Unless employees have a sense of belonging, commitment and shared responsibility, these organisations will never transform themselves into the lean commercial machines they simply have to be to survive, yet the employees who are at the centre of these rows are those with contracts that date from the pre-privatisation era and the self-interest that goes with them.

The reality is that while the world has moved on these organisations struggle to keep pace with a millstone around their necks.  That millstone being employees who are determined to stay right where they are.  It’s no coincidence that this is exactly what is happening in the former Communist countries.  Twenty years on from the Velvet Revolution it’s still a challenge to motivate Czech workers who spent fifty years just going through the motions while collecting the same money every month and commentators are now coming to the conclusion that it will take a few more generations before Czechs are attuned to commercial reality.

Once an organisation knows the scope of its resources, has a strategy and has defined their brand and its “promise”, the task is to get every stakeholder (and this isn’t just employees) fully committed to playing their part in the delivery of that promise.  That means telling them what that promise is, explaining why it has to be that way and helping every one of them understand what they can uniquely do on a day-by-day basis to help ensure the promise is delivered and, just as importantly, helping them fill the gaps in their skills base so that they can do it even better.  If you get this right there’s no argument and it will happen.  In the rare cases where a minority feel that they have some right to override the strategy that everyone else has signed up to, they’ll be neutralised by the commitment of the majority.  Apart from anything else, that’s one of the principles of change management.

It’s not surprising that businesses are only now waking up to what internal marketing is really about.  For years a remit of HR managers, internal marketing has only recently been handed to the people equipped to do the job – marketers – and we still have a lot of catching up to do.  One group who need to catch up most are marketing services organisations but this awakening could be the salvation of many, who, as we all know, are desperate for new ways to bond with clients and new sources of revenue.

A modern internal marketing campaign demands high levels of skills in all areas of communication.  I devised an internal marketing initiative for a retailer that involved teams of employees from each store competing in a national product and process knowledge quiz with regional heats, national finals and a grand finale in the capital.  Among other things, it involved event production, logistics, building a supporting web site and streaming videos of the contests, so we needed multimedia production skills and it also required that we bussed supporters to each event.  That’s what modern internal marketing looks like and if you want to get your employees on-side you need to start thinking about initiatives like this.

It may come as a surprise to the folks at the Post Office, BA and British Gas, but there are workforces in Britain and elsewhere who are taking wage cuts, accepting shorter working weeks, introducing new work practices and taking on extra responsibility because of their commitment to the brand community.  Internal marketing has always been the key to success.  In the new economy its the key to survival.