Category Archives: change

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.

Building Brand Britain

Over that last week or so, prompted by the UK riots, we Brits have listened to endless analyses and proclamations by local community members, civil servants and politicians centred on fixing our “broken society”.  As always with these situations, there has been plenty of scepticism heaped on the potential any new initiative has for success.  However, there is only one real obstacle to all the remedial plans announced by David Cameron and others and that’s motivation.

I believe that Dave is a good motivator and getting better, he talks sense, even though his opponent Ed Miliband, seems intent on trying to neutralise that with mindless and responsible political point-scoring.  (If I were him I’d shut up before people started to realise that it’s the left-wing, crap that his party has expounded for decades that has given certain sectors of society the idea that they have rights they haven’t earned and therefore created this disaffection).

The marketers among us will recognise the task facing us as brand-building and as anybody reading this blog over the last few years will know building Brand Britain is one of my pet subjects. The problem is that we have singularly failed to respond to the obvious need to develop Brand Britain and we still don’t have the right people in harness to tackle the job.  Forget the political masseurs, data-analysis’s and bean-counters, where are the marketers in the team?  Without them we won’t get past first base because the people who are currently in the driving seat simply don’t get it.

Over the past few years I have approached politicians, government departments, local councils and private enterprises with initiatives designed to help build Brand Britain.  In many cases, because I have always believed that unemployment and local business initiatives are both inextricably linked and critical to the cause, these initiatives have addressed local unemployment, been designed to strengthen communities and help the mid-sized local businesses who are the key to the future of our nation, shift up a gear and take on the world.

The responses I have received from the public sector jobs-worths in particular, though unsurprising have been nonetheless frustrating.  Unimaginative Job Centre Plus employees civil servants and local councillors have simply disregarded projects and initiatives as representing just another unwelcome task.  There’s no point and very little scope for public sector workers like these to adopt an initiative that’s not dictated letter by letter from Whitehall because their world isn’t a meritocracy.  Why should they take on something they aren’t compelled to?  There’s nothing in it for them.  Besides, these people aren’t employed for their creativity and they are entombed in a culture that actively discourages any kind of creative thinking, so expecting them to appreciate any concept is always an ask too far.

Life skills that should have been taught throughout a person’s school life, if not at the cradle, are belatedly outsourced by Job Centre Plus to HR and recruitment companies.  I’ve spoken to a few of these contractors.  They view these projects with the glee of a paedophile assigned to changing room duty at kids swimming gala and submit proposals that represent minimal input and maximum income for them with the balls-out cheek that comes from knowing the people assigning these projects don’t have the first idea what they are doing and are just relieved to have a tick in the “assigned” box.  When I have gone to these organisations to volunteer help and advice, the response has been eerily uniform and something to the effect that “…we‘ve managed to blag the approval of the JCP people for this half-baked programme, so there’s nothing in it for us if we actually do the job properly”.

These are the kinds of issues that will threaten any British brand development programme and unless someone wakes up pretty quickly and recognises that we ARE building a brand and therefore need to follow the appropriate process, we are destined to failure once again.  That means someone (Dave will do) having a clear picture of what Brand Britain looks like and starting with the mother of all internal marketing campaigns that will bring the public sector and government puppet masters into line behind the concept.  The public are motivated, the players are listening and we’re unlikely to find ourselves with a better promise of success for a brand building venture than now this side of World War Three.

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.

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.

Today’s great, untapped opportunity for marketing services firms

I have just been reading a report of a speech by agency CEO Brian Weiner that was written by Jodi Harris for iMedia Connection.  It seems that Brian like so many in our industry have identified the problem facing our sector, but is his remedy correct?  I’ll leave you to decide.  For my part, I firmly belive that the model for the agency of the future is well established already. I started my Full Effect Company twenty years ago and today it exactly matches the needs of today’s clients.

We focus on “integrated marketing” and don’t, as so many who use the term do, limit our horizons to “integrated communications” and call it “marketing” – that’s just sellotape marketing.

We place the brand at the centre of the organisation, adapting core communications skills to build powerful brand communities, comprising lasting customer relationships that massively improve efficiency, which is the single thing that separates commercial success and failure.

We are not only media neutral, but address all the issues that influence the success of an organisation in a single end-to-end strategy, because that’s the only sensible way to work. Marketing services firms with traditional structures and practices can’t do this.

We have a defined way of working that is nothing like any agency I have come across and a network of independent experts covering the total range of marketing (not mere marketing communications because that just doesn’t work) disciplines who come together in infinite permutations to deliver the appropriate formula. Traditional agency structures can’t do this and are forced to deliver compromised solutions.

Even from the modest sample of comments on the iMedia piece, it seems that I am not the only one to have cracked this, although I am probably one of the early movers and today I advise agencies around the world as they develop their own models and take them to market. The millions of dollars in incremental billings that my agency clients have won as a result are testament to Full Effect Marketing and the undoubted opportunities that are emerging in the new world economy. So I certainly agree with Brian Weiner on one point – there are tremendous opportunities right now for marketing services firms that “get it” …   largely because there are so  many that don’t!

Are marketing services failing clients?

I don’t agree with Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts on everything, but there’s a big overlap in our thinking and, hey, differences are what prompts innovation and make the world go round, so that’s good.  Yes?

The thing is that on the fundamentals we are on the same page and its always reassuring to know, when, as we marketers do, you are ploughing the lonely innovation furrow, that someone of Kevin’s gravitas agrees with you, at least in part.  That’s why I was delighted to hear him make three key points in an interview in Singapore recently (he probably made many more) that really resounded with me.

  1. The current economic situation is causing far more radical change than most people still realise and it’s going to go on for a year or two yet.  As a result, business leaders are desperate for ideas, but nervous of change, so the ideas that we take to them have to be bigger, better and more than ever before, grounded in sound commercial thinking.
  2. Marketing services businesses (Kevin focusses on Ad. agencies, I’d put brand consultancies up there too but all the other disciplines are failing their clients too) are generally way behind their clients and end users/consumers when it comes to realising what’s happening and responding to it (which, given that we are paid to be thought-leaders, is pretty damning)
  3. Awards are becoming counter-productive.  They are encouraging agency people to entrench in old-thinking.  It’s almost as though given their failure to deliver in the real world, agencies are retreating to a world of mutual admiration inhabited solely by their peers.

Where maybe I differ from Kevin is that I believe that its our job to lead our clients.  Not just to give them great ideas, but to help them fully exploit them.  This requires bigger thinking.  I am trying to go much further than most agencies, by not only coming up with new creative ideas, but having ideas about how business can change and reshape themselves, communicate internally as well as externally and do new things operationally that will enable them to get more out of the ideas.  And I go further than that even, because, as I just said, business leaders are not only desperate for ideas, but nervous of change too, so its my job as a marketer (and if you are a marketer, its your job too) to help them along the way with implementation.  That’s why I spent months working with buyers at a supermarket group to get them to think differently about their role and what they were buying and why I just devoted weeks to convincing a software organisation to take another look at the environment their otherwise great software creates for users, before they take it to market.

Sure its a lot of work, but that’s the game we are in now.  Be sure about that!

Innovate your way through recession

You might be persuaded otherwise by the actions of some organisations, but now is the time to innovate.  And before you respond with the old “we can’t afford it” argument, let me tell you that every piece of evidence proves beyond any doubt that far from not being able to afford innovation, you simply can’t afford not to right now.  If you think the recession hit hard and fast, you ain’t seen nothing yet!  If your organisation is sitting there with its metaphorical head between its knees, you’ll know what I mean when the recession starts to lift and your competitors who have had their thinking hats on for the last months kick your sorry backside!

The trick to innovating in recession is no different to the basic rule in boom times.  In fact its the fundamental of every aspect of all business at any time and if you’ve been on this blog before you’ll know what’s coming next … efficiency!  Efficiency is ultimately the only thing that separates successful organisations from unsuccessful ones and, by and large we are all pretty bad at it.  The thing is that most of the time we can get away with being … so-so.  In recession however you really have walk the talk! Yes, tough markets sort out the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff and by and large this time around the recession is definitely reducing the number of half-baked businesses.

The starting point for innovating efficiently is the same as the starting point for efficiency in every area of your business – focus, and the kind of focus I am talking about is the kind that comes from having a clearly defined brand encapsulated in a concise and straightforward Brand Model, such as that which I create with my Brand Discovery programme.

Among many other things, a Brand Model gives any organisation the criteria by which to judge the suitability of everything you do and used properly will enable you to prioritise, cut those ideas that aren’t going to support your Brand Promise, help those you decide to run contribute something truly worthwhile to your business and ensure that tactical initiatives have maximum long term value – that’s efficiency!

Over that last few months I have seen an increase in the number of calls  from organisations who are fine-tuning their brands and this is encouraging.  How they go about it though is sometimes a bit of a worry.  I have just spent some time with a national UK set-up that brought in one of the big consulting firms at colossal expense to help them with this and the result was very disappointing.  The consultancy came in, helped them create something approximating a brand model, which itself left a lot to be desired, and then walked away and left them to it.  Sadly this is a common experience.

A lot of folks don’t realise that building a brand model is one thing, but bringing it to life is where the challenge lies.  The model is really just the working drawings.  To turn it into something concrete – and that includes leveraging its capability to generate business-building ideas – means taking a new perspective on your business.  This in itself represents a radical change for some organisations and involves introducing new practices and maintaining a high level of discipline, all while running the day-to-day business as usual.  Its tough and, believe me it rarely works unless you have to have someone dedicated to keeping it all on track.  Some organisations employ their own brand champion, which really should be at board level, because they need to carry that kind of weight within the organisation, but it makes sense for most businesses to bring in consultants and that’s what I do.

On this foundation you can start building your “ideas organisation”.  Canvassing ideas from within your organisation is a campaign in itself, especially if its new to your culture.  You first have to start by reassuring everyone  that regardless of their level or function, their ideas are as likely as anybody’s  to be that golden key to the future of the business .  I once turned an idea from a junior secretary into a successful new business unit for one of my clients and you could do the same.  Believe me the key to a really great future is probably rattling around the head of one of your employees as we speak.

Once you are generating ideas you’ll need a process for selecting them and developing those that show promise.  Your Brand Model will be an immense help in this, but you still have to set out your day-to-day approach.  I find that its useful for a lot of reasons to offer the person who came up with the idea a role in its development – its motivating and it helps them develop new skills.  You have to decide how you want to set up and run your project teams – one for each idea currently in development – at what points you review projects and what criteria you will introduce at each review.  Its also a good idea to have a reporting system that feeds back to your employees, to maintain their interest and commitment to ideation.

When you have an “ideas organisation” culture, the support of your employees and the processes in place to develop the ideas you’ll be generating ideas, assessing their potential and bringing the most promising ones to market more quickly and efficiently that you probably imagine.  You can fine-tune all the elements of your innovation programme as you go, but ultimately you can’t help but be successful.  Remember, ideas are the currency of business and the race is on to emerge from the recession like a bullet from a gun with all the momentum that only new ideas can generate.