Category Archives: communications

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?

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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.

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.

Maximising marketing efficency. It’s the old strategic v. tactical debate again!

had an interesting discussion with an agency founder the other day that reminded me why I started The Full Effect Company and took to championing the “integrated” cause.

When I set up The Full Effect Company my proposition centred on marketing communications rather than marketing, but while my horizon has broadened the same principle holds true.  When you really get down to business, its efficiency, nothing more or less, that separates success from failure.

And that’s what integrated marketing is all about – getting every element of a business pointing in the same direction.  In the area of marketing communications the elements operate on two levels – strategic and tactical.  Strategic is about building your community, making your customers feel at home and comfortable so they stick around, spend more time (and money) with you and even help you add members (customers).  Tactical, on the other hand, is all about short-term, prompting actions, introductions, sales. (over-simplification I know, but I’m talking to people who know this anyway, so I don’t need to state the obvious)

The thing to remember in all this is that while the influence of strategic communications can only ever be long-term, tactical communications will always not only constitute a call to action, but have a strategic influence as well.  Its unavoidable.  It’s there in the style of execution, the language and the graphics you use. Ignore it at your peril because it will go on working anyway and if you don’t manage it, it could actually be undermining your message and neutralising the investment you have in it.  On the other hand, when the tactical messages support aspects of the bigger strategic idea the relationship become synergistic.  If you make the most of the strategic element within your tactical communications you’ll increase your efficiency significantly and get a whole lot bigger bang for your buck.  And that’s where I started my Full Effect Marketing mission to increase my clients’ efficiency.  I’ve moved on a bit since then, but it’s still the fundamental principle behind all that I do.

While I see increasing evidence that businesses are understanding and exploiting this principle, there’s still a long way to go and it’s certainly not just the small guys who need the lessons.  The friend I mentioned at the start of this piece and I both had first-hand experience of major international organisations with problems that were symptomatic of them forgetting this basic strategic/tactical rule.

A while back I was called into a series of meeting with a major telco who were complaining that they weren’t getting value from their marcoms investment.  They had a strategic message that was getting more woolly by the day and were investing heavily in creating numerous short-term campaigns from scratch each year.  Their problems were two-fold.  Firstly their tactical campaigns were always short and very expensive, so they never had the opportunity to really get up a head of steam and fully repay the investment made in them.  Secondly the tactical messages were so diverse and disconnected from their strategic message that they were not just missing the opportunity for synergy, but sending out confusing, if not contradictory messages that just muddied the water.  This in turn meant their relationships with their customers (Brandships) weren’t as strong as they could be. Yes, it was all very inefficient.

Sadly, while they didn’t disagree with me, the remedy I suggested had political implications that they just weren’t prepared to contemplate.  As is often the case, I was talking to the marketing department and my solution suggested both a change of process and structure and a reduction in head-count, a suggestion that echoed rather hollowly inside their ivory tower.  Oddly enough my friend had a very similar story from a different sector.  Needless to say, faced with an impasse like this my relationship with this telco was short, but by way of my vindication, they were reported in the press last month as having exactly the problem I defined for them, so the cracks are now plain for all to see.  You would think it would be back to basics for them then?  However, I’m not expecting the phone call any day soon!

The key to this kind of efficiency lies in what I call the Brand Model. In the case of my Brand Discovery programme, this is a definition of a brand using eleven parameters, including a promise and a considered set of facts that make that promise credible. If once you have a Brand Model in place you assess every planned initiative in the context of its contribution to or reflection of the promise and these support facts, you’ll not go far wrong.  In the context of your marketing communications this should result in campaign elements with tactical messages that hard-underline one of the support facts and place it in the context of your strategic message.  People who are really good at this are Tesco in the UK with their tactically led messages that culminate with their strap-line “Every little helps”. Philips Electronics’ “Sense and Simplicity” which not only translates back to their product design briefs but results in advertising where the “sense” and “simplicity” are always demonstrated (and these words quoted religiously in headlines and body copy) and to a lesser extent Specsavers’ “I should have gone to …” message.

Until more businesses focus on squeezing the maximum strategic benefit from their tactical initiatives and messages and thereby achieve full efficiency, it’s hard to justify, in these cash-strapped times any purely strategic initiatives.

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!

Social marketing – the Emperor’s New Clothes?

The survey published last week by Forrester and GSI Commerce seems to have put the cat among the social networking pigeons.  Now that our great new toy is proven to contribute no more than 2% to sales, all manner of doubts over the effectiveness of social marketing are finally being voiced.  Is the next big thing turning out to have been The Emperor’s New Clothes?

I’ve just spent the best part of a year creating a business unit that relied partly on social media, but throughout I found I was resisting pressure from my client to make social media the main strand of the strategy.  I’m sure that I am not alone in this experience.  After all, there are a lot of bright young things in consultancies with really funky names whose livelihood depends on them convincing folks that social marketing is all a business needs these days.  While common sense would tell you that many of the claims made for social don’t add up, it has seemed for a while that the momentum of the social media movement intimidated doubters into silence.  What Forrester has done is given these reluctant doubters license to tell it as they saw it all along.

Actually, I’m a believer in social media, but I’m a believer in all media so that’s no big deal.  What I don’t belive is that any medium is a panacea.  Social media like any other only work as an element of a bigger formula and, like all the other tools in our box, have to be managed.  In fact, if you want to get the best out of social media, you’ll find that they are actually quite labour intensive, so you should approach with caution.

You’ll also note that I have been trying to avoid referring to social media as “it”.  Social media come in many guises, so it’s definitely a case of “them” and its unlikely you’ll need them all.  The trick is to choose those that work for you and incorporate them with things like trad advertising, DM, PR, search, promotions, buzz, roaching and anything else that makes sense and play around with the formula until you find the mix that delivers the biggest return on the smallest investment.

For example FaceBook, may not be particularly effective in a BtoC strategy, but, if you are looking for a BtoB tool its going to be even less of a bargain.  After all, it makes no sense to try to strike up a business conversation with someone in a purely social forum, that’s not why they are there.  Forrster’s analysis tells us that on-line advertising and SEO are far more effective, but SEO only makes sense if a worthwhile number of prospects are using a manageable number of search terms.  In a recent project of mine there were dozens of search terms and key-words being used, each so infrequently that even if we could have resourced the SEO required to handle them all, it wouldn’t have produced a viable result.

The resourcing conundrum strikes again when a BtoC marketer hits social marketing pay-dirt.  I was recently involved with a restaurant chain that simply couldn’t manage a fraction of their mentions on Twitter and Face Book.  This meant that the numbers used to justify their social marketing strategy in the first place were meaningless. Marketing #101 – don’t invest in creating opportunities (and therefore expectations) that you can’t respond to.  Not only is it wasteful and therefore inefficient, but it pisses people off!

There’s no doubt that like many other business tools that have emerged over the years, Social Marketing has been over-hyped.  This is partly because some of the people doing the hyping don’t really understand it, or in fact marketing generally.  Social is a great idea and the tools that it embraces all undoubtedly have their uses, but that doesn’t mean that you have to take them all on board.  In fact, it may not be for you at all and it certainly isn’t a panacea.  Like any other medium, social will only work as a part of an integrated marketing strategy.

What Forrester have done is introduce a much-needed and timely element of realism to the situation.  Now we all have license to question the social media evangelists and I am sure social marketing will find its place among the many other tools that skilled and experienced marketers can combine into effective, integrated strategies.

Are you running a business or pursuing a hobby?

I realise that TV shows like Mary Queen of Shops, Country House Rescue and my favourite (if only because I could watch Alex Polizzi doing anything all day)  The Hotel Inspector, despite being formulaic and often contrived are the current entertainment of choice, but what I’m really waiting for is a series of “the ones that got away”.

I’m just itching to see the cases that sent the celeb consultants screaming out of the door, if only because I need the reassurance of knowing for sure it’s not just me who occasionally encounters a hopeless case that simply won’t be helped, or for which there is just no hope.

I’m currently going through that process of mental double-checking every option explored or unexplored that I guess every business consultant goes through before declaring a “patient” DOA.  My nemesis has proved to be a small advertising agency with a £1.5million turnover and accumulating losses that came to me at the beginning of the year.

I believe there is a solution to every business problem and the biggest obstacle to success, as in this case, is usually prejudice, laziness or obstinacy of top management, who despite consistent failure, insist on perpetuating the same model or set of practices.  Who was it who said “Insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting a different outcome”? What is really frustrating about this case is that the solution was pretty obvious.

The people at this agency are getting on in years and looking for an exit that they quickly discovered didn’t exist.  Their stated losses were modest enough, but when I took a closer look I discovered that the three partners, who were independently wealthy, weren’t paying themselves a salary, which made the real picture rather more of a nightmare.  Strangely, this isn’t the first time I have come across a business where owners were not paying themselves and been forced to point out that they were not a business (which makes money), but a hobby (which burns it)

Working as I often do with marketing services firms I always start with the perspective that whatever discipline they may lead with, a marketing services firm is a consultancy.  A position which carries with it two clear responsibilities.  The first is that you must know more about your subject than your clients do.  This may sound obvious, but I often find client/agency relationships that are a bit like the blind leading the blind.  Assuming you qualify on the first point you should be advising your client not taking instruction, otherwise there is no reason for your existence.

Explanations for the failure of this business were turning up under every stone I turned:

  • The principal of this business told me with pride that he had never in his life stepped foot in any other advertising agency and didn’t know what they did or how they worked.
  • In fact they had never conducted a competitive review and were oblivious to who their competitors were or what they were offering.
  • Neither had they undertaken a client review.
  • None of the employees had worked in other marketing services firms either, so their “training” had all been at the hands of their agency principal.  Consequently their perspective was as narrow as the business.
  • In an era where integrated marketing is accepted as essential this agency operated in a very narrow field indeed.  All they offered was local press advertising!  Account handlers positively resisted the idea of offering additional comms, probably because they didn’t know anything about them.
  • The business operated on the commission model where, as an NPA recognised agency (remember those?) they received a 15% commission payment from publishers, which they used to pay for the design and artwork they provided.  I don’t know of another agency that still operates this system, simply because it doesn’t work.  For one thing any agency, regardless of “recognition” gets 15% discount from publishers these days and for another, 15% of the space cost is rarely enough to cover the cost of design and production when the majority of the space you are dealing with is in local newspapers.
  • They “sold” advertising space rather than advised on media strategy and account handlers were paid on commission, just like a media sales rep.  They also did pretty much what their clients asked if it meant selling some space.
  • Senior management had no contact with clients and I was refused access to them because the account handlers wouldn’t allow it!!!  Work that one out!
  • Their in-house management system, including job-bag management and invoicing was all done BY HAND!  Yes, you read that right.  What’s more, they were adamant that this was better than a computerised system.  I haven’t seen that much paper since Wiggins Teape was a client of mine!

The list goes on, but you get the idea.  However, without giving too much away, after speaking to local businesses, business networks, competitors, local media and other marketing services providers, I identified an opportunity for my client to create a model that catered for small businesses and even outlined a plan for growing the business nationally.  This was obviously going to take the founders out of their comfort zone, but they weren’t planning on being around for long, so that was hardly the point.  My job was to make their business attractive to potential investors.

I wasn’t entirely surprised though, when the owners decided not to adopt my strategy.  It had become clear to me early on that they weren’t removing themselves from the situation.  Comments like “But we like the business as it is” and “What we really want is someone to come in with a few new clients” were commonplace, despite me pointing out that the business was losing significant sums mainly because there aren’t any clients left for whom the agency’s offer was relevent.

So, this is one for the “ones that got away” file.  A fruitless exercise, but maybe not a waste of my time because its always good to have an insight into markets and in this case I have awoken to an opportunity that some other small agency might make work.  It also reinforces my belief that businesses fail, largely because they deserve to and that a great many small businesses should start by deciding whether they are running a business or pursuing a hobby.