Category Archives: innovation

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.

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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?

The very sad loss of Graham Rust.

Some days are just sad and today has been made so for me by the news that Graham Rust died in Prague yesterday.  You may have read the piece I posted here a few months back when Graham announced that he’d had enough of chemotherapy and was instead taking a trip … around Europe.  My feelings then were a combination of anger at the injustice and delight at the way he responded. I think those of us who knew him realised the inevitabilty of his all too early exit, but it nonethless leaves a hole in your life when someone you respect dies.

Tributes are already emerging from people who knew him longer and better than I, but at the risk of being as unoriginal as many of us look alongside Graham I just want to add my tuppence-worth.

I am sure there are many people around who met Graham without realising just how impressive his life has been, such was his humility.  A genuine mould-breaker he seemed to love what he did and did what he loved and it showed in the great ideas he has left us.

The agency he founded in Prague is a reflection of his personality and approach to life and work.  He achieved balance in most things that I particularly respect, tough and sympathetic, creative and organised – I loved the way he made work lists like an engineer, but tackled the problems they represented like the most liberated creative and he never lost his absolute glee for a neat solution.

We were the same age, but Graham taught me things that I am grateful for as he did the people who he took on and mentored at his agency.  There are many ad. people in Prague and elsewhere who owe their place in the business and their understanding of the work to this truly good bloke.

Aplogies to Richard Laurence Baron from whose blog I stole this great photo.  My only excuse being that I’m in Saudi Arabia at the moment and don’t have a shot of my own to use.

Innovation – When less is definitely more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brand stewardship – what’s it mean to you?

Last week I was put on the spot when someone asked me for my views on “brand stewardship”. Apart from the fact that its like asking for my view on world peace – I could either just say “I’m in favour of it” or talk for three hours –  the term “brand stewardship” poses a question in itself.  I mean what is it?  What’s the difference between “stewardship” and “management” or “development” and, given that anything to do with a brand touches on every aspect of a business, where should I start (or end for that matter)?

Let’s begin with nomenclature.  My guess is that someone, somewhere, at some time in the past, came up with the “stewardship” concept in order to accommodate the fact that the closest we can ever get to owning a brand is in the role of minder.  But why not “management”?  I assume that this must be based on the belief that “management” sounds a bit too formal and structured for something that is very human and organic.  So far, even though I have a loathing of the terminology that marketing people think up to make themselves appear smart, but actually just confuses everybody, I can live with all of this and if I’m right, I guess I understand the question and whether you call it stewardship, management or development it’s all about caring for a brand.  I’m going to assume that a brand steward is like the steward of a golf club – he’s there to make sure processes are adhered to and everything is kept in shape but he/she doesn’t have an executive role. So, let me try to summarise my views on “brand stewardship”.

I must have explained my understanding of what a brand is hundreds of times, but to this day defining “brand” even among the “marketers” who participate, remains a critical component of most of my workshops and seminars.  Such are the vagaries and inconsistencies within the marketing business.  I view brands as communities, which, like any other is really just a group of people with something (or things) in common.  A large part of this is values and beliefs. Some members of a brand community create a product or services that reflect these beliefs and values and others buy and use them.

People buy BMW’s because Brandenbergischen Motorenwerke belive in things like quality, engineering excellence and innovation and the cars and motorcycles they produce are manifestations of that.  If you need a car and  these things are important to you, its logical that you’ll feel comfortable in the BMW community.  Similarly, Apple is all about innovation and style, so if these subjects are important to you, you’ll probably own a Mac., i-Phone or i-Pad.

These brands and others have taken the time and trouble to drive awareness of what they stand for and as a result the brands themselves have become icons for a clearly defined set of values – you have YUPPIES driving BMWs and then there’s “white van man”.  Provided the reality measures up to the promise you’ll have the reassurance of knowing what to expect from a product wearing a familiar label.  It works the other way too.  Owning a BMW or a Mac is a badge of belonging to a community – a symbol of your beliefs – and because, as Maslow revealed, most of us are insecure, sales of many products are driven by people who have a need to wear a badge denoting our belonging to a group.  Why else would we wear clothing large areas of which are taken up with advertisements for their manufacturers?

However, this is a bit simplistic.  Few people, for instance, will find a single brand community that represents everything they stand for so most of us combine a portfolio of brands to represent different aspects of our belief system.  If you think of a brand community as a residential community you’ll recognise that you choose to live in a place because it is “your kind of place” but because the brand thing is not exclusive, when you move in you bring the trappings of your other communities with you.  In this way, while joining the community may broaden your horizons, at the same time, to some extent, you’ll enrich the community with the stuff you bring with you.  That explains why brand communities are constantly changing.

All truly great brands are like Marmite. However broad and diversified your brand community may be you are never going to appeal to everyone, and you shouldn’t want to.  Brands with broad appeal are inherently weak because, along with the need to belong we also have a need to express our individuality.  That’s where quirky niche brands play their part in life’s rich tapestry.  A strong brand is normally vivid or distinctive and while stark differentiation like this means it won’t be to everyone’s taste, distinctive brands will foster deep relationships with community members (I call these “Brandships”) and strong loyalty.  These factors are the keys to sales, profit and longevity.

Difference is very often synonymous with newness.  Its relatively easy to be different when you are the new kid on the block, but the success that your newness drives will take you ever closer to becoming “the establishment”.  The more successful you become the greater the challenge of maintaining your difference becomes.  A successful brand will recognise that it is the difference of the products it makes rather than the products themselves that is responsible for their success and as their products become familiar and competitors bring look-alikes to market, they’ll find new ways of representing “difference”, just as Apple have done by constantly changing their products and introducing radical new ideas.  Of course, some new products and ideas will fail, but failure is good because it is a product of innovation, change, experimentation.  While longevity can be a valuable and reassuring asset it is important to recognise that having been around for a long time may not count for much if you’ve not changed anything about your business in all that time.

Brand stewardship in many ways is just the same as any kind of management or indeed parenthood.  Its mostly about facilitation, providing the scope, tools and resources and opening the doors to opportunity, guiding where necessary, but avoiding imposing your own values or rules on your charge.  Its about providing opportunities for discourse, listening to what your members are saying both to you and each other, providing what they need to do the things they want to do (Which also means predicting what they will need in the future), offering up suggestions and being around to fix things that go wrong.  In other words, providing access, introducing communications like on-line or social networking, fuelling and being involved in discussion, collecting insights and data, analysing it and developing products and services that because of all of this you can be confident your community will welcome and generally policing.

In order to do all of this you first of all have to be absolutely clear what the brand and its community is all about – its that values and beliefs thing again – and to do this you’ll need a methodology to help you condense, what is a complex thing into as simple a form as possible.  My Brand Discovery programme introduces such methodology and using it any business can create an eleven-element Brand Model that will sum up their brand.  But that’s just the beginning.  You then have to apply it to your business, making sure that the actions you take on every level of the organisation reflect and support the essence of your brand.  That will take a brand Steward into every corner of your business where he/she will influence pretty well everything that is done.  This can be a risky job in organisations that don’t already have a team-playing culture, which is why Brand Discovery also provides an ongoing management system that engages everyone in the organisation, gives them the tools they need to ensure that their decisions and actions are aligned to the brand promise and ensuring they are fully involved in the process of keeping your brand alive.

Good brand stewardship drives things like Cupidtino the new dating service for Apple users, Saturn’s annual owners factory tour, Yeti bikes’ bashes, Harley Davidson’s HOG chapters and many other different elements of the communities of discerning brands around the world.  Good brand stewardship is the reason why innovative organisations innovate and efficient businesses are efficient, but, as I said earlier, it’s a very big subject and this is a very simple answer.  If you want the whole nine-yards we’ll need a much longer discussion.

Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?

I’m endebted to Jerry Daykin and WantandBlog for Tweeting me the link to this masterful example of integrated social communications.  Its opportunities for creating stuff like this that gets me out of bed each morning!  For once there’s nothing I can add!

Don’t just watch the video I have embedded though, go to the site itself and get involved. Enjoy!

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.