Category Archives: strategy


Is your business run by a monkey?

The Chimp Paradox


Do you find that you waste a lot of time and effort on initiatives that aren’t strictly “on strategy” or don’t produce results that are on your list of KPIs?  These days no business can afford inefficiency, and this kind of wastage is one of the worst, but as pressure mounts in the boardroom to perform in increasingly tougher markets it seems to be happening more and more.  Could it be the “Chimp inside”?

As my regular readers will know, I often compare aspects of sport and sportspeople with people and practices in business.  I have also, in the past spoken both here and in my seminars, on how primal instincts influence purchase decisions.  Now the two topics have come together in a book by the sports psychologist Steve Peters called “The Chimp Paradox”.

Steve is the man attributed with the success of the British cycling team, but has a string of other high profile successes to his name.  His theory, very quickly explained, is that our primal instincts of fight or flight cause us to make advance judgements of our likelihood of success in any given challenge which, even though our rational side may be conditioned to rise to the challenge anyway, will always take the edge off our performance.  Somewhere in the back of your mind when you line up on the starting blocks alongside Usein Bolt, something in the back of your mind will tell you don’t have a payer!  That little voice is your Chimp.

The idea that I have explored in the past relative to purchasing decisions is that our primal instincts pre-condition us to buy the stuff we love.  We try to be all grown-up of course, but that little voice is always telling us “You know you want it” so we take the plunge and then try to rationalise the decision with a load of argument and spreadsheets that confirm we made an entirely emotionless, practical decision.  Forget it, you didn’t.

What Steve Peters does is help athletes train their chimp.  He admits that he can’t take it’s influence out of your personal struggle entirely, but he says his success has come from showing sportspeople how to manage their chimp.  We can all do this, some of us, admittedly, better than others and once we do, the chimp’s influence can be diminished and performance increases, but the tougher the challenge, the more likely you are to revert to chimp mode and its my belief that this is what we are witnessing in many of our boardrooms today.

You have to accept that there is another influence going on here too.  After all, some people are just better at handling pressure than others so their “chimp threshold” is higher, but it seems likely that these factors are tightly bound together.  I’ve seen and heard of many businesses, large and small, whose approach to business has been swinging around all over the place.  Managers have been issued with instructions to initiate unplanned activity or initiatives, or change priorities in ways that appear to have no bearing on the original strategy, not always a bad thing in the appropriate context, but all too often they prove to be a waste of time, money and effort.

This kind of behaviour is the product of poorly managed chimps responding to immediate issues.  For example, a CEO who is driven primarily by sales targets can lose sight of the fact that maybe the sales targets should change or the KPIs switched to something else rather than change the marketing strategy.

Chimps gain greatest influence and do most mischief in organistions with a short-term focus.  The time scales of those businesses that haven’t yet recognised that tactically-driven businesses almost always fail, create acute pressure on senior managers to “appear to be doing something” when sales slip.  I’m not saying that they should just kick-back and let the slide continue, but short-termists rarely take their time to study the big picture and often the actions needed to reverse a short-term decline will counter vital actions within the longer-term strategy.  Short-termists hand control over to the chimp.  If they were good enough at handling pressure to be able to take a step back and view the long-term consequences of their current performance they would be less likely to damage the business that investors actually invested in.

Knee-jerk management is never a good thing, but as pressure mounts it becomes increasingly difficult to manage the chimp.  The paradox is, that its when pressure is at its highest its the time you least need a monkey in the driving seat!


Bridging the gap between insights and action

A while ago I sat through a credentials presentation by the MD of one of the leading international data management consultancies.  At one point in the process a slide came up and the presenter went into a series of claims saying that they had shown so-and-so organisation how to save twenty million pounds and another client how to save thirty million etc.  Now, I’ve been in these situations before and even if I hadn’t, I would have been sensitive to the weasel, so I asked the obvious question.  “So, you showed them how to save all this money, what did they actually save?”  – Stunned silence.

It quickly became clear that the consultancy didn’t know how much some of the organisations in question had saved, or even if they had saved anything at all, because their proposals often weren’t acted upon.  In other cases the saving was minimal or nothing.  This isn’t unusual of course.  The ideas that the consultancy had offered were probably quite sound, but the problem that all these people have is that their clients are rarely capable of introducing the changes to processes or programmes that the data identifies as necessary and they themselves are not equipped to help beyond the point, at best, of identifying the kind of action required.

Its a few years ago that Jim Taylor in his book Space Race was lamenting the failure of advertising agencies to respond to their clients’ demands  for integrated solutions, but, sadly, things haven’t improved much.  The management consultancies as Jim prophesied, have taken the lead and the ad-agencies have just watched them disappear in a cloud of dust over the marketing horizon.  This is perhaps understandable when you consider that advertising agencies have for decades sat at the head of their clients’ marketing support roster, but things move on and today the traditional advertising role is revealed for what it is – just a very small corner of the bigger picture.  Sure, its a tough pill to swallow when you are used to being king of the hill, but I find it disappointing that even today the majority of advertising people I come across continue to describe what they do as “integrated marketing” which only illustrates how far they are away from understanding the wider landscape or the role they could play in it.  In fact, there are significant new opportunities for advertising agencies in the world of new model marketing that, if they just gave up trying to persuade us that they are still running the show, they could adjust to and solve the problem of their dwindling revenues.  I know, I’ve introduced a few agencies to these new opportunities and helped them add tens of millions of dollars in incremental billings as a result.

What clients need is an end-to-end seamless process for delivering truly integrated strategies and if the marketing services sector doesn’t come up with a model that works clients have no other option, but to take control, assemble narrowly focused marketing services specialists into project teams and make them work to eye-wateringly constrictive briefs.  I’ve helped a few clients of mine put teams like these together.  They are not for everybody, but they work well once you have all the resources.

The biggest impediment to achieving the single-source, end-to-end solution is culture.  At one end of the process sit the data nerds whose lives are written in binary code.  At the other are the creative advertising folks.  They don’t make good neighbours at the best of times, but trying to get them to agree on a single business model is a little like introducing George Dubya to a MENSA convention.  The reason that the management consultancies, as Jim Taylor predicted, are doing so well out of this, is that they sit with their structures and practices perspective, somewhere in the middle.  They aren’t great at data or creative, but manage a sort of average attempt at a solution that’s acceptable, in a businesslike sort of way, to a lot of half-arsed client organisations.

It seems to me that the people to watch right now, even though they probably have further to travel than any of the other players, are the aformentioned data folks.  Sapient and Experian appear to be leading the field, but are taking different routes to the same conclusion.  Experian, or rather those very smart folks at Clarity Blue, who they acquired a couple of years back, seem to be building out from their established base in the direction of the objective, adding new skills and resources that understandably, because of their parentage, appear rather more functional that creative as yet.  Meanwhile Sapient dropped an advance party by helicopter, right at the objective, by acquiring one of my current favourite advertising agency networks, Nitro last year and are now have the task of working backwards to set up a supply line.  They probab;ly stand an equal chance of creating the necessary end-to-end process, but I’ve always seen the “big idea” as a vital component in any marketing strategy so my money is on Sapient’s Nito approach being first to deliver the goods.  Watch this space!

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.

The future is definitely grey.

I had an interesting meeting in London last week, with a few people from one of our bigger and better-known global organisations, who, like everybody else right now are looking for ways to stretch their budgets.

I have been saying for years, the difference between successful companies and unsuccessful ones is efficiency – nothing more or less.  Its a matter of what you can do with the resources at your disposal. What’s happened in the last few months to make this issues more critical is, of course, the recession.  Now the race is really hotting up and even the most successful organisations are racing to find ways to maintain or even increase pressure on their competitors while reducing their investment .  In other words everyone is desperate to increase efficiency in every area of their organisation and that puts Full Effect Marketing bang on target.

The people I was talking to were by anybody’s standard successful and their efficiency is probably about as good as it can get using contemporary practices, philosophies and models, but as more and more organisations have discovered recently this just isn’t good enough.  They cited three issues that they are struggling with right now, all of which boiled down to the same thing.

  • Too many short-lived propositions – or as I would express it, campaigns with no legs – so they were wasting time, effort and money setting up and running a continuous stream of short tactical propositions that are going nowhere.
  • Missed opportunities brought about by failing to recognise and plan to exploit all their options ahead of time.  This sometimes means that they have had to hold up launches while forgotten elements were nailed on (with the kind of compromises that you have to expect when this happens), occasionally they effectively plan-out potential that they have missed, so that to reinstate it later means cumbersome and inefficient delivery and also, from time to time they just miss opportunities altogether.
  • Inefficient execution or just failing to engage all the expertise within the organisation early enough to ensure that campaigns are delivered on time with all the Is dotted and Ts crossed.

As they said, no longer can they afford to invest in promotions and propositions that don’t milk investment for all its worth.  If only a few more organisations recognised that.  Their problem is that they were viewing these problems as training deficiencies, when the truth was far more fundamental.

Its a fact that executives in most organisations, like policemen, are much younger than they used to be.  This has its advantages, such as high energy levels and enthusiasm (although I sometimes wonder about this), plus, of course younger managers are usually cheaper to employ and hungry for success, which enables employers to apply the carrot principle with greater success.  However its not all pluses.  There are disadvantages too and the biggest and most significant, as far as the scenario we are talking about here is concerned, is a lack of experience.  While business is becoming more complicated with a full-hand comprising more and far more diverse disciplines, executives, because they are younger, have experienced fewer (simply because they just haven’t had time to acquire more) and as careers develop, the focus seems to be on depth rather than breadth of experience.  This limits both their understanding and their management capability and adds to the reliance many larger organisations (and this one was a case in point) have on processes, the only purpose of which is to overcome experience deficiencies, but, which, in the process, limit scope for free-thought.

The thing about establishing the perspective that allows us to see all the implications and opportunities of an initiative is that its pretty well impossible, to processise.  The vision that enables an executive to see all the opportunities and identify all the departments, specialists and skills that need to be engaged in efficient delivery is simply a product of experience.  So, if you can’t processise this stuff the only option left is to employ people with the experience.  I’m not saying that youth has no place in the modern recruitment strategy, but there’s no getting away from it, if you want to up your game to the kind of level that we all need going forward from today, you need experience too and that means creating a blend of young and older executives and creating a culture in which they can work together, combining everyone’s skills to deliver the solutions a modern business needs.

Guerrilla marketing – Free muscle no marketer can afford to ignore

I have never been able to resist a bargain.  That is why I love guerrilla marketing – Hey its usually free or almost free, who could say no?  Especially when you can build it into any integrated strategy to such good effect.  I have never understood why so many organisations look down on guerrilla as though it was appropriate only to small businesses.  I was working with an on-line publisher last year and came up with a neat little initiative that demonstrates just what can be done.

Our target was English-speaking businessmen with an interest in Central European markets.  The problem was one of awareness and the need to increase subscriptions.  I’m not a great fan of trade shows normally, partly because the cost of running a stand that is professional enough to give the right impression, more often than not, makes the idea non-viable.  However, if you don’t need a stand …

There was no doubt about it, major Central European trade shows were the most likely places to find the people we were looking for in any numbers, so we identified those with the highest visitor numbers from the most appropriate sectors of industry and called the organisers with a simple proposition – We would run advertising for their event in exchange for a free go-anywhere pass for our group of promoters and the go-ahead to distribute a card promoting a free offer that was bound to enhance the value of the show (In fact we ended up with a whole lot more than that).  The offer was a free limited period subscription to our publication (providing local CE market intelligence), which, if people signed up to it, would give us a great database and the opportunity to up-sell to paid-for subscriptions or just add permanent free subscribers with limited access who would add value to our offer to advertisers and sponsors. The show organisers, to my surprise and delight, nearly snatched our hand off!

Another great thing about initiatives like this is their flexibility.  We had no idea how this would perform so we opted for a two-month test-phase with an extended programme set up and ready to go the first month looked good.  Buoyed by the enthusiasm of trade show organisers, we decided to test a secondary target – employees of international firms that congregate in the large office complexes that you see around major Central European cities – and approached the largest property management companies with an offer similar to that we had made to the trade show organisers – free advertising in exchange for access to the lobbies of their buildings at peak times.  Same result!

That gave us two full months of promoter activity, with the office complex element filling in between the trade shows, which made maximum use of the promoters that we hired and trained for the client specially for the campaign.  Of course, the design of the material that the promoters were handing out and their sensitivity in selecting targets from the thousands of visitors to these shows and offices were critical factors in the efficiency of the first level of the campaign, but from there by funnelling responses through a carefully constructed CRM programme, we could generate revenue from subscriptions, boost readership/site visits and therefore enhance our value to advertisers, as well as sell ongoing advertising  to show organisers and exhibitors.  Every card we handed out carried a unique promotion code designating where and when it was handed out,  respondents entered the code to sign up for their trial, which gave use useful data too and we used that to strengthen our argument to the trade show organisers and exhibitors when we sold them advertising.  We also included all respondents in our new “recommend a friend” promotion, which caused a snowball effect. We did the whole thing for the kind of cost you could cover from petty cash – literally and the payback was way beyond anything that marketers would expect from a traditional campaign.

Guerrilla marketing definitely isn’t the reserve of small businesses and I’ve used all forms in many different ways over the years.  Taken seriously and partnered with the capability in other areas that large organisations always have, the effect of any investment can be magnified many times over.  Elements such as those that we used on this initiative have such a high pay-back level anyway, that they can’t help but improve the average ROI of any marketing strategy.

The measure of a marketer.

I have absolutely no doubt of two things.  Firstly that “marketing” means leveraging the resources of an organisation to satisfy the needs of end users and, secondly, that as marketers it is our fundamental responsibility to go places and do things that nobody had gone to or done before. These are the two basic truths upon which I base my work.  I’m happy to debate this with you, but I will win! However, I have come across a few illustrations recently of  woolly, cop-out thinking by marketers around the world that makes me fear for our future.

Firstly I became involved a few weeks ago in a discussion on LinkedIn, that might become its biggest yet, which started with a member asking if anybody was interested in setting up a “consultants’ group”.  The responses that followed were horrendous and I quickly came to the realisation that the relationships between a lot of consultants and their clients must be a bit like the blind leading the blind.  I was simply staggered by the narrow thinking of many of those consultants who contributed.

Then came the response on to a report on the BBC interview last week with RyanAir’s Michael O’Leary.  SimpiFlying is a knowledgeable and highly respected blog that focuses on marketing within the airline sector, so you would expect that the majority visitors would be airline marketers.  That being the case, many of the contributions served only to underline O’Leary’s premise that airline managers are a bunch of sad, uninspired old gits (My words, his sentiment).  I’ve never been a particular supporter of O’Leary, but that might change after this interview.  I have, however, always admired his business and brand development nous, and I’m delighted to hear that his inspiration was Southwest Airlines in the US who are a case study that I use in many of my seminars and workshops.  O’Learly clearly understands branding far better than most of the contributors to this discussion.

The final nail in the marketer’s coffin was a recent campaign by Naked in Australia, an agency that I have always thought was quite OK, for their mens’ fashion client Witchery.  Appropriately, this was drawn to my attention by Adam Broitman on under the heading “Interactive’s Most Offensive Campaigns”, but the offense I took wasn’t that it was rude or in bad taste, but the fact that the production of such utter dross was sure to have incurred some level of carbon footprint.  Naked seem to have totally forgotten that for a viral campaign to work at all the material that’s seeded has to be interesting enough for someone to care enough to forward it.  I am used to clients thinking that a viral campaign is a solution in itself and forgetting, like any other medium, that its only as good as the content, but for any marketing specialist, let alone an agency of this standing to completely miss the point like this is unforgivable.  I fought to stay awake through the movie, only because I wanted to see why it was supposed to be so offensive.

As I said in my opening, we marketers are supposed to be taking our organisations or those of our clients, to places and getting them to do things that they would never dream of.  That’s our primary responsibility and when times are tough, as they are now and we all really need to be brave, its our job to save them from their natural tendency to dig a pit and wait for the flak to pass.  Our clients and colleagues should be beating a path to our door just to recharge at our power-point of creativity, innovation and entrepreurialism.  If they aren’t its our fault not theirs.  It means we are just too boring and that’s something a marketer should never be.

Thanks to Michael O’Leary for calling time on the old farts of aviation and talking up his ambition to pay us for travelling with him rather than the other way around and shame on those like the people who, whether RyanAir is their cup of tea or not as a carrier, aren’t smart enough marketers to recognise that this is how you build a brand (and the world’s biggest carrier).

Can you spot a “big idea”?

magnifying-glassI’ve spoken long and often over the years about “the big idea”, and with everyone fighting for survival right now we all need a big idea more than ever.  So how do we recognise one when it pops up?

The popular marketers’ interpretation of  “the big idea” focuses on communication – the creative solution that cuts through the noise of the marketplace and carries your message, to the willing ears of a grateful marketplace.  A big idea in this context can enhance a great product, service or brand and even put a less than great one in the frame.  Big communications ideas come in the shape of Lowe’s “You’ve Been Tangoed” or the old Allen Brandy and Marsh campaign “Milk Has Got a Lotta Bottle” or Cokes “Real Thing”.  You’ll have a few favourites of your own I am sure.

Level two is about the tactical offer.  I had the latest US campaign for Hyundai brought to my attention by Kathy Sharpe at Sharpe Partners.  This is a brilliant example of the big idea in action – talk about a bold response to consumer need!  This it my kind of marketing.  It uses a short term tactical offer as evidence of the brand promise.  Apart from providing a very compelling reason to buy, it says, “you are understood and protected when you are part of the Hyundai community”.  Exactly as it should be done!

On another level entirely the big idea is about the product itself.  We’ve been getting sloppy over the last few years and awarding the big ideas rosette to things that were far to low down on the “really necessary” scale, but all that is changing.  Today’s evidence points to the emergence of a new more critical consumer with a clearly more practical and rational agenda.  I’m not sure that X-box and Wii would be the success they have been if they arrived on the scene in the next couple of years, but a device that allows you to travel further on a litre of fuel or a means of prolonging the life of fresh food (without chemicals of course) now, there’s a big idea.

Then there’s the level where the big idea is the one upon which a brand culture is based.  My belief is that if you get this one right, all the rest just happens.  One of my personal favourites in this respect is SouthWest Airlines,  but you could add FaceBook, Google, Apple and many more.

The fact is that the BIG IDEA has to be big on all of these levels, but whichever level you are focusing on, there is a judgement criteria that I was introduced to by a colleague at the start of my career and which has stayed with me to this day.  Its based, not by accident,  on the acronym SIMPLE because, of course, all the best ideas are just that.  As well as interrogating your briefs and concepts with your Brand Model criteria try asking these questions to decide whether your idea is worth pursuing.

Is it Striking? The big idea always stands out.  You can’t walk past one, it sort of smacks you in the face its so outstanding.

Is it Ingenious? Its always a really neat solution.  One of those things that leave you asking “why didn’t I think of that?”

Is it going to be Memorable?  If people aren’t going to be talking about it long after you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, forget it now.

Is it Pertinent? Is it an idea looking for a reason or a genuine solution to a need?

Is it Long-lasting? Especially now that nobody wants credit, who will part with hard-earned cash for something that they’ll have to replace soon? And you can definitely knock it on the head if its influenced by fashion. 

Finally, it just has to be Envied by the competition.  I mean the CEO of your competitor is going to be so green that he’ll fire his marketers and product development people and sent them off with a flea in their ear and a picture of your big idea to remind them what one looks like!

Sadly I’m seeing evidence that the current economic climate is causing some businesses to cut back on the development of new ideas and concepts.  Its a pity, because if you study your history, you’ll quickly realise that this is just when the development of new ideas plays biggest dividends.  Ideas don’t have to cost a fortune to develop and every business has hundreds of  ideas and concepts that it doesn’t even tap into.  My advice to any organisations is launch an internal campaign right now to unlock the potential that already exists within your workforce.  You might finds ways of increasing efficiency that will save you from the bankruptcy courts and you are bound to come up with something that you can spend this fallow period preparing for launch when the economy improves.  Ralph Halpern who brought the Burton Group from within days of bankruptcy to become one of Europe’s most successful retailers, made a policy of always having twenty or so pilot concepts on test.  The philosophy is that if only one is successful it pays many times over for the cost of those that fail.  Business is about ideas.  Striving for new, bigger and better products, processes, concepts and offers. 

I have worked with organisations around the world, helping them to leverage their brand communities, by adopting new ideas and a different perspective on their business.  It works.  I’ve seen organisations in the depths of  recession, create new business units that have become businesses in their own right, in some cases out-lasting the original trading concept.  So I know it can be done.  And the starting point is understanding what  big idea looks like and not wasting time on ideas that don’t measure up. 

So, make sure you have your Brand Model up-to-date and in shape, create your own equivalent to the SIMPLE judgement criteria and go to work on building your business, even during recession.