Latvians show Greece how to smile in the face of austerity – Its all just National Branding

As you contemplate the austerity that your government has wrought upon you, spare a thought for how national branding can make the whole thing both more acceptable and successful.  You don’t believe me?  Well try this.

So tied up are we with the dire straights that Greece finds itself in, we might forget that not so long ago Latvia faced a worse economic plight than Greece or Portugal are facing right now.  Latvia fixed it with extremely stringent austerity measures and bounced back to become a very successful economy, in a far shorter time than we are anticipate will be the lot of the Greeks.  What’s more, during the process their government was re-elected.  So, what’s the trick?

There’s a hint in the fact that at the time of their crisis, polls of the Latvian public revealed a marked spirit of shared endeavour or one-ness.  They were definitely meeting the challenge in the spirit of all for one and one for all.  Now, that’s a state of collective minds that only a strong national brand can generate.  While the Greek people (and to some extent pretty well all of the rest of us) play the blame game and try to lay responsibility for the mess on someone other than themselves, the Latvians kinda’ got the fact that arguing about whose fault it was, wasn’t going to fix it, and knuckled down to the task.  Result – they fixed it in record time and suffered far less than the rest of us are going to unless we wise up fast.  The big tick in the satisfaction box also makes the exercise self-perpetuating, serving to strengthen the community spirit and give the subject organisation or country the scope for more and bigger challenges.

The difference between Latvia and Greece or Portugal is national pride.  The Greeks, despite their claims to the contrary don’t have any.  If they did they would have been paying their taxes for the last few decades, which might have averted their current plight.  Greeks are largely in it for themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are any different from most of the rest of us, driven as we are by the belief that the only difference between happiness and abject misery is lodasamoney.  From that perspective it’s but a short step to topping Gran for her pension.

National pride, in turn, is a product of good national branding (A subject that I have been beating on about for years).  Once you have that sorted you can do some neat stuff – like win wars, bring home the world cup or sort one of the worst financial crises in recent history, in no time at all.

In fact, national branding is no different from any other kind of branding and the benefits it brings are no different either.  Contrary to what I sometimes think is popular myth among businesspeople, branding isn’t just for customers, it’s for employees too.  In fact, employees are where you start with any brand development programme, because unless they are on-board and have that feeling of belonging you aren’t even going to get to first base with customers.

A strong brand is represented, among other things, by a spirit of shared responsibility and those businesses that have set about building one have found that with the right guidance it can be channeled in any direction.  Southwest Airlines employees famously went to all kinds of extreme lengths to create one of the most successful airlines in commercial aviation history.  ABB Brown Boveri returned from the jaws of death and reduced their product development time from three years to three months.  A one-man-and-a-dog operation called Saatchi & Saatchi (The real one not the one we know today) did the reverse takeover trick on the monolith Garland Compton and went on to build the world’s biggest advertising agency and Apple have persuaded millions of people that lap-tops with iffy software are best thing since sliced bread.  I could cite innumerable others, but you get the idea.

So, if you are running a business or a country that’s facing a bit of a challenge right now, consider what the power of a strong brand can achieve and start building yours.  You’ll be able to achieve more with less, probably give your competitors a good kicking and could even do all of this with a smile on your collective face throughout.

Advertisements

Building a brand like Fender

The attention of anyone who is even vaguely interested in music and many more who wouldn’t know their crotchet from their elbow, has been drawn this week to the news that Fender, who have been making guitars for musicians around the world since 1946, is going public.

If you are thinking of taking a stake, you’ll be buying into a true icon, not just of twentieth century music, but of branding, because whatever else Fender may be, this is what a great brand looks like.  What Fender have done, of course, is create that most illusive, yet essential ingredient of any brand – a community.  And what a community!  When I was a would-be pop star the Fender Stratocaster (or Strat to its friends) was the six-string of choice for greats like Jimmy Hendrix.  The musicians around me were readily defined as either Fender or Gibson guys (although Eric Clapton somehow managed to straddle the two quite successfully for some years).  But it wasn’t and isn’t just about the Fender corporate brand.  What gave the business its sustainability was the way it catered for a widening range of musical genres and cultural sub-groups with a range of products that, whilst sharing the same DNA, each enjoyed its own dedicated following –  Stratocaster, the original Precision (which probably was more of a revolution even than the Telecaster) and Jazz basses, catered for clearly defined musical types, giving, what could easily have become a niche brand, essential breadth.  The business was also smart enough to listen to and watch its customers (Oh, how I wish a few more businesses could say the same!).  Musos were increasingly customising their guitars and Fender responded by creating its custom division where pros and enthusiasts to this day can specify their unique Fender incorporating all Fender assets – the tremolo bridge, solid state, pick-ups etc. crafted for them.

The trick of broadening your appeal (and thereby both increasing your customer base and deepening the relationships you have with them) by applying your core brand values to a range of niche products is one every business needs to practice.  In recent months I have been working with a perfume manufacturer and retailer where the principal equally applies.  In our case the corporate brand is built on ethnicity and high quality, but each of the range of perfumes and other products if played correctly has niche appeal and personality that we are building communities around.

But while you can’t afford to be a one-trick pony these days and innovation is definitely what it’s all about, it’s equally essential to approach your product and offer development  in a structured fashion.  I’ve highlighted before in these pages the need for every business to not only define their brand and have a clear strategy, but to support that with a methodology that ensures every new initiative contributes rather than detracts from the objective.  Businesses go off-track and waste fortunes every day on initiatives that either don’t contribute or even have a detrimental effect on their business, don’t be one of them.  My Brand Discovery program me has a built-in briefing process that comes into play with every new initiative, forcing those in the driving seat to justify the project against pre-defined criteria.  If you haven’t adopted a tool like this you need to get onto the programme.  Get it right and in a few years you could be floating your business for $200million!

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?

How catering franchises change the world

As I have travelled around the world, I’ve become an observer of retail food franchises and the way they perform when they are a long way from home.  Catering franchises are among the most potent brands we have.  Customer loyalty can be the strongest you’ll find in the retail sector and the emerging capacity of some brands to develop their brand communities is only going to enhance that.

These brands change the communities in which they reside just as the individuals that join any brand community changes that a little by bringing with them new character traits and values.  Restaurants like McDonald’s and KFC have changed countries and lesser retail food brands do the same to a lesser extent.  Today I made my second visit to what is fast becoming one of my favourite restaurant chains Tony Roma’s and as I sat there listening to The Eagles’ Hotel California I considered the impact they are having on the local community.  Quite significant I believe, because this is Saudi Arabia, where music is banned in any public place.

Here Tony Roma’s is a franchise run by a local Sheik already heavily into retail.  Clearly he is rather more progressive than others of his countrymen and though I don’t know him I am sure he must be a controversial figure.  Although Tony’s famous pork ribs were conspicuously absent from the menu the music isn’t the only taboo he is breaking.  Restaurants in Saudi Arabia are segregated.  Single men sit in one part and families and women on their own sit behind impenetrable screens in a separate part of the building.  They usually even have different entrances.  I’m not sure how this is supposed to work.  I guess it’s something to do with women not being able to eat through a veil and men not being allowed to look at a woman who isn’t wearing one, but, like many things in this country it is a mass of contradictions, doesn’t work and ends up being a bit of a farce (although the “Emperor’s New Clothes” applies here as everywhere).  Certainly in Tony Roma’s it doesn’t work because although they had areas designated as “single men” and “family”, everyone was allowed to sit where they liked, almost like real life!

The success of Tony Roma’s in Saudi Arabia is a testament to the changing tide.  The manager in this restaurant told me that he has clear instructions from head office that the music will be turned off at prayer time and should anybody complain at any other time.  So far though, in three years, complaints have been minimal and mostly from religious police who make inspection visits from time to time.  The real measure of popular feeling however has to be bums on seats and by all accounts the liberals have a landslide.  Whether any other businesses have the bottle to join this movement for freedom of choice remains to be seen.  I suspect they will, but while they are getting their act together maybe you could ponder on two issues this raises.  Firstly, as I have said the power of brands like these to influence change and secondly the fact that maybe the Saudis are not as completely inflexible as we Westerners 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.

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.

So, what does the “agency of the future” look like?

The news a couple of weeks back, that DraftFCB has lost their SC Johnson business after fifty-eight years prompted a pretty damning commentary from Campaign that Thursday in which Claire Beale condemned Interpublic’s promise to deliver “the agency of the future” with their amalgamation of Draft and FCB as a damp squib.  But do Interpublic even have the components to create the agency of the future.  Come to think of it, what does the agency of the future look like anyway?

If you’ve been watching this space you’ll have heard me point out many times that the single most important difference between a successful business and an unsuccessful one is efficiency.  You’ll also know that the world has moved on from the times when an unsuccessful business could still chug along (I’ve seen plenty of walking dead over the years).  These days you are either ticking like a Swiss watch or you are dead.  That’s the new economy for you. You don’t even get points for being efficient in some areas of your business if you are inefficient in others – you are only as strong as your weakest link.

When it comes to marketing, efficiency is more than just tackling all the issues that influence the success of your business or learning to use a wider range of tools and disciplines.  It’s about eliminating inconsistencies between different messages, campaign elements or between strategic and tactical facets of your Campaign and taking full advantage of the synergy afforded by imaginative combinations of elements of your marketing initiatives.  Synergy and consistency have always been the major benefits of integrated marketing. The only thing that has changed is that these things are no longer merely nice to have, but essential.

On it’s simplest level efficiency is doing the things that deliver the greatest benefit and avoiding those further down the effectiveness table.  Long gone are the days when advertising people could hide behind our inability to measure the effectiveness of much of what they did.  In the digital age we can and must measure the effect of anything.

And therein lies the formula for the agency of the future.  In fact, forget the future, today’s agency has to be able to deliver an integrated solution (and that means integrated marketing, not just the integrated communications that everyone seems to think is the real thing) with data collection and analysis built into every element.

For an agency to pull this off is no small feat.  Firstly it means bringing together a diversity of expertise that very few marketing services firms anywhere in the world can muster.  Then there’s the question of culture clashes.  The people and culture of a data management consultancy is the antithesis of a creative agency as those who have sought to combine the two have discovered.  I worked with Experian a few years ago to help them create a hybrid consulting model that I called Optimarketing, but it never really gained traction because of the issues associated with sitting hundreds of data specialists and analysts who insisted in a silent working environment and who lacked creative instincts in the same space as gregarious, creative advertising people and expecting them to work together.  However, Experian were ahead of the game in recognising that this the way to go, closely followed by Sapient, who adopted the strategy of acquiring creative instinct rather than trying to grow it at home, by buying Chris Clarke’s Nitro group.  While I’ve not seen evidence of a quantifiable model emerging from this marriage, there are others playing with the same idea.  One of the more exciting new partnerships being Harte-Hanks who have taken in the UK agency Mason Zimbler, themselves already accustomed to the digital world that might just provide the cultural bridge to the numbers people.

As a company looking for a marketing services provider you’ll need either extremely broad skills and experience in your marketing team and at least one person with the overview to coordinate numerous specialist suppliers or an agency that can deliver the full package.  As my readers will have detected from my earlier piece on the dumbing down of marketing, I believe the problem is that people with the expertise to fill the modern-day coordinating (or Marketing Director) role are as rare as hen’s teeth, so in the absence of a one-stop shop, I’m hoping folks like me and the Full Effect Company will come into our own.