The Point in Purpose

posted in: Business/Marketing | 0

I went into the twitter-sphere this week to question the claimed purpose of a very large Telcomms company. Let’s call them Megaphone. It was in response to a nauseating tweet from the head of their ad agency who was telling the world how proud he was of his client’s commitment to purpose. I’m a customer of Megaphone and it seems to me their only purpose is to make as much money as they can with as little regard for customers as possible. I’ve also had dealings with them in the past from the agency side and they were brutes. I suppose leopards can change their spots and maybe they’re trying. I’ve just visited their web site where sure enough you find their purpose front and centre and it reads very well. It talks about connectivity and the social good it can do and I admit, it struck a chord with me. Access to affordable mobile data can level the playing field for the poorest, it can enable people to start and grow their small businesses, it can promote inclusiveness. But do I believe that is the purpose of Megaphone? Do I think the ad agency CEO is really proud of them for this? No, I don’t. I think they’ve jumped on the purpose bandwagon and somebody has told them this is the kind of purpose that will sound great. It could well be someone in the ad agency and they’re licking their lips at the prospect of how much money Megaphone will spend telling people about their higher purpose. The CEO’s tweet was promoting a conference they were hosting about “Purpose” and I guess the CEO thinks the Megaphone case study will be a crowd puller and the ad agency will be seen as thought leaders in the purpose game. Because make no mistake, purpose is hot. It was hot before Covid, it’s even hotter now – hell, even I’ve jumped on the bandwagon (see my article on Neo-naked Economics, I’m all over it).

If I’m wrong then I apologise both to Megaphone (who you can probably figure out) and the CEO of their ad agency (which won’t be much harder). But here’s why I don’t think I am.

Purpose has to be 100% authentic, it really has to be the reason you do everything you do. It has to guide your every decision and action. If it does, you don’t need to tell anyone, it’s obvious. I was talking to the CEO of one of the world’s largest multi-nationals recently, a business with a very good record in sustainability and purpose, and he made the point that you have to be driven by this for years before you earn the right talk about it. I suspect you never brag about it unless of course you are into virtue-signalling.

Let me put it another way. Do you love your partner? Is this because you thought about it and decided you needed to love someone so you gave some further thought as to the kind of person that should be? Having made your choice have you communicated that to anyone? Have you pitched up at a meeting or a party and said to people, “You need to know I love my partner and here’s why”. Have you felt the need to attend a conference on Love to use your love of your partner as a case study? Does your partner believe you love them a) because you tell them and everyone you meet or b) because of the way you consistently treat them even when no-one is looking?

You have a purpose, you don’t get a purpose. And that purpose is the compass by which you navigate, it’s how you run the business, not the punchline in a communication strategy. It’s fine to have a purpose that is primarily about making superior shareholder returns but if it is, there’s no point in pretending otherwise.

Lock-down will prove behaviour shapes attitudes

In the eBook section of this site there is truly excellent contribution from the Herdmeister, Mark Earls on strategy and people. In it he reminds us that behaviour determines attitudes more often than attitudes drive behaviour. This is a crucial point and explains why a great deal of strategy, change management and marketing fails to deliver. Because most of us think that in order to get people to change what they do you have to appeal to their hearts and minds, you have to use persuasion. But however persuasive you are it is enormously difficult to get people to change what they do. The most reliable way is to make it impossible for them to do what they normally do. To replace one system with a new system. It took folks older than me a long time to use emails, it’s taken me a long time to convert to whatsapp. I’ve only done so because I was finding I just couldn’t get some people to respond if I didn’t. Now I love it (although I still love emails and even the occasional letter.) Let’s move it to the ‘workplace’. It was a revolution in Business Change Management when they ditched their old process:-

Communicate the need for change

Ask people to change what they do

Reinforce this with new processes and systems

100% the wrong way round. Introduce a new process or system so people have to change what they do. This changes their attitudes, then you explain why.

Now think about a whole bunch of things that some people knew all about, things they knew made sense, but even so were reluctant to convert. Unwilling to change their behaviour. “Oh, yes I know I should but….”

Video conference more and travel less

Cook more food, eat less processed food

Shop more on-line

Exercise more

This is a cliched list and I’m not arguing their merits nor denying that many people were way ahead of this before lockdown. But many will see the merits in some or all of these and will admit that prior to lock down they’d been luddites. Lock down forced the change, using the new platforms or systems reinforced the behaviour and has changed attitudes. Like Nike told us – we just did it.

If you have not read Mark Earls eBook do so, it might change what you think and do.

“We were just following the science”

posted in: Politics | 0

I say this with no pleasure but it’s hard to see a single Covid related policy decision the UK government got right. Yes we will have to wait until there is full inquiry, until the full cycle of the pandemic has passed but it seems highly unlikely the UK will be judged to have done a good job. “Just following the science” sounds like a Nuremberg defense and I doubt it will be any more effective now than it was then.  

The mistakes at the outset, February/March, are easier to understand and forgive. With the exception of some Asian countries who had their experience of the SARS/MERS epidemics to fall back on, most of the world was caught flat footed by Covid 19. It was seen as closer to flu than SARS and by the time this mistake was realized, rammed home by the pictures  coming from Italy of bodies piling up at overrun hospitals, it was all too little, too late – on PPE, protecting the vulnerable, testing.

Social distancing began in a lot of places earlier than the official lock down in late March. Some individuals and organizations had already started to take sensible protective measures and the latest research from Bristol University suggests that it’s this, rather than the  draconian house arrest that followed, that accounts for the peak in deaths being passed in early April. It seems very likely that lock-down will prove to have come too late and that it was largely ineffective and pointless. Sensible hygiene and physical distancing were all that were needed but hindsight and all that, no blame in being overly cautious if you admit to having been overly complacent.

However, the mistakes that followed in the run up to “peak confusion” are less easy to forgive:-

  • Don’t wear masks – wear masks
  • No visitor quarantine – 2 weeks quarantine
  • 2 metres – 1 metre
  • Shield the care homes – send them untested Covid patients
  • Follow the rules – use your common sense
  • Stay home – go back to work

Today, almost mid-June, the plan to reopen schools is in tatters. A lack of co-operation on the part of some involved might be a cause of this but that lack of cooperation comes from a lack of confidence in a government that seems anything but sure footed. It may also be a resumption of politics as usual but that’s not surprising if the government is in disarray.

Yet another minister is trotted out for the media to defend not just the actions in his or her bailiwick but for the whole of cabinet; the face changes but the answer to any criticism remains the same, “At every stage we have followed the scientific advice”. Every minister seems to be the ‘Minister for Defense’ and the defense is always the same. Unfortunately it has more holes in it than swiss cheese.

It is blindingly clear that scientists do not all agree – so the question is which science did you follow and how did you choose? Clearly they followed the wrong science and /or the scientists that got it wrong, one of whom was Neil Ferguson who to his credit has now admitted his model was flawed, his estimates too high and that lock-down came too late, a decision he thinks accounts for 50% of the deaths.

In the absence of hard empirical data the science is just expert advice – and as Margaret Thatcher said, advisors advise, ministers decide. It is an abject dereliction of duty to just follow expert advice. All such advice is based on risk assessment and a scientist will not make a fully informed risk assessment otherwise we’d all be driving at 30 mph maximum, eating no sugar or salt and drinking virtually no alcohol. Maybe we should or maybe we want some freedom to choose, the liberty to do our own risk assessment.

Einstein pointed out that imagination is more important than scientific knowledge. The expert advice needed to be taken in the context of an imaginative vision for what success would look like. No such vision is apparent unless it was to ‘flatten the sombrero’ and make sure no blame could be attached to the government. We will regret that it was not braver, accepting that there would be deaths but balancing that with what is in the best interests of the majority and the preservation of our way of life as we normally do in a war. (Note; it was Boris and the government who used the war rhetoric so they have to accept the criteria).

I heard a scientist on the radio today (cannot recall his name but he advises SAGE) saying he had only two expectations – that his advice was heard and that it was understood. He had no expectations that it had to be followed since he fully accepted other advice and other factors needed to be taken into account in making policy decisions. Well said.

So not even the scientists think “we followed the science” is an acceptable defense.

That said, Scientists are better than politicians in a crisis. They will say what they think and do not regard peer review or admitting mistakes as a sign of weakness, quite the opposite. They see it as good science. Politicians deflect and obfuscate because, in the face of a hostile media, admitting mistakes and U-turns are political suicide. But is that true in a crisis? I’d like to have seen more business people involved – they know how to make decisions on imperfect information, how to make trade-offs and manage risk. They know how to work with experts with respect yet not afraid to challenge their assumptions and therefore their conclusions. Business people can take and then ignore advice in the pursuit of agreed goals. Meritocracy and performance (mostly) got them to their position, not votes. If they make a bad mistake or too many mistakes they stand down or get fired – they don’t get to hide behind advisors because they choose their advisors and what advice to take.

I think the UK government should not wait for an inquiry. They should admit they have made mistakes and take full responsibility, only that will restore some confidence. They behave as if the opposite is true, admitting mistakes will undermine not just confidence but adherence to their advice and plans going forward. Is that them just behaving like self-serving politicians normally do? Perhaps but I have another theory.

I believe they’re following the advice of behavioural scientists as they have explicitly said they’ve been doing throughout. SAGE includes behavioural scientists and it seems like they have a loud voice.

I have nothing to back up what I am about to say – yet – but I think the advice of behavioural scientists will be shown to be every bit as wrong and damaging as the advice of the Ferguson and the Imperial Team. Ferguson has now publicly said that the lock-down came one week too late and insodoing cost 50% of the deaths (let’s just say a lot, we know Neil and his numbers). Why were the government so reluctant to close the borders, ban any mass gatherings and confine as many as possible to staying at home? Because the behavioural scientists told them that it would be hard to impose a lock down and people would only put up with it for a few weeks. Go too soon and you risked people breaking lock down precisely when it was most needed.

Plum wrong. It proved relatively easy to impose the lock down and is now proving enormously hard to lift it and get back to some kind of normality.   A U-Gov survey showing that the majority of people felt no worse off under lock down and nearly a quarter felt better off might explain this. Add in the effect of the fear mantra – “Stay home, Save Live” – and it’s not just the benefit of hindsight. This could and should have been forseen.

This mistake will most likely be the cause of the biggest economic depression since 1928, possibly ever, with the UK set to be the hardest hit because we are so slow to relax the restrictions that make normal economic activity (and education) near impossible. And economic depressions cause illness and death – fact.

Is it fair to be so hard on the behavioural scientists? Time will tell. But in any event the blame will lie with the government not their scientific advisors.

The seedy sleuths stealing YOUR data (and your money)

For most of us e-marketing/on-line/digital advertising, call it what you want, is irritating. Ads pop up and do their best to distract you from what you’re trying to read or do on-line. If you do a bit of research about something you might be thinking of buying, and most of us do, suddenly all those ads start to target what you were just thinking about. Helpful? No, spooky, pushy, like someone following you around a store and every time you look at something they get right in your face with the hard sell. Not a store you’d want to go back to, but on-line you don’t have a choice. You want the content, the social media platform, you accept the irritation.

Most people either don’t know or don’t want to think about how this actually works, what’s really going on. If they did they would be really angry and not enough people are which tells me it’s not been properly exposed. What’s happening is a bunch of companies like Equifax or Experian are literally stalking you on-line. Without your knowledge and in reality without your permission (unless you think hitting the ‘I agree’ button equates to cognizant, informed permission) they watch where you go, where you linger, what you click and like some low-rent private investigator they package up your personal information and sell it to someone who intends to flog you something or to some credit agency who will sit in judgement on you.  You don’t know what they know about you, you don’t know who they’ve sold your data to or when or how it’s used. They make a lot of money doing this, Equifax have a market cap of $21 billion, and they keep it all to themselves. You get nothing, just ads.

And if you looked at the Cambridge Analytica scandal, you’d realise it’s gone beyond irritation, beyond just greed, your data is being used to undermine your most fundamental freedoms, the freedom of thought. The thousands upon thousands of bits of data about you are manipulated using algorithms and AI to influence not just what you buy but how you vote. They’re used to manipulate what you think.

It’s bad now and it will only get worse – you’re generating more and more data about yourself and the technology is getting better and better at using it.

But we – if enough of us acted – could not just stop this if we wanted to, we could earn an estimated $7,600 per year on average. The higher nett worth could earn a lot more, the lower income less but probably enough to make a real difference. If the technology and the platform existed to enable us to transact our data direct to the organizations willing to pay for it (with restrictions on how they use and safeguard it) we could put the equifax and Experian’s of this world out of business. We could force the social media platforms to find a different business model other than digital snitching. We would take away a lot of the ad agency revenue and force them to get back to ‘truth well told’ based on ideas.

Well guess what, the technology does exist. It’s Block Chain. And there is one platform, Datawallet, using it to give people the chance to make money from their own data. There are limitations, issues to be resolved as this excellent article in Investopedia outlines. Please read it.

This is what I was writing about in my eBook ‘What’s wrong with marketing(?)’. People owning their personal data with the power to transact it will transform marketing and improve society. It will get rid of the greedy, seedy sleuths (pimps) in the digital shadows.

Value Signalling

In my article ‘Neo-Naked Economics’ (under EBooks) I set out a new economic model based on social purpose from which would come a new kind of marketing I define as purposeful value creation. (In the 30 years since I co-founded a marketing agency called ‘The Added Value Company’ it would appear that I’ve progressed from seeing marketing as adding value to creating value, subtle difference). In the article I had to skate over some big topics and I intend to use the blogs to expand on some of them. The core of the new value-based economics/marketing would be to let people ascribe all the value a product/service/business offers, not just intrinsic value, not just extrinsic value to the buyer but social value. And businesses would be required to carry their full costs, not just variable, not just fixed but social costs as well.

So how can you ascribe social value? It might sound hard but it really isn’t. It’s done all the time. There is the Kitemark, started in the UK but now operating in 193 counties. It uses a range of things to assess the safety of a product. Michelin Stars are awarded to restaurants according to how they measure up to a wide range of things not just how tasty the food is (you can lose a star if the wine cellar is too limited or if your loos aren’t up to scratch). In South Africa they calculate BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) scores based on a complex list of criteria, and the score has consequences for how you do business. Above a certain size a poor score will exclude you from doing business with government and a good score can give you an advantage in winning private sector business. We measure complex things and ascribe aggregate scores all the time.

There are only two challenges. Firstly, what do you measure? In the article I set out 5 social purposes for economics, just my point of view but I think the list would be well received by most people who care about society. For a business you could take that list to look at their performance against some desired outcomes that benefit society – diversity, equality of opportunity, conservation etc. The second challenge is the tough one – who makes the adjudication? For the Kitemark it’s the BSI (British Standards Institution), for the Michelin Stars it is a group of inspectors whose identity is kept secret, for BEE in South Africa it is a government department. Who would ascribe social value? It could be a government department, an independent global institution, it could include a people’s panel or board of governors.

Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock Investment believes “society is demanding that companies, both private and public, serve a social purpose” something he put in a letter to all the CEO’s of the companies in which BlackRock have an investment. He thinks this can be measured and intends to do so.

How easy would it be for people to just look for the social stars when purchasing? It could have one star or five stars. And people wishing to make a difference could try wherever possible to buy from companies with the most stars, all other things being nearly equal. I say nearly because some people would trade some part of intrinsic/extrinsic value for more social value.

There is a lot of virtue signalling going on – why not value signalling?