Earning Trust

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There has been a development in the “what lies at the heart of marketing’ zeitgeist over the many decades since marketing began – which as we know was long before it was actually called marketing. It started with trust. You branded something (literally in the case of cattle) with your signature, a logo or name, so people could recognize it as the one they knew and trusted because, and this will never change, people don’t trust what they don’t know in everything except religion.

I won’t go through all the various marketing zeitgeists – I am not old enough to have experienced all of them first hand and too old to recall the ones I did with any accuracy. So let me just pick out a few. When brands became disintermediated – e.g. you chose them yourself off a super-market shelf rather than had them commended to you by a shop –keeper – USP became quite popular. Marketing was all about creating a unique point of difference. Somewhere along the line it broadened into a value proposition and this was believed to have some kind of emotional/functional ying and yang.

More recently, in the dawn of the “everything is a brand” age, we came to focus on the brand story and the brand ideals. The PR folk claimed this was good old reputation management but nobody listened to them because their ‘brand’ was somewhat tarnished by the likes of Max Clifford and Alastair Campbell.
I recall a brief rally around the idea of Love Brands. Marketing was all about delight and love and exceeding expectations. Hard to argue with that other than perhaps to point out that 99.999% of brands are picked through inertia, hunch and familiarity rather than love (as opposed to only 50% of life partners).
Right now I’d say engagement is the mot du jour. Marketing is all about creating engagement – less through didactic, interrupt and repeat marketing communication and more through what brands actually do and how it gets reported in social media. Earned media is brand engagement’s marketing pay-off.
What’s coming next? What is going to become the ‘focus of marketing’, the ‘when it boils down to it, this is what marketers really do’ consensus among the chattering marketing classes (who chatter quite a lot).

Might it come full circle back to trust? The focus of marketing – apart from getting more people to buy stuff more often for more money or perhaps as a means to this? – might become earning, sustaining and building trust in a world that is increasingly mistrustful, or to dig a little deeper, in a world where trust increasingly comes from ones large and growing social cohorts and decreasingly from just about everything else. You can’t trust anything or anybody these days.

Forget the establishment, the police and politicians, they are a complete busted flush pretty much worldwide. Celebrities lie like a cheap suit, some trusted family favourites have been revealed as kiddy-fiddlers. Every month brings some new story about drugs or corruption in sport. Newspapers have the morals of a gutter-snipe and the self-discipline of a recovering alcoholic in a brewery. BBC Director Generals resign having betrayed the trust of license fee payers. For goodness sake, even Tesco, the pinnacle of successful British Business, have been caught selling horsemeat in burgers (which as it happens means lots of young girls realized their secret dream of getting a Little Pony sadly without ever knowing it).

All around us trust is breaking down faster than Kate Winslett at an awards ceremony. You can trust what you read on Facebook or Twitter but very little else. Apart from, I would hope, your favourite brands if they are well managed by good marketers with good values and reflexes. (Regular readers will both know that this is a favourite theme of mine – good marketers have good reflexes).

Job one of a marketer is creating, deepening and widening trust. If I was running a large marketing department these days (unlikely I’ll grant you) I’d have that in a big sign above the coffee machine (or the Fusion Vendor). And when asked whether this is just a ‘point of parity’ rather than a ‘point of difference’ (assuming they were familiar with Kevin Keller’s simple but powerful positioning approach) I’d say point of difference. That is not because I am 100% sure it is, it may not be enough in itself to drive preference, but rather because a) it is more than enough to support inertia and b) if you get complacent and dismiss it as ‘housekeeping’ you risk losing it.

The challenge of being a Trust Manager not just a Brand Manager is that it has to be earned in lots of ways over a lot of time. It cannot be asserted. It requires that hardest of things, consistency, and this has to be maintained in a fast fragmenting and disenchanted world that pays more attention to the modern day equivalent of the ‘bloke down the pub’, i.e. social media, than anything else.

Trust me. I’m a Doctor. Well not since Jacko’s experience does that carry any weight. How about, trust me, I’m a Brand manager?

Management Speaks

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Bear with me. Just take a few moments to read the piece below that popped up in my inbox this week.

“Dear Mr M Sherrington,

All of us at South African Airways (SAA) Voyager know that in this highly competitive travel industry, customer service alone no longer guarantees customer satisfaction. Modern advanced practices, such as customer experience and relationship management, have been adopted by many airlines across the world. These practices – which only a few years ago were largely considered mere concepts – have today become a requirement for customer retention programmes, and require superior technological systems and business processes as enablers.

Long-term relationships are of paramount importance to us, and we have acknowledged that by investing in a tool that will enable us to greatly enhance your experience in dealing with us, at all contact points, and not only the call centres. Enhancements such as these allow us to be effective and align ourselves with the best in classs.

Over the last few years the complaints, suggestions and survey feedback we have received from you – our valued members – have indicated that in order for us to exceed your expectations, information technology upgrade had become necessary. We have listened, and we are proud to announce that on 7 October 2012, SAA Voyager will be moving all business processes to a new, modern-technology customer relationship management (CRM) system.

When sourcing the new system the following specific objectives were top of mind: service speed, flexibility, accessibility, efficiency, increased value propositions and enhanced customer experience. We are, therefore, excited about the improvements that the new system brings about as indicated below:”

So let’s pick out the salient points.

The travel industry is highly competitive and great service does not guarantee customer satisfaction. Well. I beg to differ – I think it does. I think most of us to look to a service business to deliver great service, that’s why they are called Service Businesses.

The competition seem to be using some new fangled stuff called customer experience and relationship management – well the sneaky bastards! That’s just not fair but I suppose if you can’t beat them….

We are going to use a tool (where from, B&Q?) to deliver service at every contact point – see point above about Service Businesses etc.

Over the last few years we have had complaints so we’ve decided to upgrade our IT. Years you say? – no flies on you then.

You are a valued customer and so we are going to deal with you using a CRM system  – how interesting, is that what the cabin crew use as well, a CRM system, or do they just do their job professionally with a nice attitude?

When sourcing the new system – they didn’t commission it, design & build it or even just buy it, they sourced it. Did they maybe outsource it? Who to or who from I wonder?

We not only decided it had to be faster, more flexible and easier to use – as opposed to some new IT system that is slower, more rigid and harder to use, do you know people in the NHS? – it also had to deliver increased value propositions and enhanced customer experience. I’m a career marketer and I’m still not exactly sure what is meant by a value proposition. I’ve seen the expression used in various marketing briefs but I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve seen it in consumer copy. And yes thank you for enhancing my customer experience, but would you like to be a little more precise?

The author – well it’s his/her name at the bottom – is one Manoj Papa, Head of Department, Voyager (the SAA Loyalty Scheme). Manoj my friend a) come up with a better title and b) in future try to resist using an internal management document as consumer copy. Think about maybe briefing a copywriter. I know you have a largely business audience but that doesn’t mean they want to read an excerpt from what I can only presume was your Board Proposal to justify all this money you’ve spent on the new IT.

I’m no copywriter (the prefix ‘copy’ might be redundant here) but here’s my 2 minute attempt to say what you need to say if you intend to clog up my inbox.

Hello Mark,

Allow me just to take a minute to tell you that dealing with SAA Voyager has just got a whole lot better. We know we were not up to scratch before, and if you had problems I apologize, but please try the new system, it’s much easier and faster. Once you’ve tried it, I’d welcome any comments you have, good or bad, about this or any aspect of our service. So just click here and try it out. My email address is at the bottom.

Best wishes,

 Manoj Papa, Voyager Director (the buck stops here)

There you go Manoj, how hard was that? PS Make sure your copywriter uses spell check – para 2, “best in classs????”

Brand Attitude

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Brand positioning is important, right? Of course it is. All brands must set out the basis of their competitive advantage in such a way that all those involved in developing or delivering the brand can stay within the guardrails. Thus we achieve a consistency in branding that we all know to be vitally important.

So over the years a ‘catwalk’ (I have decided this will be the collective noun) of Brand Positioning Models (get it?) has been developed and, I am proud to say, I have made a big contribution to this.

The secret, you see, of a good Brand Positioning Model is to have a distinctive visual template to which you give you give a name and that name should capture the template. Brand Onion (ogres have layers and so do brands), Brand Triangle, Brand Bullseye and Brand Key. Those last two were mine by the way. There were others involved in their conception but I shall not name them but will rather take all the credit myself.

Some believe that it is enough just to give the Brand Positioning Model (more technique in my view) a title. The Brand Mantra (to be chanted every morning at dawn); The Brand Chord (excellent for the musically gifted brand manager – different notes make up the chord and each note represents a distinct but complimentary idea); The Brand Ideal (more than just an idea, a higher purpose). Actually, as I shall explain, I see merit in these techniques, all of them, and I intend to introduce a new one. But, sad to say,  I’ve gone off the Brand Models.

Do digital people like any of the catwalk of models? Not really in my experience. They like technology and analytical evidence and see neither of these in Brand Positioning Models. They ask awkward questions like “How do they actually work?” or “What data did you use to decide what to include or exclude in your Onion/Key. Mantra etc?” Perhaps I have been spending too much time with the digital natives because I think they are good questions.

More than that, I find the customized templates somewhat constraining. They are almost always filled in with words that require an additional paragraph to explain. And almost always in English so head office can understand them. What if you don’t speak English or the idea is better expressed as a turn of phrase in the local language? What about pictures, sounds, touch, smell? But most importantly, what if I don’t want to use this bloody template? What if I want to explore the richness of the idea to see where it can take us? What if this is a very new and evolving brand and we simply don’t have the understanding yet to fill in all the boxes or layers or sections of the triangle?

And that is the big problem with the templates – we feel forced to ‘fill them in’. What is the brand’s competitive set; who is the target market; what is your insight; what are the functional benefits; what are the brand values aka non-functional benefits; what are the proof points; in what way is this brand either first, best, only; and finally, what is the essence of the brand? Answers in 100 words or less (in English, pictures will not be allowed unless accompanied by written notes).

What has brought all this on? Why has the designer of the Brand Key and Brand Bullseye (there were others involved etc) decided to change his tune all of a sudden? Well, because someone who did not know I was the designer, recently asked me to get involved in filling one out for a digital business I am involved in and I couldn’t. This is partly because it falls under the heading of ‘newly formed brand’ so we frankly don’t have the answers yet but partly because I yet again realized that these templates are much better at capturing the answers than finding them. They are not a tool – neither a tool to help define a brand nor a particularly good tool to help you communicate to others when you have – they are a neat looking summary that shows you have thought about it.

All I want to do is talk or write or draw (if I could draw) to express some aspects of what the brand could be.
In that regard I find the Brand Mantra or Ideal or Chord much more helpful. Get some ideas out there and start to explain what they might mean. In fact, just have some ideas. I love John Hegarty’s faith in the power of ideas and how brilliant they are- you can just have them, we do, all the time, and they require no technology or templates, not even a pencil and paper. They can just be.

So here is a new idea about brand positioning I’ve had. Let’s call it “Brand Attitude”. My sell for this idea will come directly from the Dictionary (Collins) which I will paraphrase for my purposes: “A mental view or disposition especially as it indicates opinion or allegiance, a theatrical pose created for effect, a position of the body or gesture indicating mood or emotion, the orientation of something in relation to prevailing forces”. This sounds promising don’t you think?

So what is your Brand’s attitude? – answers in 100 words or less

Social Media – Learning to Earn

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I have long been troubled by hearing the interweb and all things digital referred to as  “New Media”, and especially the use of “Social Media” as the collective for blogs and social network sites. My problem is with the word ‘Media’ and I admit it may be a generational thing. Media creates a very particular mindset if you entered marketing any time in the last century. You pay for Media, it works by interruption and is generally one way. We used our brand budget (traditionally 60% of it) to get loosely targeted people to listen to something we felt would win their hearts and minds when they’d rather be doing something else – watching a TV show, reading a magazine or just concentrating on driving their car. Oh I know we tried to make it entertaining and our message had been honed by discourse with a few people in focus groups but nevertheless when it came to media, the more we paid the more we could make people listen.

We spent a bit on PR – Public Relations – but not much in comparison to how much went on media. It would be nice to think we could sit down and have a chat with people, get to know them and let them get to know our brand but how many could we reach this way? One 30 second TVC in Corrie and we’d reach almost everyone.

But now we can talk to millions. We can converse with them and they with us. And when I say them, it can be individuals or groups of people. We can also listen very attentively which is important because conversing means listening more than you talk otherwise you don’t know what to say. With the latest on-line tools we can pick up any reference to our brand on over 35 billion web pages, Twitter and Facebook sites, blogs and posts every moment of every day. We can home in on particular people or groups of people and listen to what’s on their mind. The question is how do you behave as a brand in this new Social Media world? Well not like we behave with paid for broadcast Media.

It’s rude to interrupt, it’s arrogant to throw your weight around and you can’t just shout at people. No that won’t do at all – you have to behave as you would in any social situation.

You have to be invited into the conversation or better still be introduced by someone known and respected by the group. If you must just barge in then at least pick your moment and have something very interesting or helpful to say. To interest people you have to be interesting. While remaining true to yourself, you naturally relate what you say and do to each individual and their particular situation, it’s just courtesy. The rules of Social Media, if we must call it this, are the rules, etiquette if you prefer, of social interaction.

In Media you pay your money to buy attention, in Social Media you have to earn it– which is why I prefer “Earned Media” and there may even be an argument to say that we should go back to PR as the description of this kind of marketing.
As more and more brands and businesses embrace Social/Earned Media they are learning these lessons on how to behave and it is having two very positive side effects. Firstly I have seen a renewed interest in Social Sciences among marketers – to understand how to market to people you have to understand how people behave. This is really healthy. We are social apes distinguished from our cousins only by our ability to communicate and live in vast and overlapping communities – we are defined by our sociability. That’s where we need to start as marketers.

Secondly, because brands don’t actually talk (when was the last time you had a conversation with a bottle of shampoo) the focus has shifted to the people behind the brands. This means that there can be no disconnect between brand values and company values (ask Nike or BP). Again, really healthy.

Living in a community forces us to take account of others and behave better. The nice benefit of social media is that brands are becoming more sociable. When it comes to earning respect it is who you really are what you actually do, that counts most, not how loudly you shout. Instead of just paying more, brands can learn to earn more through authentic, consistent and coherent values that are reflected in their actions rather than just their message. In this new world the playing field has been levelled, big brands have less of an advantage and that’s a good thing too.

Learning to Play Rugby

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One of the great things about rugby is that it has a place for anyone. Small folk with nifty hands and feet, tall rangy runners, short stocky pit ponies and lumbering giants can all find a place in the team. The modern game has brought a coming together of sorts – the big forwards need to be fast with good ball skills and the nifty backs need to be bigger and stronger. They all need to be sharp and fearless and they all need to follow a game plan but yet have the ability to adapt this to the circumstances they face. Rugby is therefore the best analogy for marketing these days and we all need to learn how to play it, agencies and clients alike.

There is a good article by EuroRSCG in Campaign which describes the way agencies need to adapt. Farewell (and good riddance) discipline silos and in particular Brand Planning and Creative sitting in two very separate ones, and hello Brand Choreography for a multi-disciplined team which works, in my view, more like a modern rugby team. Yes everyone has their expertise to bring to the table but they co-create ideas and adapt to circumstances. This recognizes the reality that ideas can come from anywhere – digital, PR, consumer insight – and that they develop best when worked on as a team rather than being passed on like a baton (E.g. “Here’s the big idea – any thoughts for social media or a web site?” – wrong!).

Some time back Chris Satterthwaite of Chime Communiations gave me the idea of a multi-disciplined brand team working like a newsroom – meeting on a daily basis (perhaps weekly is more practical) and reviewing what’s happened in the market, how stories have developed, evolving the brand message and coming up with new storylines. Back to my rugby analogy, this makes sense to me. The brand team not only has a place for a diversity of expertise and perspective but indeed it is made stronger by this. Like the modern rugby team (where backs have to be able to scrum, forwards must have ball skills and all must understand and be able to adapt a game plan) the brand team must all be marketers with an appreciation of each other’s specific areas of expertise so they can build on ideas. You can’t ‘leave it to the digital guys’ any more than the digital guys can leave it to the planners or creatives – they must all be creative, strategic and born digital.

The interesting thing here is who is the chicken and who is the egg? Should agencies play rugby and bring their clients with them or should clients take the lead and demand a different way of working from the agencies? Should they – can they – be just one big client/agency team? I guess it’ll be different stokes for different folks but there are arguably more challenges on the client side. It is not so hard to get a client marketing team to work as rugby teams – ever since open plan offices became the norm this has happened fairly naturally in my experience. The issue is the silos between marketing and the rest of the business. A specific challenge is the business planning cycle – typically an annual plan and rolling 3-5 year long term plan. This requires the marketing team to commit budgets, and therefore some kind of activity plan, months in advance and it makes this more fluid, adaptive way of working very hard in practice. The finance function wants to know what is going to be spent and for that expenditure to be justified as an ROI. The new way of working wants to “learn fast and fail cheap” with a range of executions and budgets that flow and grow as the ROI emerges.

There are no easy answers. It would help to keep a high percentage of the budget uncommitted to support ideas as they come up and it may also help to have a broader definition of who forms the client ‘marketing team’. I’d be interested to hear of anyone’s first hand experience of trying to apply this new way of working.

If you’ve no clue about rugby it might help to talk to someone who has. I am convinced it has lessons for us.