Legally High

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Like many others I suspect, the news that a company in Washington State, USA is launching a range of soft drinks infused with marijuana caught my attention (big time).

The cheekily named “Mirth Provisions” is, equally cheekily, calling their new drinks “Legal”. There are 3 flavours, Cherry, Pomegranate and Lemon plus Lemon Ginger, which can apparently only be drunk while listening to the Grateful Dead (I made that last bit up, the bit about Grateful Dead not the bit about the Lemon Ginger version which is, they claim, quite a bit stronger).

I’ve been to Washington State but the once, to Seattle, home of Starbucks. I think I may be going back and I don’t plan on drinking coffee. This is the biggest news in the drinks industry since they lifted prohibition. How long will it be before you can pick up a 6 pack at Tesco’s and lose an entire weekend? Soon I hope because Seattle is a bloody long way.

I just love this news because it shows the power of a real product benefit and encourages us all to dare to dream the impossible.

I recall a few years back, in 2002, asking one of the brand managers at Miller Beer what he thought the game changers might be in the future. (I should explain that  Miller was built on introducing Lite (sic) beer which was the first decent product based innovation in beer for generations. It was pushed through to the market by people from the new owners Phillip Morris – it worked in fags, why not beer they figured).

He couldn’t see one coming. “What about when they legalise cannabis”, I asked. He was both shocked and incredulous. But I was the Global Marketing Director so he couldn’t tell me I was being both inappropriate and daft although it was clear from his reaction he thought I was both. My intention was to shake up his thinking so I had some fun with him. “Why not?”, I pressed on. “You do know it’s an accident of history that alcohol and caffeine are legal while cannabis is not. LSD was legal until late into the 1960’s. So why shouldn’t a relatively harmless drug like marijuana be made legal at some point? And if it was how would that affect our industry?” He wasn’t having it. “I don’t know about the rest of the world but it just ain’t going to happen here in the Sates”.

Well it is happening, buddy, and it’s brilliant and it will change things forever. All booze is based on ethanol – forget all the hype and bullshit, ethanol produces just one kind of legal high. Marijuana produces an altogether different high – that is progress in my book. Maybe some marketers like the kind of marketing you have to do when the truth is there’s bugger all difference between your product and any other. Personally I like the kind of marketing you can do when you have something new and different, and yes, for some people on some occasions, much, much, better. Imagine the fun we can have transforming a whole bunch of categories in food and drink. That line was, by the way, very deliberate. We can consume our new products and let our imagination run wild and we will laugh out loud while we are doing it because some suckers are actually paying us to do this!

And of course we will dream of other previously unimaginable product breakthroughs. Cars that run on water, phones that tell you what shape you’re in, clothes with smart fabrics that adapt to the environment, insurance that rewards you for being a good driver based on your actual driving data – hang on a minute, I think all those things are available now. Well, shit, we can imagine a whole bunch more.

Back to the soft drinks with dope, who do you think will be first to get this into their cola, Coke or Pepsi? Here is what I think – I think it will be Coca Cola because they’re big and awesome. And then, with a fabulous sense of irony, Pepsi will launch a cola with cocaine extract called Pepsi coke. And they will resurrect one of the best slogans in advertising history….

Lipsmackin’ thirst quenchin’ acetastin’ motivatin’ good buzzin’ cooltalkin’ highwalkin’ fastlivin’ evergivin’ coolfizzin’…Pepsi coke!

Because it just works doesn’t it? It was a line ahead of its time. I wonder what they were on when they wrote it?

Justin Bieber and Persil

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Back at the turn of the Millennium the venerable Jeremy Bullmore delivered a lecture to the British Brands Group entitled “Posh Spice and Persil”. Victoria had apparently declared at an early age that she wanted to be more famous than Persil and Jeremy took this as his theme to expound the importance, and the magical mystery, of brands to CEO’s. I wasn’t there but like many thousand others I read the transcript. I had heard him talk before about the powerful quality of fame that brands have which, if nothing else, will create preference. When found at the heart of a coherent, yet never fully definable, set of relevant associations it can drive loyalty to a brand of soap powder or baked beans (or at the very least deep, deep inertia).

Was he the first to see celebrities as proper brands? Who knows, probably not, the notion was becoming popular and even back then it was clear the Beckham brand was being managed (and to great effect). I recall many years earlier hearing Peter York (aka Wallis, he of Sloane Ranger fame) liken brands to soap opera stars. We like them because we know them yet every now and again they can surprise us. Product brands hope to surprise us in an appealing way, celebrities often surprise us in a disappointing way that has them reaching for Max Clifford’s number on speed dial. Anyway, my point is celebrities started to realize they were like Persil and more recently Persil et al realize they need to learn to be more like celebrities. They envy their social media status, their content, their multi-media ubiquity – their loyal following. Brands want to be newsworthy.

I am in Cape Town, as I write, and my wife and son are off to see Justin Bieber tonight at the impressive Green Point stadium. The whole city is buzzing, young Beliebers have been camping out all night to get the best spot in the Golden Circle, the traffic tonight will be awful. Justin, I am sure, will be amazing. What a great brand he is, if you happen to like his music, which I don’t.

But here is my point – one I intend to focus a lot more on in my writing, in terms of the marketing technology businesses I am investing in, and for the occasional client I am advising. Justin is a lot more than a strong brand. Justin is a global media channel. This diminutive 17 year old crooner has 45 million facebook followers (his most recent post attracted 2.5 million likes in an hour, I just checked) and 21 million Twitter followers. ”Baby” has been watched 750 million times on Youtube. His total album sales since 2009 are only 12 million – I say ‘only’, obviously this is good going but can’t you see? His music is not the product, the numbers are tiny in comparison to his audience, his reach and frequency. Justin – or one presumes his agent – is amassing a valuable portfolio of investments in social media platforms like Spotify and other internet start-ups. Because Justin can make or break a social media platform. Because Justin is the Social Media Platform. And then there’s Lady Gaga, Oprah, Jamie Oliver, WillIam etc etc etc.

If Justin tweets today that he is wearing his favourite white jacket that he insists is washed in Persil and only Persil wherever he is in the world, a gazillion young girls and future mums will be hooked for life, more than any campaign dreamt up by Jeremy’s and Persil’s old agency JWT could ever have achieved. Am I just pointing out the obvious and age-old power of celebrity endorsement? No, I am pointing out that with his endorsement comes a global audience of his making and under his control, one that will amplify the message with their own audience via re-tweets and likes.

Celebrities are the new media platforms and Social Media is their prime weapon. The top/smart celebrities are managing themselves not just like brands but like social media platforms. And here is just one thing that interests me about this. Most of the technology start-ups I talk to are very keen on securing brand support. They want to charter with the Persils, Cokes, Nikes, Samsungs as their partners because they are the ones with the budgets and inferred credibility. Some are now realizing that if they charter with celebrities (which in Justin’s case means he wants equity in the business) the brands will follow. But the reverse is not true.

Jeremy my old friend – it’s gone way further than any of us could have imagined. Justin Bieber is not just bigger than Persil, he is bigger than commercial TV. He, or more realistically he and all the other savvy celebrities, may end up being bigger than facebook.

So should brands be looking to celebrities for clues about the new model of branding and brand communication? Perhaps, but more importantly they should be looking at celebrities the way they used to look at ITV and have started to look at facebook. Persil and all the other big brands need a Bieber strategy and budget.

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????”

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.

Duchy Originals – A License to Print Money Unless Your Mum Already Does

HRH Prince Charles started Duchy Originals, a range of wholesome organic products, as a way of generating funds for his charity, The Prince’s Trust. The charity supports disadvantaged young entrepreneurs and is a really worthy cause. Britain needs entrepreneurs and the Trust provides seed capital and mentorship to kids who, having grown up on the wrong side of the track, would otherwise never be given a chance. It gets corporate and private sponsorship but the Prince thought it would be a good idea to create an annuity income from one of his entrepreneurial ideas.

Charles has always been convinced that original is better and environmentally friendly is essential. He prefers old style architecture and any ‘back to nature’ way of producing food. Since he feels he represents British values at their best (so I was once told by someone in his entourage) he believes that deep down we all want to be like him. So when, on his Highgrove Estate,  he came across a nice biscuit made with organic ingredients to an old fashioned recipe or bacon from free range organic pigs he reckoned, given the chance, we’d all like to pay a premium for these foods. He founded Duchy Originals – or at least he had some of his people do it – and launched a range of products the best of which, in my opinion, were the biscuits and the bacon.

He put some professional managers in charge and for a while it did OK – it got to 4 million plus turnover at its best and the charity received some annual dividends. Charles was known to boast playfully that he was “a self-made millionaire” on the back of the success of his business start up. So far so good.

I met people who worked at Duchy Originals and while they tried to be discrete it was pretty clear that the business significantly under-performed because, allegedly, HRH could not stop meddling and forced on them whatever latest crackpot idea he had come up with. If he happened upon some tasty Lemon Curd or sturdy Garden Sheds, he insisted these be added to the range irrespective of whatever carefully laid business plan they were working to. Worse still he also foisted on them whichever business or marketing expert he happened to meet who showed any interest in Duchy Originals (which you would, wouldn’t you, if you met HRH and were trying to make conversation).

Nevertheless, some might say that he deserves full credit for founding the charity and having the gumption to start a business that he believed in, and that would provide some extra funds. Yes, but…… What Duchy Originals is, in effect, is a commercial application of the Royal Warrant, the special seal of approval the Queen bestows on any product she uses personally. The Royal Warrant is strictly non-commercial – if the Queen happens to patronize your brand of Waxed Shooting Jacket or Umbrella or biscuit you can apply for a Royal Warrant. If it is awarded you may feature this in your advertising or on your product but there are strict rules as to how this is done and no money changes hands. You only have to look at what the Duchess of York pocketed for her full blown endorsement of Weight Watchers (genius move on their part by the way) to see how much the Royal Warrant could be worth if you could really exploit it. Ditto Duchy Originals. How much money could you make – especially in the USA and Asia – if you could launch a company with a range of products under the HRH Prince Charles Brand? Hundreds of millions, billions even if it was well managed.

How high did HRH drive the revenues– 4 million quid at best, and this slumped last year to half that and a loss of 3.3 million pounds. So he has licensed Duchy Original to Waitrose – the upmarket grocery store that are the most enthusiastic stockists of the Duchy range – in return for a guaranteed donation to the trust of 1 million per year. Waitrose will do well with Duchy Originals and one assumes at last it will get the less fettered professional management and development of the brand it deserves, but one can’t help feeling Duchy Originals could have been a license to print money for a very worthy charity.
Mind you, if you are the heir to the throne that does print the money there are probably easier and ways to generate extra funds for the Prince’s Trust than selling biscuits one happens to enjoy with one’s tea.

God Bless him, Prince Charles is the best weapon we British republicans have.