“I’m back, I’m back, as a matter of fact, I’m back”

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Slightly off to quote Gary Glitter lyrics but I couldn’t resist it. “Did you miss me while I was away, did you hang my picture on your wall?” I guess the answer to both questions is No. Don’t blame you.

Well I’m excited to be back using my web site again after 5 years. I’ve posted some new articles and eBooks and if you can be bothered to read them you will see what I’ve been working on, a new vision of marketing as purposeful value creation in an omni-connected, post digital world.

My last post was on the 2015 General election that David Cameron won with an unexpected majority. The polls had got it wrong again and I try to explain why.

Not much has happened between then and now:-

  • Britain voted to leave the EU and Cameron resigned.
  • Theresa May replaced him, called another election in which she lost her majority and eventually her job.
  • Boris took over, couldn’t get Brexit done so called another election which he won with a big majority on a ‘Get Brexit Done’ mandate. We’ve left but no deal yet.
  • Donald Trump won the 2016 USA Presidential election and made friends with Kim Jong Un (and enemies with just about everyone else)
  • A global pandemic hit the world and everyone blames China
  • We’re heading for a Global Depression that will make 1928 look like a bump in the road

I think the future is what we want to make it and we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to make it better. Never waste a crisis. I set out my thoughts on this in my article ‘New-Naked Economics: the New Laws of the Jungle’. I’d love to know what you think.

More posts will follow when I’ve got something to say and I usually do.

More Tea Vicar?

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I’ve always thought of a curate as the Vicar’s assistant, in fact I am pretty sure that is exactly what a curate is. A curator on the other hand is someone who works in a museum or art gallery who, to use the precise dictionary definition, “is in charge of arranging, selecting and presenting material to the general public”. Art galleries and museums always have far more stuff than they have space to exhibit so someone has to decide what stays in the basement and what goes on the walls and in the cabinets.

Worthy professions both, the clergyman or museum administrator. Which is why the digital people and now the marketers have nicked the word. Am I alone in noticing that everything these days seems to involve curation? Web sites, content and now brands are not merely managed, they are curated in much the same way that fine goods are not sold, they are purveyed.

This is not the first time that marketing has latched on to some lofty term to add an air of professionalism to what we do. Many moons ago the notion of Brand Stewardship was added to our lexicon (by one of the ad agencies I think, or purveyors of fine communications as I probably should say). Also some while back, people introduced the term “brand equity” although with various explanations of what equity actually meant now that it meant more than the ordinary shares held in a company. Some used it to refer to the unique gizmos and logos and ‘ownable properties’ a distinctive brand possesses. Others used it to mean the sum total of all the brand’s reputation and associations. Others used it in strictly financial terms to mean the value of the brand (with various ways of calculating this). Whichever way you take your brand equity, to be the person managing it sounded cool. Indeed there seemed to be a lot of people who really cared about brand equity. Any time something unpopular or commercial was suggested, the accusation that it would ‘undermine our brand equity’ was enough to put the kibosh on it.

There grew to be a non- uniformed army of Brand Guardians, whose soldiers were to be found in design agencies and ad agencies, especially the planning departments. Their mission was to protect the brand equity against the foolish short-term decisions of the owners of the brand and their appointed managers. I remember as a client finding this an amusing concept, the idea that the bloke in the design agency cared more about my brand than I did.

The introduction of some new terms like stewardship and brand equity is not a bad thing when the motive is to make one think differently and more deeply about brands. They are valuable, they are also complex, it is a long game, it requires thoughtful management and planned development. The idea of curation is quite a good one I think – there is always more that you could say about a brand or do with it than there is budget, so the idea that brand management is about “arranging, selecting and presenting of material to the general public” seems very apt. I doubt it will be long before it goes out of fashion and some new term gets nicked from some other walk of life, but let it have its day.

We don’t sell, we purvey, we don’t grow brands, we build the brand equity, we don’t make consistent choices (or deliberately inconsistent ones), we curate.

What does come across as lame is the underlying desire to make marketing seem more professional by dressing up what we do in posh sounding terms borrowed from the real professions or other occupations that are more socially acceptable.

Marketing is not a profession – I am not saying it is not important or beastly hard, just that it is not a profession. We are not curators in the British Museum, we are paid exaggerators, purveyors of hyperbole in an effort to make more people pay more money, more often for our brands. We have a Society but we do not have a Professional Body with clearly defined rules to ensure we discharge our duties with integrity, nor is there a Professional Qualification that gives some reassurance that this is done with minimum standards of competence. However poorly we behave or perform we cannot be struck off.

We are not a profession and frankly we ain’t that noble. No amount of terms like stewardship, guardianship, equity building or curation can hide the fact that our prime purpose is to make money for shareholders. It is not ignoble to make money for shareholders but it is not public service nor a calling from God.

Increasingly we talk about CSR, sustainability, triple bottom lines and that cannot be a bad thing. I know that some senior marketers and business leaders are quite sincere about this but let’s be honest, in todays peer reviewed, transparent, global world it is just good business.

What we do is fun, it creates wealth and employment, it drives research and progress (of a sort) but lets not get ahead of ourselves. We’re not vicars and we don’t display art.

Would I Lie To You?

With one child still left in the nest with a chance to go to Oxford, an article in the Telegraph about Oxford interview questions caught my eye. David Leal at Brasenose uses this question for aspiring philosophy students – “Lie, deceive and mislead seem to mean a similar thing but not exactly. Help me sort them out from each other”. Great question. Even if you had a dictionary it wouldn’t help you. What Mr. Leal wants to see is how you tackle the question for which there is no real answer other than “You can’t, without a context”. As a failed Cambridge applicant (Economics) I am tempted to provide an answer that I might have given in the context of a university interview just to show the opportunity they missed. I applied to Selwyn, a college, I was told, was so poor no-one with half a brain could fail to get accepted. My humiliation upon receiving a firm rejection was thus all the worse, slightly eased by discovering that the friend I made in my first week at Bristol had also tried the same strategy and had also been refused by Selwyn. No names, no pack drill, but you know who you are Charlie K (still one of my best friends).

No, I shall attempt to answer the question in the context of marketing. I will seek to prove that only one of them is unacceptable in the promotion of a brand. In the Oxford question, had one said the answer lay in the context, one would have had to go on to show that who was doing the lying, deceiving, misleading, to whom and with what motivation might indicate nuances of meaning. In marketing we can answer that straight away. It is the brand, they might be lying, deceiving or misleading “consumers”  (people) for the purpose of making profits by gaining an unfair advantage over their competitors. I will argue that in which case, there is really only a difference in acceptability.

It’s OK to deceive your “consumer”, brands do it all the time. We spend millions of $ and engage the brightest and most creative minds to deceive people into believing that our brands are better and will improve their lives. It is not just part of what we do, it is what we do. We seek to persuade them that the smallest of performance difference will actually make any difference, that our brand will make you more of a man or woman, a more attractive and confident person, that it will earn you the respect of your peers and the attention of the opposite sex. Oh yes we do.

We mislead people into thinking that our brands are terribly popular among people who, according to our research, our target consumers will find credible and motivating. You don’t think so? So how many Irish people drink Baileys or Magners, how many Aussies drink Fosters? Did Michael Schumacher really help develop that premium petrol, does he deliberately drive out of his way to find the gas station that sells it to put it in his own car? Do all those starlets actually use that shampoo and derive their self-esteem from it? Do they ‘ecky thump. Are our shoes hand crafted in grottos by little elves, is our whisky lovingly scraped from the wings of angels by men in kilts? Or are they, respectively, knocked out in Chinese sweat shops and distilled as a chemical in something the size and appeal of a school science lab?

These days we twitter and post to create ‘a human face for the brand and to engage our consumers’. A slight deception as there rarely is one human guiding the brand, rather a large cumbersome team acting on behalf of shareholders. You are being misled if you believe we really want to engage with ‘you’ because we care about ‘you’. We only care if there are millions of “you” buying our brand. We engage because we have to not because we want to. The old didactic days of marketing were far easier.

Yes we both deceive and mislead people and revel in the focus group findings and Nielsen results that show we have succeeded.

We are magicians, we simply but cleverly misdirect. We use sleight of hand, theatricality, the set-up (is there any difference between planting someone in the audience or paying George Clooney to flog your coffee?).

But we don’t lie and if we do we get caught, which is probably why we don’t lie. You think this is harsh? I imagine if you had been born 100 years ago you would have been convinced Guinness was good for you and Marlboro cigarettes were part of a healthy outdoor lifestyle too. (I still believe both).

I did not get into the easiest college in Cambridge let alone the philosophy department of Oxford. I ended up a murketeer and in the context of murketing, “deceive” and “mislead” mean pretty much the same thing. They are not just acceptable, they are aspirational. A lie is not acceptable and it’s bad for business. That’s the difference.

Or put another way – great advertising is “truth, well told”  not a pack of lies. (Did I pass?)

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.

Only Old Guys Care About Privacy

David Rowan is the editor of Wired UK and he recently wrote about why he is not active on facebook. This interested me. I’m much older than David – who admits to being the wrong side of 30 yrs while I try not to admit to being the wrong side of 50. I, too, am very inactive on facebook. It’s partly a brand thing – feels more relevant to my kids than me – but I confess to a certain unease about sharing too much stuff on a social site motivated by profit.

David Rowan is much more explicit about his worries. Apart from the general point that sites like facebook are not motivated by your self – interest he goes on to list several other concerns. Giving away too much information makes it harder to reinvent yourself (mature maybe?) in later years. Information supplied for one purpose will invariably be used for another that you did not sign up for and indeed, may be used against you – are you happy to share everything about yourself with a prospective employer? People can be selective in what they choose to republish about you to paint a less attractive picture – people like journalists. Social sites lull us into revealing more than we realize and clever search allows that to be singled out.

Facebook have a Privacy policy that runs to some 5,830 words, nearly a third longer than the US Constitution, but it amounts to “we can do what we want with what we know” apparently. If this seems alarmist on David Rowan’s part you might like to bear in mind that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been quoted as saying he believes the world would be better place if none of us had any secrets. Hard to argue with that. We would behave better if we felt every thing we ever said, did, wrote or thought was freely and readily available to all our fellow citizens. We would be good – but not for goodness sake. Not sure that’s the world I’d like to inhabit (it is of course the world you already inhabit if you believe in God and divine retribution).

Rowan wrote his piece in response to a colleague’s taunt that only old guys care about privacy. In fact the proportion of younger users of facebook who are becoming more circumspect and private in terms of their use of the site is higher than the older users. We all care about privacy, perhaps if you are older you are better able to understand why. You have more experience of the benefit that comes of mistakes you were able to keep private versus the downside of the ones sadly you were not.

I am a firm believer in Permission Marketing especially in today’s ‘Wired’ World. I think the transaction must be clear – I tell you certain things in return for you using them to my explicit benefit. I am involved in one such business and am aware of others that are being developed. I think we’ll see more and more of this. People will share information about themselves if they can see you will use it responsibly and transparently and they get something out of this. No harm in marketing to people if they want you to. I love cars and would happily share insights on what I own, what I like, what I think about cars etc. if you promise to reward me with great deals and interesting content about my particular hobby. However, I’m not sure I want you to market some diet pills to me just because I confessed to being worried about my weight on facebook to people I thought were my friends or if I uploaded some photos where I looked a bit podgy (which would be any photo of me).

Young people (and old people) read about their favourite celebs in magazines like Heat and Hello. Their facebook page is their chance for a bit of fame if they share what’s going on in their lives. They are copying what they see celebs do (or have done to them) in terms of publicity, reaching for their 15 minutes of fame.

So, I have adpated an old Cat Stevens song as a warning to young people who, in their search for internet celebrity, are not sufficiently wary of facebook:-

Oh, baby it’s a wired world,
It’s hard to get by just upon a smile.
Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wired world
I’ll always remember you just like a child, girl.

At least I will if you are not careful about the photos you upload to facebook.