Tag Archives: brand

How Service Quality Can Make Or Break Your Brand With A Little Help From Social Media.

One of the last remaining weapons a brand has left to fight competitors with, is service. When there’s no real difference but the logo and the company behind it, it all comes down to how you reward or punish people for choosing you. See, I said people. Not customers, or consumers, or users, or clients. People.

People are real. They have feelings. They work hard for their money and they decide carefully how to spend it on most things. When something goes wrong with the service they paid for or the product they bought, they need help. You owe it to them.

Help does not mean waiting for half an hour in an automated call queue listening to canned muzak and being told every 30 seconds that the next available person will attend to one. Help does not mean getting through to someone in Bangalore reading from a script with no experience of the product or service and no way to solve one’s problem beyond grinding through a script. That is not Help. That is not service. That is torture.

Help is someone coming to one’s assistance who knows what one needs and can deliver on it immediately, or pretty soon thereafter. And get this, Help is part of your Brand.

If you choose the alternate path,  Torture becomes part of your brand.

The reality of managing a brand in the Social Media era is that your efforts to Help or Torture will not go unremarked upon and it is becoming easier to spread those remarks all the time.

They will appear across the Twitterverse, on YouTube, in Facebook, as Foursquare comments and in blogs and forums available everywhere. And there is nothing you can do to stop it.

So be nice. Or Fail.

If you don’t believe me, watch this:

And in case WordPress didn’t serve that to you well, search United Breaks Guitars on YouTube and follow the series.

Why Marketing & Procurement Are On A Collision Course In The Web 2.0 Universe, And Beyond.

The environment for most brands is changing fast. A stream of new opportunities keeps flowing – social media, word-of-mouth & location – based mobile marketing right now – and the means to take advantage of them comes increasingly from start-ups. In this universe being entrepreneurial is key to Marketing success and a well-intentioned but misguided Procurement department can be as great a threat to brands as the competition.

Differentiation is Both Quantitative and Qualitative.

Companies have to differentiate what they produce in a relevant way. That makes them stand out against competitors and makes their brands valuable. Ad agencies often do this through distinctive creative output. When they resort to scam ads it suggests they haven’t grasped the ‘relevance’ issue. What marketing service providers must do is to price the value they add, or the savings they generate, for clients. If they don’t their service may seem generic, inviting client Procurement departments to squeeze them on price.

Most procurement methods originated to reduce production costs by managing how standardized commodities and homogeneous goods and services are bought. They are fundamentally quantitative, which leaves qualitative, ideas-based or creative services particularly vulnerable to being under-priced. Recent trends toward quantitative RFPs submitted online with no Marketing department participation and no qualitative performance measures, are clearly misguided and a cause for grave concern.

Don’t get me wrong,  Procurement management is critical for all forms of production. However, marketing services contain creative problem-solving elements – not just ad ideas – which are not homogeneous, and which even their producers struggle to value accurately. I went into this earlier in the post on Creative Services and the Vicious Cycle of Procurement.

Wisely applied, Procurement is Good.

The thing is, successful supply chain cost management is vital to business success. If a company can produce consistent, sustainable, marketable quality at a lower price than its competitors it will tend to gain market share and benefit from economies of scale, all increasing ROI. Marketing services companies need to become just as savvy about Procurement as their clients and must apply it in their own businesses too. That TBWA recently appointed a global head of Procurement makes an interesting statement. That their competitors responded with a deafening silence does too.

Where problems arise is with the “consistent” and “sustainable” aspects in that previous paragraph, especially producing the specialty services provided in marketing communications. For example, media agencies slicing income to win business volume for larger buying discounts, a process rampant for a decade, is an unsustainable “Race To The Bottom”. I wrote on this in ’03 working at Carat (Media, 23 March).

What happens is this: after winning a new piece of business with a low bid, a media agency can only afford to staff it with cheap, lower quality staff, overseen by an overstretched senior if they’re lucky. Procurement is happy but Marketing soon complain of weak advice, errors and unresponsiveness. When it comes to a head they put the media account up for pitch again. Procurement lends a hand and the account goes to the lowest bidder. Work into a lather. Rinse. Repeat. Soon nobody in Marketing has much hair left and all the media agencies are producing poor service and making no money.

What Happens When It’s A Race To The Top?

Procurement departments not used to valuing and buying marketing services often have unrealistic expectations. Network media and ad agencies with big holding company parents have helped those develop. As a result many believe that if you lean on a marketing services supplier they’ll find a way to drop their price and keep providing the service. The near sweat-shop conditions in some major agencies probably prove their point.

However, real trouble strikes when Procurement meets Entrepreneurs. The company best positioned to offer cutting edge social media and other innovative services needed for a brand, is increasingly a relatively new start-up. These new firms are staffed with very focused people with little knowledge of procurement methods, nor time to learn them while pulling 18 hour days. Critically, they have limited funds.  To survive and prosper they must build their business up to long term health as fast as possible. In pioneering fields, for start-up founders, and their angel investors, it’s really a Race To The Top.

Start-ups need business, but not on destructive terms. They realise that quickly, or die. However, as any entrepreneurial 21st Century marketer knows, you need these specialists and their new services to differentiate, defend and build your brands in these exciting but complex new arenas. Currently it’s social media, search, and location-based mobile marketing. There’ll be something more within a year.

The Procurement Curse/Benefit Analysis For Marketers.

Whether it all ends in success or tears for any given marketer depends on three main drivers:

1. the marketing company’s culture – exploratory & innovative Vs scared & defensive;

2. that company’s senior leadership & vision  – supportive Vs punitive and;

3. how well their  Procurement department is trained and for what purpose – pure cost saving Vs helping brands be as competitive as possible.

In the bigger picture this applies to dealing with long established ad and media agencies just as much as to social media engagement experts and branded app developers.

If Marketing gets only what Procurement lets them pay for, the question facing marketers has to be: “Does our Procurement department have the skills to help us buy these services successfully?”

If they do not, they will compel you to use and become, second best.

How Job Insecurity & Professional Cowardice Made Bud Light Stumble For The First Time Ever.

Ads blamed for Bud Lite sales fall.

A  US Budweiser campaign, “Drinkability”, is being blamed for the first full year sales decline in Bud Lite history. This in a recession when beer sales are often one of few things that go up. A firm of consultants  was  involved. Apparently their recommendations became ad briefs which DDB and Euro anwered by coming up with the “Drinkability” campaign.

Lots of voices are now being heard from all quarters about why this happened and who is at fault.

A Wide Range Of Differing Opinions.

A number of points have been made including:

“Were the spots entertaining? No. Were they loaded with brief-filling, focus group-tested, chest-puffing talking points? Yes.” – Adman blog posting

“Consulting doesn’t boast creative expertise nor does it have any interest in “starting a turf war” with creative agencies.” – A consultancy spokesperson

“…some clients will pay consultants millions to rehash research and refine positioning, but then they pressure agencies to lower costs on the thinking/ideas that positions and builds awareness of a brand and ultimately sell products.” – online comment posting

“Unfortunately, too many people are willing to blindly accept whatever “dictate” trickles down and don’t bother to question the validity of the premise or invest themselves in its integrity. This is a cause for shame in our industry. It opens the door for spectators to broadly crucify agencies and consultants, wastes money, damages brands, and demoralizes everyone involved.” – online comment posting

“Agency creative directors tend to do more damage to brands if left unchecked. They too often develop high concept ads that win awards but do very little to motivate consumers in any way. The examples are endless.” – online comment posting

Others attribute the Bud Lite decline to Anheuser-Busch being bought by InBev.

Then of course there’s the question of whether one can or can’t directly correlate advertising and sales. Well, one can’t have it both ways.

All these points have merit to a greater or lesser degree. However, I think there’s a simpler, deeper issue behind all this.

When you’re scared you tend to make bad decisions.

Let’s face it, those ads are weak. The consultant-driven briefs that Budweiser Marketing pushed on DDB and Euro should have been declined immediately for what they clearly were: weak, lacking compelling beer consumer insights and likely to generate poor advertising harmful to Bud Lite in the competitive context.

Next, the agencies should have proposed better briefs, drawing on what was useful from the consultant reports, avoiding what wasn’t or was clearly going to harm the brand. At that point the Bud clients needed to listen carefully, debate it skillfully and collaborate on agreeing powerful briefs.

The Great Recession is partly to blame, as is unchecked Procurement thinking.

Budget cutbacks and the retrenchment of expensive but experienced ad talent have taken a toll. We seem to be left with scared ad agency people lacking the experience and the faith in their craft, and thus also the confidence in it, to do their jobs bravely and professionally. To say a professional “No” instead of an easy, but ultimately ruinous “Yes”.

Advertising is an industry with a high proportion of people eager to please and who are in fundamentally weak positions relative to their clients. As a result they are thus very vulnerable to being bullied by equally scared, inexperienced or under-qualified marketing staff.

The result of all of this seems to be increasing levels of professional cowardice. Among advertising people, and among Marketers too.

That old Young & Rubicam house ad nails it. The one that shows a spinal column from the neck to the coccyx with the headline, as I recall it:

“This is a backbone. You can’t run a good ad agency without one.”

Actually, you can’t run any good business without one.

(PS, if anyone has a copy or a link to that Y&R ad please link it in the comments below or email me. Tx.)

How Punk Capitalism and the Brand Experience Mashup will Change the Ad Industry Forever.

Ads & Mashups.

©Yahoo 2006

Researching my previous post a word from the 4As Transformations 2010 website blurb stood out.

“Mash-up” (sic).

For many in the ad field, “mashup” probably brings to mind dance mixes of vocals, instrumentals and samples from different styles and cultures. Or maybe Google Earth.

Here’s the current entry in Wikipedia: “The term mashup originated in web development. It is a web page or application that uses or combines data or functionality from two or many more external sources to create a new service.”

Please study that and remember it.

Marketers & Ad Agencies Stimied by Silos.

Territorial silos, top management ignorance and a lack of leadership pulling it together made the ad agency business fall apart. Here’s a recent comment from Bob Jeffrey, Chairman and Worldwide CEO of JWT, first having a “go” at marketers for their silos:

“My hope is that the recession will have been a huge wake-up call to clients with regard to that siloed mentality. It’s not only inefficient from a cost-savings perspective, but the more you collapse the silos, the more integration you drive, ultimately leading to a more effective environment in which to deliver better ideas and stronger creative output.”

Then Jeffrey hammered ad agencies too:

“[Agencies] need to know when to compete and when to collaborate. Agencies are inherently territorial, tribal and competitive, but it’s critical to take an agnostic, less ego-centric approach to collaboration, and to have a bigger view of the world and the direction in which the world is heading if agencies are to achieve the ultimate goal of making their clients successful.” (Campaign, #worldview blog).

Punk Capitalism & Breaking Down The Barriers.

In his brilliant “The Pirate’s Dilemma – how youth culture is invigorating capitalism” Matt Mason wrote “Our world today is starting to look a lot more like a punk gig (okay, maybe with slightly less spitting). The barriers to entry are being kicked down, and this new breed of fans-turned-performers, including you, is rushing the world stage. Technology is cheap; information is everywhere; the roadies are gone (who takes advice from roadies anyway?). The only thing left to do is to stop defining ourselves by the old hierarchy and run up onstage.” This is the world of search, social media and street art; of YouTube , Twitter and Mark Ecko “tagging Airforce One“.

Frans Johansson, innovation author of The Medici Effect saw how the Medicis catalyzed the Renaissance by breaking down barriers between different fields and cultures, allowing art, architecture and humanism to thrive. Think Michaelangelo and Da Vinci.

Johansson’s thesis is that knowledge about a specific field leads us to put up “associative barriers” around that knowledge. “They inhibit our ability to think broadly. We do not question assumptions as readily, we jump to conclusions faster and create barriers to alternate ways of thinking about a particular situation.” The silos develop and we lose our way.

Professor Andy Miah, editor of “Human Futures: Art In An Age Of Uncertainty” puts it like this: “We no longer need [just] specialist knowledge but trans-disciplinary creative solutions”.

The Brand Experience Mashup.

So, how does the Brand Experience Mashup become the future of the ad business? That a mashup “combines data or functionality from two or many more external sources to create a new service” is the key.

The brand communications industry isn’t working well for marketers or its own staff and shareholders. Partly because the bits don’t like working together and largely because the old-school mentality can’t unleash and re-combine the power of their disciplines, in the holding companies that control them, to change that.

Each holding company has the parts needed. They remain siloed in agency brands, with their own P&Ls and little vision beyond their omphalos. WPP tried to combine those bits and produced the ill-fated Enfatico of 2009 and the earlier Team Samsung of 2004 – an unwieldy 6 company clash of egos and territoriality which lost Samsung in under a year to Leo Burnett. A single agency.

Credit to WPP that they keep trying. The lesson is it’ll take radical restructuring, not just a Newco and corporate duct-tape, to create what’s needed.

Remixing the past won’t deliver the changes needed for brands and their communications to create real value. What is needed is a sustainable, continuous cycle of creating, hearing and responding to feedback about, and creating further brand experiences. That means, as Sean Boyle said in the video I linked to last week, “Instead of taking 8 months to do one thing, we need to do 8 things in one month!”

Full Service Agency Redux Is Not The Answer.

The Brand Experience Mashup is a new kind of service through a different organization probably bearing little resemblance to an ad agency and perhaps looking more like a professional services firm with long tails of content creators.

Corporate Mashups & Why Holding Companies Can’t.

Real progress in building value through communications for any brand will require those organizations to be corporate mashups; designed to bring all the fields together on one client-centered P&L for brand centered results. Design, media, retail, PR, digital, data analytics, promotions, sponsorship, WOM… the lot!

The focus to make this work is simply The Brand User.

Everything about brand experience must be built around real insights and true understanding from deep knowledge and ongoing interaction with brand users.

We are starting to see suggestions of how to build brand experience businesses this way. With crowdsourcing and expertsourcing, innovation and leadership and learning from  professional services firms, from hackers, hip-hop and pirates.

A superior brand support industry will develop because brands need it and because free-thinking innovators, driven to find new and better ways unconstrained by current structures, will create it.

The holding companies may seem to have all the pieces but they also seem to be stuck in all the wrong configurations. It will be interesting to see if those legacy investments can be pulled apart and recombined to survive and continue to serve their shareholders.