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Here you'll find various ramblings which I'll be adding to over the years. Check back often to see what's riling me!


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Below are all of the blog entries with the most recent at the top, if you would rather dip into the topics which interest you most you may prefer the Archive and Download facility.


Marketing lessons from Team GB

A record medal haul from an overseas Olympics. It’s got me thinking about how cultural change enables success and the things marketing teams can learn and apply. So, as extraordinary as they are, this isn't about the individual athlete’s stories of bravery and hardship. It's about creating the environment for talent to prosper.


Widen the talent pool

Talent identification programmes including Sporting Giants have found promising young athletes, introduced them to sports they'd never tried before, and made them champions. We now have rowers wearing gold without a hint of Oxbridge on their CV. Like the 1980's Big Bang deregulation of the stock markets, suddenly things have become meritocratic and we’ve released so much more potential talent to compete.


Marketing lessons? Diverse recruitment.  Ensure your marketing talent reflects your customers and draws on every strength available to it. Don't surround yourself with clones. Find the best people - people who are bright - and people who challenge you. Similarly, make sure you take a diverse view of your customers and build buyer personas based on real motivations, not clichés.


Spend wisely

Investment in elite sport has risen 50 fold in 20 years. From the pure failure of the Atlanta games came a drive for change as we recognised raw talent alone doesn't win medals. By spending big, but spending wisely, change has been made. It's not about waving a wad of cash as an incentive for winning as some countries do, indeed our medallists don't receive a penny in prize money. The clever spending is in creating world class training facilities, developing coaches, and enabling sports people to train full time. It's is also a focused spend. Not funding some minority sports who can't demonstrate medal potential at the next two games is seen by some as ruthless. But if the objective is to win medals this necessarily requires focused spend where the opportunity is greatest. Sorry Greco-Roman wrestlers.


Marketing lessons? Ingrain the pursuit of excellence as the minimum acceptable standard. Never cease to hunt out new ideas and develop the skills of the people you have. Be prepared to support that development with the necessary spending to make it happen. And focus investment on customer problems where your business is the best fit - better to be someone's expert than everyone's jack of all trades.


Share success

John Major has emerged as one of the most unlikely of sporting heroes. With a relatively short tenure at number 10, and a fairly forgettable legacy, he is one of our less memorable 20th century premiers. However, he recognised chronic underinvestment in the arts, culture and sport was becoming a national embarrassment. In introducing the National Lottery, he got the people to pay for their own luxuries, incentivised by the slim self-motivation that this week’s millionaire; 'it could be you'. The investment the National Lottery has made has been widely recognised as central to the successful transformation of our team’s performance. It also gives us all a small stake in their achievements.


Marketing lessons? From the working class routes of the Co-op, through the partners of John Lewis, all the way to Giff Gaff ‘the mobile network run by you’. There are scores of examples of how including customers in decision making and even sharing profits with them increases loyalty. Think how you can share success with your customer and help them feel pride in your growth.


Did you spot any marketing lessons I've missed? Let me know.


This article first appeared on LinkedIn.


Reflections on the Watertight Marketing conference #wmconf16


Identify profit leaks. Develop strategies to plug them. Create tactics to drive sales everywhere from social media to CRM and copywriting. In two days? It can’t be done they said.


But my goodness Watertight Marketing delivered, and with barely pause for breath every delegate (and speaker) now has a to-do list longer than the Chilcot report.

I spent an hour sharing my thoughts on what makes a business different. How to stand out from the crowd. Something of a whistle-stop tour covering everything from segmentation to value proposition by way of customer insight. Hopefully done in such a way that it makes sense in the small and medium sized owner managed businesses Watertight Marketing loves to help.


Three big points to take away from my session:


Remember why you do things

Somewhere in your heart is an underlying motivation which makes you the person you are. And if that’s a person who has jeopardised their financial and mental wellbeing to start a business. Think what compelled you to take that first crazy step. Whether it was to make life better for others, or just to indulge a passion of your own, blooming well tell people about it. Other people will feel the same way too. 


Find the pain points which keep your customers awake at night

Interrogate your customers (in a nice way). Discover the real issues they face. And don’t just take the first answer. Think about cause and effect and how you can make a difference at the root of the pain rather than treat the symptoms. But don’t forget, you want to be a positive force in people’s lives, so don’t spend all of your time pointing out pitfalls, be the brand which makes the good things happen and show the emotion you can move people towards.


Keep it simple

Your customers come to you so you can make their lives easier. They don’t necessarily need to know all the clever stuff you do. Just help them solve that problem in the easiest way possible. This goes for everything you do. Write and talk in plain English and make your business easy to buy from by showing people the single biggest benefit they’ll feel.


Our next conference is in October. Get involved:


Powerful value propositions

I wrote for following for B2B Marketing magazine exploring the significance of a clear value proposition when engaging with customers: 


Why do your customers choose you? And for how long will they continue to do so?


If you can’t give a compelling and concise answer to that first question the chances are you don’t have a clear value proposition, and you’ll certainly have no idea how sustainable your revenue is. If your customer is asked that same question, are they more likely to speak of inertia than real loyalty?


The best value propositions are short, specific, and simple. They show a single big benefit which makes people sit-up and listen. They spell out precisely who your offer is for, what pain it addresses, and how it helps in a unique way.


So, how do you get a powerful value proposition? Don’t be afraid to pick a big fight. The bigger the problem for the customer, the bigger the opportunity for you if you can find a unique way to solve it.


When you have it clearly defined, your value proposition will enable you to do many things. Directly target the most lucrative opportunity. Communicate consistently and with real focus. Entice in new customers, and remind the current crop why they chose you in the first place.


There is almost certainly someone else out there aiming to take your customer’s greatest pain away. Without acting first, you’ve no way of knowing how much longer those customers will stick around.


In short, your value proposition puts you in control. It’s a statement of a competitive advantage which is attractive to your customer and sustainable for you.


This article first appeared in B2B Marketing magazine. I work with B2B Marketing as a training course leader, helping business to business marketers better engage with their customers.


How to switch a veto to a ‘me too’

I wrote for following for Watertight Marketing on the importance of identifying your buyers wider team and influencing them to support rather than block a sale: 

Have you ever felt the pain of having a sale you thought was a done deal snatched away at the last minute? Often this happens when someone other than the primary customer gets involved and throws up some unexpected hurdles.


Anyone who can stop a purchase like that is said to hold a power of veto. At work that usually means your boss, the finance director, or the MD. At home more often than not it’s your partner.


Finding the person who might scupper a sale and winning them round is a clear way to increase sales. But how do you know who holds the power of veto? And once you’ve found them how do you set about getting them on side?


I recently worked with a Watertight Marketing client who sells software. In the world of IT the software was very low cost and it was cloud based so users didn’t necessarily have to involve IT. This meant buyers could pay the monthly fee on a credit card, and access the software online, without any alarm bells ringing in corporate IT or Finance. Conventional wisdom built-up over the years set this out as the reality in the majority of cases.


As we worked through the Watertight Marketing Touchpoint Leaks ™ we found an issue at Leak 6 – no proof. With a belief inside the business that customers were working round the risk of veto the idea that we lay out a trail of information for managing directors, finance directors and heaven forbid the bods in IT raised a few eyebrows.


We investigated whether the perceived reality held true. With a simple bit of research, we asked a decent sized group of existing customers who, if anyone, had to approve their decision to buy. The research revealed that in the vast majority of cases the purchase was approved by a business leader. So the myth that this brand operated under the radar was debunked, and we set about finding ways to engage with, rather than hide from, these powerful decision makers.


When we reworked the website and other materials we made sure they were peppered with messages aimed at those senior decision makers. Unlike the primary buyer who was seeking a simple tool to make their day job easier, these people were more concerned with data security and value for money, so we targeted those issues too.


So, what else can you do to turn the person holding the veto into someone who actively supports the sale? You can produce guides to your category, for example a ‘Finance Directors guide to Marketing’ dispelling the myths that marketing is hard to measure and demonstrating the value it can bring.


You can back this up with blogs, case studies and other content all of which can be sign-posted for the decision maker. Or even better you can arm your primary customer with these tools to use when they sell your idea internally for approval. In a high value sale you can even go so far as to help your customer with their cap ex document or presentation to the board – making them look good in the process won’t do your chances any harm at all.


Beyond this why not look to place stories with relevant media so that the senior decision maker is seeing your solution and actively recommending it back to the practitioners in their business? Proactively engaging the senior leadership is always a challenge as they have so many things to think about. A clear message backed-up with compelling evidence that buying your product will have 10 fold return in sales or cost reduction ought to get some attention.


Critical throughout addressing veto holders is thinking about the amount of time involved and the complexity of the purchase. Be sure that you have a bold message before attempting to take their time. Likewise recognise where in the flow from Awareness to Loyalty that decision maker is likely to get involved. More often than not it’s at the Evaluation phase. So you need to show them clear, logical information which gets the facts over convincingly in as little time as possible.


So, why not take a little time to think about who might hold the power of veto over the next sale you are chasing.  Show you understand their concerns, and demonstrate you have the answers. This will enable you to keep the sale on track. And, if you do it right you can actually build a powerful advocate in favour of the sale and open up another route for recommendation whilst you’re at it.


This article first appeared on the Watertight Marketing website. I am an accredited consultant of Watertight Marketing which means I am licensed to use the Watertight methodology with my clients, and my work is covered by the Wateright guarantee.

Cider gold rush

Cider gold rush missing one vital ingredient; authenticity


A new, improbable line extension has hit our shelves - Carling British Cider. Time will tell if the £4.5m marketing campaign from Creature will drive sufficient consumer trial and store listings to land the brand a sustainable market position.


There is an intrinsic economy of scale in using this master brand approach; however this is mitigated by the risk of proposition dilution and alienation both with existing lager shoppers, and the prospective cider buyer. Better educated consumers are looking for resonance with British brands offering authenticity, quality and taste. Carling’s market position in mainstream lager does not naturally transfer to the cider market, and lacks the authenticity a discerning cider consumer craves.


The cider market has achieved recession busting growth in recent years, with Mintel reporting sales up from £1.7bn to £2.4bn between 2006 and 2011. The drivers of this enlarged opportunity are various, and although not limited to classic above the line activity, there can be no doubt of the impact of marketing in the renaissance of our national drink.


Since its modest market entry in 2002 with £300k spend and creative by WCRS, C&C’s Magners brand has grown into a household name. In 2006 demand was outstripping supply and the gold rush began in earnest. Ritualization was key to Magners success, with the paradigm shift to ‘Over Ice’ owned by the Irish brand in consumers’ minds.


Then in 2011 the unthinkable happened as AB InBev stretched their 300 year heritage in lager with the Stella Artois brand. Many commentators thought this most unlikely of brand extensions doomed to failure. In a market rich with heritage brands, authentically able to communicate provenance and craft, there seemed no place for ‘wife beater’. What followed was an extraordinary lesson in brawn over brand as Stella muscled its way in using its global clout and spending big on above the line. Stella Artois Cidre is now the second biggest cider brand, with sales of £59m in the 12 months to October 2012 (Nielsen).


Now Heineken is spending bigger than ever on supporting its Strongbow and Bulmers brands, with £10m on Strongbow Pear alone, in a campaign created by St Luke’s. Carlsberg is moving in too, with a decidedly mass market positioned Somersby product, co-branded on pack with the Carlsberg moniker. Carling completes the line-up for now, but who knows where the next unlikely brand extension will be born.


The trade is littered with failing cider brands, many of which are owned or have previously been owned by the conglomerates now attempting market entry with new offers. Given the recent new branded entries further consolidation looks likely, as does the loss of some established brand names.


C&C has taken the extraordinary step of forgetting Gaymers centuries of heritage and positioning it as youth brand. Stable mate Blackthorn, second in the on trade, is in the interesting position of lining up as shirt sponsor of Glasgow Rangers for the 2013/14 season, whilst the Celtic spoils go to premium running mate Magners. It is only the second time in 30 years the two clubs have had different sponsors as the famously partisan supporters are best placated by seeing the same club sponsor.


Following in the wash of the over-ice-age, came a wave of premiumisation, as the established players rushed to keep pace. Craft cider makers such as Aspall and Westons upped their game, with increased spend and more aspirational positioning. This year sees Westons take on TV advertising for the first time, raising awareness of its Stowford Press brand’s sponsorship of England Cricket and the Ashes.


Meanwhile Aspall target an interesting niche which could be labelled super-premium. They are positioning their cider against wine as a ‘with food’ special occasion drink. For both traditional craft producers, their greatest assets of provenance and ‘real cider’ processes also bring higher costs. It is critical they tell their engaging story well to cut through the ever more crowded market, and achieve a share of voice well above their share of spend.  


Mintel finds that penetration of cider is greater than lager, although lager and beer drinkers consume in greater quantities. The opportunity is for cider to reposition as an anytime session drink, rather than a seasonal one, whilst playing within the rules of ethical alcohol promotion.


What follows in the next couple of years will provide a fascinating case study in whether the historic British brands can be heard through the global clamour, and tell their story of provenance, premiumisation and craft. The key advantage they have is authenticity and century long head start, but is that enough to stand up to the global big spenders?

Provocative innovation

Provocative Innovation: 9 questions to get you thinking about the change management required to deliver meaningful innovation

Marketers and business leaders naturally shout about their brand benefits, all too often forgetting the less appealing aspects of their offer. Provocative Innovation is maintaining and growing those attributes in which you excel, and surprising customers by improving areas they merely tolerate today.


The following are some provocative questions to get you thinking about cause and effect. Use them with your cross functional innovation team. There are some follow up questions which may help to get the conversation going, but the debate often works best just by throwing out the headline questions and waiting for the ice to break.


Q1: What gives your brand the right to exist?

Do you feel you have a divine right to your customer’s money based on past achievements or are you genuinely relevant to today’s consumer? Are you better at serving your customers’ needs than every other brand in your market? If not, why not?


Q2: What do your customers hate about you?

Do they begrudge giving you their cash? Are you simply the best of a bad bunch? Do you truly excel in everything you do? How can you turn hate into love?


Q3: What would your customers change if they were in charge?

Only your customers can tell you how you can make your revenue more sustainable, your margins higher and grow customer satisfaction. What do they really want from you?


Q4: What would be written on your brand’s gravestone?

10 years ago, today and in 10 years’ time? Do you like what it says? If not, how can you change it?


Q5: What stops your teams from working better together?

Is there complete clarity of purpose? Are there hidden agendas? How can you break down barriers, improve communication, share common goals, and recognise success?


Q6: If your team built a space ship would you fly in it?

Would it be safe, reliable, on time, and on budget?


Q7: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

If you’ve been there and done it all before; good, all the best innovation is preceded by scores of failed attempts, use the learning but keep the dream alive. Fail fast and try again.


Q8: What would ‘Brand X’ do if they entered your market? [For Brand X substitute Virgin, Dyson, Apple… any brand not currently a direct competitor but held in esteem by your people].

If they can do it differently why can’t we? What’s in their brand DNA that we lack? How can we get some of whatever we are missing?


Q9: What did you take for granted 10 years ago which has disappeared today?

What do you take for granted today, which can disappear just as easily? Think macro and micro. How can you embrace that change, even enhance it and ride the wave rather than sink in the wash?

These questions provoke debate as you embark on a programme of organisational change and product innovation. They are deliberately provocative and may open old wounds.


The critical thing is that all of the baggage is emptied on the floor, and you then very quickly rally to tie the loose ends together into a meaningful product proposition which leapfrogs your competition, or keeps them further behind. You can only do this by keeping the customer as the singular focus, and by energising your team around the robust product specification which you will build together. Good luck.


The golden age of the album

The golden age of the album, the dark days of marketing

If like me, you're old enough to have first found your love of music on rainy days in front of the fire exploring your dad's vinyl collection. But not quite old enough to have been buying the black stuff yourself, you may have found last night's programmes on BBC4 as fascinating as I did. With content exploring the peak of 'adult orientated rock' and later an exposé on the official singles charts.


Telling the story of the long player from its invention (yes, getting 22 minutes of content onto a 12 inch disk was game changing innovation), all the way through to the seismic shift to all things digital.


Through the programmes, marketing was portrayed as a dark art and blamed for many of the excesses, bad judgements and downright corrupt practices which characterised an industry in its creative halcyon days, yet blighted by bad business practice.


I'd always heard people saying the music charts were rigged, but here was the evidence. First hand admissions by office juniors sent out with 'a few grand' to buy up stock from the hundreds of stores, yes only hundreds, whose data made up the official charts. Other stores simply took product in the front door in boxes of 50 and sent it straight out the back door, all the time recording the false sales in order to win vital airplay and publicity for artists.


Other funny scenes were a record store owner unable to identify any of the records in the rack at the front of his store as industry people routinely placed product there, he made a 100% margin and the record company got the sales in the data contributing stores.


It wasn't all bad; there was acknowledgement of the powerful contribution of pack design, public relations, and market research into what people actually want – all part of the broader church of marketing. The ultimate demise of the album is as much to do with technology as it is do with the myopic world view of the industry. They weren't caught napping by downloads, they chose to bury their heads. Effective marketing would not have run from this change, it would have embraced it.


The programmes finished on a real high note of optimism for democratic marketing at its best. The once heavily corrupted, and ultimately meaningless singles charts are now much more representative of consumer's real tastes and behaviours. The Golden Age of the Album is long gone, but at least now we see a golden age of consumerism which maybe, just maybe, a brighter and more collaborative time in which the industry and its customers can work together to promote the only thing which really matters, great music.

Broken dreams

Dreamliner breaks first rule of product marketing

Pace and enthusiasm is what drives the best product development, and it helps to 'fail fast' – that is get the technology working, test it rigorously, find the breaking points, fix them and repeat the cycle until you'd be happy to sell one to your granny.


The global grounding of the Boeing Dreamliner due to battery issues, 16th January 2013, reminds us of the first rule of product marketing: don't launch the product until you'd bet your life that it works.


The greatest danger to any new brand is the reputational damage that can follow from serious product failure issues in infancy. All new technologies, especially when they are of the exciting magnitude of Dreamliner, will come with a certain level of manageable risk.


When your customer is paying £127m per unit, they are going to want their investment to pay back as soon as possible, and when you have invested billions in coming to market you will need the same. But, for sustainable return on your investment you must first make sure the product is 100% fit for purpose and that all of the snagging is resolved through pre-market testing, and before a single paying passenger has set foot on board.


Another golden rule is the somewhat humorous and self-referencing Hofstadter's law: 'everything takes longer than you expect, even if you take into account Hofstadter's Law'. The moral as always; under promise, over deliver.


Dreamliner was already late to market having been fraught with technical challenges throughout the development process. Its current grounding shows that the development process is on-going and that the product did not pass that first law of product marketing – the product doesn't work.


Fortunately the cost of failure has been contained to lost revenue for airlines and disruption for their passengers, rather than anything truly catastrophic. However, in an industry with the huge strategic pressures of commercial aviation, I worry that the long term reputational damage may yet have a greater impact on the profit and loss of Boeing. Technical snagging is inevitable in any project, but it should be contained to the pre-launch phases, especially where life is at risk.


Boeing can recover this, and the new giant of the skies have a long and prosperous future. However, as they broke the golden rule, what happens now will be as much to do with the communications team as the engineers. They need to win back hearts and minds which should never have been lost.

Change management

Make the new way of doing things simply; ‘the way we do things around here’

The old adage that; the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, reminds us that without change we stand to lose everything.


I don’t know what you’re trying to change, but whatever your business, if you’re successful change is part of daily life. Whatever and wherever you’re changing, the rules of engagement vary a little; yet the key is always candid and timely communication. Kotter prescribes the following and it usually works for me;


* Change is best driven where a shared sense of urgency is established – Nokia’s ‘burning platform’ is a good, if somewhat clichéd example. 


* A strong implementation team is needed – of high calibre and ideally drawn away from the day-to-day grind to focus on the transformation programme.


* Creating and communicating the vision is the next crucial step – a solid, simple story must be told, told and told again until all parties understand what is changing, why and how it benefits them.


* Now you must empower action and make the change real. This is where many projects fail - if key influencers resist, it undermines everything. Warm, yet assertive negotiation is imperative, especially in the age of social media and immediate feedback.


* Now you’ll see the first fruits of change and must acknowledge them. Reward and incentivise early adopters if it helps to make new habits stick. 


* The programme gathers pace, the trickle becomes a flood – but the work is not done. Your task is not finished until the new way becomes simply; ‘the way we do things around here’.


Throughout all of this, you need to tell a great story. The best stories have conflict – good fighting evil. You need to show change delivers a better future. Turbulence is worthwhile if it delivers better service. Above all, this story must be authentic, and founded in truth. If it is you will delight others as you bring them change.


Front of mind should always be the question of how the transformation affects your customer. To answer this you’ll need to blend qualitative and quantitative research. Do so before, during and after the change and you can measure satisfaction and provide insight to any improvement needed in communication, or in the proposition itself.


If you already run regular metrics such as net promoter scores and track your market share, your data may be suitable, and it may only be deeper more subjective research that is needed. This is often best done informally and in your route to market – wherever ‘the coalface’ is, be there regularly and don’t be afraid to ask the obvious questions. This will help get you to the crux of cause and effect.


This is one of the most exciting parts of the process. It is rewarding to improve satisfaction, and therefore profitability. It’s enjoyable also weaving together the complex threads of data and insight to ensure you have arrived at the best solution. 


And, if the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train, admit it quickly, openly and honestly and your change programme can continue to draw the respect it deserves. But be sure to set the new course quickly, and don’t rest until you get there.


So, whatever change you’re looking to make, remember these basic rules - I hope they serve you well as they have served me. 


Make change with honest intentions. Tell a strong, compelling story and draw others in. And, be relentless in your battle to make to make positive, joyful change part of everyday life.


Why not ask your team; ‘what have you done differently today?’

Stop harping on about innovation

Don't bore your customers by talking about innovation, show them a tangible benefit

Ten years delivering award winning product innovation in a market leading consumer durables business, maintaining a 50%+ value share, and being the most profitable business in the industry, has taught me many things.


I've learnt that those dull, steady and predictable watchwords; quality, innovation, design, and service, are fundamental and intrinsic to commercial success. That is not debatable.


But, here comes the stark truth: customers don't care about innovation, or any of those other things. They're too busy with their own lives, and there lies the insight.


They don't want to know how clever we are. They just want simpler lives. They want to hear about the ends, not the means. The benefits, not the features.


Our challenge is to translate those latent demands, those quirky insights, whether gleaned through research, crunching retail data or just plain old intuition into meaningful product and service propositions.


Our job is to take peoples' own ideas, before they even realise they have them; and help turn them into a beautiful, simple, product or service reality. And, sell that product or service back to them quicker, better and more profitably than anyone else.

What is marketing?

The 50:50:50 rule

As a somewhat cocky undergraduate, I once answered in a lecture the seemingly straightforward question: what is marketing? My reply, tongue in cheek, was:


"Marketing is 50% common sense, 50% bullshit, and 50% statistics that don't add up"


I was obviously joking and my response got the laugh it deserved. However, the sad reality as I move through my professional life is I hear more and more stories of people for whom this joke seems to be a little closer to the truth than it ought to be.


If your gas boiler blows up, you get a qualified professional in to make the repair. If you need financial advice, you look for a professional.


So, why do so many otherwise sensible organisations take the ultimate risk of letting unqualified hands loose on their business and marketing strategies? The answer is simple. Because effective marketing can look effortless and that creates the dangerous illusion that anyone can do it well.


I'm not knocking the school of life, and I'm certainly not knocking experience. There are plenty of great marketers out there who have earned their grey hairs on the job, and they are every bit as capable as I am of helping you to commercial success.


But, it does feel like it's about time that marketing was taken more seriously as a discipline and that professional skills were more highly valued.


The customer should be at the heart of all that you do, and an experienced qualified marketing practitioner is the best placed person to keep your strategy pin point targeted at your customer.

What's new?

Check out the shiny, new and beautiful brochure I helped create for Brintons with their talented in-house team and creative agency Brown Dog.


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