The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Identity Is More Valuable Than Discounts …

Loyalty.

One of the most overused, misunderstood words ever used.

At least in marketing.

Too often companies/agencies think the word – or, the modern version of it, ‘membership’ – gives them the right to churn out all manner of contrived marketing under the guise of it being for the benefit of their members … when we all know it’s just a badly disguised attempt to get people to spend more money with them.

It’s so transparent you could put it in your garden and call it a greenhouse.

But recently I saw an example of a brand that understands what being a member should mean. How it should feel.

Because contrary to what many companies seem to believe, membership is as much about give as it is take.

I’ve heard far too many people narrow it down to ‘transactional value’.

What a company gives you is in proportion to what their audience gives them.

Data for discounts.

Purchases for discounts.

Information for access to stuff. And discounts.

Mechanical. Contrived. Commercial. Soulless.

And while I get the commercial value in this approach and acknowledge some do it very well … apart from the fact it’s now condition of entry for any commercial organisation, that’s not what real membership is about, just the illusion of it. And often, this illusion isn’t even for the audience, but for the marketing department of the brand and their agency.

Having a card that gives you discounts or questionable points that – if you’re lucky – can be used for some supposed benefit or other, may increase the amount of times you transact with a brand, but it doesn’t mean the audience give a shit about them.

And maybe companies don’t care about that, they just want your money.

But they should.

Because if people are transacting purely for convenience or routine, you may find they’re susceptible to going to someone who shows they understand who they really are, not just how much money they have to spend.

Nothing highlights what real membership is like, like sport.

Yes they expect stuff from their team.

Yes they can be vocal when things go wrong.

But …

Members can deal with loss.

Members can deal with pain.

Members can even deal with scandal.

All they really want is to feel their presence counts.

That they’re seen. That they’re valued. That they’re respected.

That both parties are putting in equal amounts of graft for the common goal.

Not so the club can flog them more of their stuff, but so they can feel they play an acknowledged and accepted role in making the team better, more distinctive and more special.

And while there’s a bunch of programmes that do this – and some do involve giving discounts and access to products before they hit the market – the most powerful are where teams target members hearts, not just their wallets.

Doing stuff they value, not what they want you to value.

Stuff they didn’t have to do, but still did.

Stuff that means they went out of their way rather than expecting their members to always go out of theirs.

It doesn’t even have to be a grand gesture, it just needs to be a gesture that proves you get how important it is to them, rather than just say you do.

But here’s the best bit … when you do that properly, you find those members will want to buy more of your stuff anyway.

No need for any contrived ‘membership’ marketing.

No need to claim you are as loyal to them as they are to you.

No need to push ‘signing up’ every time they spend any amount of cash.

Because ‘transactional value’ is a byproduct of the emotional relationship you have together, not the cause.

You’d have thought brands would have got this by now, especially as the approach so many currently favour is not that different to when the internet first started and people would get inundated with ‘e-newsletters’ from brands, simply because they once handed over their email address because they were interested in a single thing they said.

I often wonder if the brands that follow this approach think Argos has the best membership program in the Universe, simply because people keep stealing pens from their stores.

If you are one of those wondering this, let me help you.

They don’t. People just steal their pens from them. Because they can.

Me included.

And yes, I appreciate someone could say that’s ‘transactional value’ but actually it’s just shitty free advertising from a shitty free pen. It’s the same approach Virgin Atlantic had with their Upper Class salt and pepper sets that literally had ‘stolen from Virgin Atlantic’ printed on the bottom of them.

Because it was free advertising. Literally included in their cost of operations.

Look, having programs in place that drives sales value is a smart thing to do.

But doing the same as everyone else and claiming people have some sort of deeper connection with you because of it, is ridiculous.

Transactional value is the opposite of what membership is really about.

Because membership isn’t just about what you have, but how it makes you feel.

Or said another way, who it makes you feel you are … who you are a part of.

And with that, have a look at this …



Who You Associate With Says Who You Are …

Recently, I received this …

There’s all manner of reasons why this was a surprise to me.

First is the fact that they think my recommendation would do anything positive for their business.

Especially when the reality is it likely would do the opposite.

Then there’s the fact that in the email, they open the door to the possibility I had a bad experience with them. While I accept their attempt to ‘make it good’ is smart, it also means they didn’t specifically choose me as a client of repute, it means they’ve blanket emailed everyone and anyone they can think of.

Which leads to the last – and main – reason receiving this email was a surprise to me.

And that’s the fact I’ve never heard of this company.

More than that, I’ve never rented a teleprompter in my life.

Anyone who has ever seen me present – ie: ramble like a madman – would know this first hand, which means the reason I got this email is because I appear on some weird business database they bought.

So while I would like to help a small business, if they’re looking for shortcuts to success, then they need to know this sort of approach tends to make people enemies rather than friends.

Sorry Teleprompter Rental, maybe you need to change your own script.



The Opposite Of Agile …

Look at this chart doing the rounds right now.

Look at it!!!

Do you know what it is?

Allow me to tell you …

It’s corporate fear culture disguised as a couple of million quid in fees for Deloitte’s.

That simple.

Hell, it even makes that utter insane Pepsi logo design process book look clear and simply in comparison. And let me reassure you, it was neither clear. Or simple.

Look, I get there’s a lot of complexity in this world.

I get that solutions often require a number of processes, skillsets and collaboration.

But come on … this is ridiculous, especially under the title of ‘agility’.

All it reminds me of is something one of my amazing mentors once told me.

He is an extremely successful businessman who has interacted with all manner of consultants at the highest level, so this is an informed perspective, not some bitter and twisted creative obsessed strategist.

“When a solution is more complex than the problem, then you’re not buying the answer, you’re buying the C-Suite’s annual bonus”.

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As an aside, I’ve written about a bunch of other brilliance he has told/taught me over the years, which you can read here.
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I look at that chart and keep thinking it’s basically a version of the board game Monopoly.

And then I realise that’s EXACTLY what it is, because it’s designed for you to keep paying Deloitte every time you pass go.

Or get lost.

It’s the ultimate selling tool.

Because not only has it been designed to put the fear of god into organisations about things potentially going wrong, it doesn’t necessarily have an output other than ‘business as usual’.

The last time they had something so powerful is when they made billions helping companies worried that the millennium bug would bring down their computer systems.

Of course, every few years they come out with something else to keep the money coming in.

Digital Transformation is one of the most recent fads, which my mentor [yet again] had an interesting take on:

“The C-Suite buy digital transformation because it sounds modern and progressive. That they’re moving ahead into a brave, new World. What they’re really buying is infastucture modernisation … designed to simply not leave them too far behind”.

Now it is important to note not all consultants are bad.

In fact, some are brilliant and fascinating. Red Associates are a particular fave of mine.

[You can read about them in more detail here]

And then there’s FNDR, with my old mate Nick Barham … who are doing interesting things and aren’t packaging it all into making a new logo or website to justify their fee.

However this stuff is ridiculous, and while we can point and laugh and say the people who sell this are charlatans and the people who buy it are idiots, the reality is they’re buying more of it – and for more money – than anything adland has done in decades.

But here’s the thing.

Anything is easy if you [1] don’t have to execute it [2] don’t care about the effectiveness and [3] only care about the cash.

Which leads me to something a mate of mine told me recently.

The difference between a liar and a bullshitter.

A liar knows the reality of a situation but changes/exaggerates the facts within the context of that to achieve their goal.

A bullshitter doesn’t care about truth, so will say whatever is needed to achieve their goal.

And with that, I’ll leave you to decide which one this chart belongs to.



Which Came First: The Dumbing Down Of Marketing Or Creativity?

Above is a point of sale sign from a local supermarket.

Look at it.

LOOK AT IT!!!

What a pile of utter shite.

Noticeable for it’s stupidity rather than it’s inspiration.

The sort of stuff you would expect from a 5 year old writing jokes for a Christmas Cracker, than a company with well paid staff, responsible for the commercial growth of an organisation.

So who is to blame?

Well there are many who should feel a sense of shame – from ad agencies to research companies to clients – however when I think of who started this horribleness to begin, I can’t help but feel it was at the hands of the marketing department.

Of course even they are not totally to blame.

The C-Suite, with their demands and expectations have a lot to answer for … almost as much as the investors, who say they want the companies they invest in to be good companies but they better make increasing profits every quarter.

But what I found fascinating coming back to Western markets from Asian – specifically China – was how little ambition there really was.

Oh companies would talk about it – wax lyrical about it – but when you delved a little deeper, you saw there wasn’t much there.

Instead the focus was far more about defending rather than growing, corporate convenience rather than customer understanding, explaining rather than communicating and short-term conformity rather than long term change.

But of course, ad agencies need to take their blame for this situation as well.

Too many doing whatever clients want rather than what they need.

Profiting from process over creativity.

Celebrating speed over substance.

What makes it worse is some think this leads to good work.

Effective work. Using ‘proof’ that ignores the myriad of small, separate elements that combine to drive success so they can place themselves on a self-appointed pedestal.

But there are some who have a bit more self-awareness.

Who know what they’re doing is not as good as it could be.

Or should be.

But rather than face their responsibility in all of this, they blame others for how this came about … turning to questionable research that is based on a few tweets, a couple of chats around the agency or claims every single person on the planet can have their attitudes and behaviours characterised by a singular colour or some other bollocks.

And from this, they will claim the public don’t care about smart stuff.

That they ‘don’t understand’ good ideas and writing.

They they’re simply not interested in creativity and ideas.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

I’ve got to tell you, I’m absolutely over it.

I’m over the focus on the lowest common denominator.

Let’s face it, life would be pretty horrible and boring if that is how we really operated … and contrary to popular belief, we don’t.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t elements of predictability in what we do, but to ignore the nuance … to suggest everything we aspire to is exactly the same, delivered via an identical approach … is just plain bullshit.

But here’s the kicker, because more clients and agencies seems to be adopting this approach.

White labelling, phoned-in solutions with a cool sounding names that actively destroys any sense of differentiation and distinctiveness of their brand from countless competitors while also directly insulting the intelligence of the customers they rely on to survive.

I get it’s less hassle to just agree with clients.

I get that having income coming in right now is very important.

I get that a single point-of-sale sign is not going to change the world.

But when we are willing to allow our standards to be determined by how quick we can make money, then all we’re doing is ensuring the long-term value of our industry – and the talented people in it or wanting to be in it – dies even more quickly.

And that’s why I am also over people being quick to piss on anyone trying to do something different.

Claiming it’s self indulgent.

Labelling it a failure before it’s even run.

Saying it won’t appeal to the audience … despite not knowing the brand, the brief, the audience or how people actually think or act outside of some hypothetical customer journey / strategic framework of convenience.

And yet, when you look at the brands, the work and the agencies who consistently resonate deeply and authentically with culture and drive long-term loyalty, growth and profit – it’s the usual suspects and a few newbies, like Nils and the fabulous folks at Uncommon.

Yes our job is to help our clients achieve more than they hoped. Yes our job is to attract rather than repel. But our job is also to help build the future for our clients … influencing, shaping and – sometimes – forcing dramatic change even before the masses are quite ready for it, which means doing work that challenges and provokes for all the right reasons … sometimes asking questions of the audience rather than boring them into beige submission.

And while I acknowledge there are risks in all of that, I personally believe it is far riskier to dumb everything down to it’s lowest common denominator, because every single thing we love, respect and covet has come from someone or something doing something different.

Whether that’s an idea, a product, a story or a new way of looking at the World … it has come from people who understood who we are but take us further than we imagined, pushing the journey and the story with every new chapter of what they create.

They could have taken the easy route.
They could have focused on optimising the rewards.
They could have spent their time ‘removing friction from the transactional process’.

But they didn’t. Or at least, they didn’t just focus on that.

They embraced the risk to create something bigger and more unexpectedly resonant.

Or should I say unexpectedly resonant by those judging them, because they knew exactly where they were going.

And this is why the people who are so quick to dismiss anyone trying to do something new need to understand their actions say far more about who they are and what they value than anything else. And in an industry that is fighting for its life, I put my faith in those using creativity to change the game rather than those who just talk about violation of some old rules.



Showing You Care Is More Important Than Saying It …

Throughout COVID, we’ve been inundated by companies saying they care.

Banks.

Supermarkets.

Pharmaceutical companies.

At the beginning, it made sense … we were in a new reality and everyone was trying to work out what the fuck was going on, let alone what we should do.

But now, coming up to 6 months into this thing, we’re still seeing companies say the same thing.

We care.

We really, really care.

Honest, we really do care.

And frankly, it’s all becoming shit.

Because while we always suspected it was empty words, now they are proving it … because the fact of the matter is this is the time they need to put up.

To do stuff.

To actually show they care.

Which, contrary to the multinational who is spending a lot on advertising right now, does not mean you can consider yourself a kind and generous organisation simply because you make and sell a large range of disinfectant products that are especially important right now.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting charity.

Making money is not a bad thing – and right now, companies need to do it to help keep employees employed. But adding something extra … something that can genuinely benefit the people you rely on would go a long way.

Not just because a lot of people need it right now, but because investing in your audiences wellbeing is investing in your own.

Take Timpson’s.

It’s a family-owned business in high streets and supermarkets up and down the country.

While they do a bunch of things, they’re most widely known for key cutting and shoe repairs.

That’s right, KEY CUTTING AND SHOE REPAIRS!!!

Of all the companies around the World, I would say this Key Cutters have led the way on how you should treat your people and customers in a crisis.

First of all, they made the decision to close all their shops – over 2000 of them – when COVID took hold. They wanted to ensure their staff were safe as not only do they deal directly with the public, all their stores are very small so social distancing would be almost impossible.

However, rather than making people redundant or putting them on government subsidised furlough, they covered the wages for every employee.

In full.

Every employee. Full salary.

To add some more texture to that, Timpson’s employ 5,500 staff … of which 650 come directly from serving a prison sentence … and their weekly wage bill is £2.5 million.

That in itself is amazing.

But then they’ve done something else.

Something aimed at their customers … specifically the one’s who have not been as fortunate to work at a company that takes care of their staff like Timpson and may now be struggling due to redundancy or loss of pay, hours, opportunities.

And what have they done?

This …

How amazing is that?

A genuine investment in their past and future client’s wellbeing.

Not empty words, something that will cost Timpson’s money – both in terms of time and cash.

Maybe it’s not a huge amount, but when you have all these huge corporations shouting their empty words in an attempt to look like they care, Timpson’s actions shows them up for who they are.

A long time ago there was a Michael Moore documentary called ‘Roger And Me’.

It was about the General Motors car company and them pulling out of Detroit.

There’s one bit in it that sticks in my memory.

On the production line, there were people being interviewed about what they’ll do when the factory closes. One guy – who was making one of GM’s most expensive cars – said this,

“What I don’t understand is if companies keep firing their workers, who do they think will be able to afford their cars?”

While I know there are many issues companies face, I know this.

The actions of a key-cutting, shoe repairer has resulted in me having more emotional connection and loyalty to them than I‘ll ever have towards multi-national organisations, spending millions of pounds on ads that attempt to show they care [read: express their designed-by-marketing ‘purpose’] but are so obviously self-serving, you can almost see them rubbing their hands in greedy glee.

Not because they want to make money to protect their workers.

Nor to look after the employees of their supply chain.

But to look after themselves and their shareholders.

And to them, I say this.

Your real ‘purpose’ is showing.

Try harder.