CAUSE FOR CONCERN

“Advertising is over half my problem” (Quote from a prospective client).

 Another half-truth.

 In this particular instance, like so many others, the advertising was a problem. However, it was, in reality, symptomatic of the underlying causal factors and therefore a product of inappropriate or mis-aligned briefings and orientations.

 Achieving “cut-through” and impact are becoming progressively more challenging. Communication channels, like the marketplace, are rapidly evolving. As a result, they are more complex, and in a range of circumstances, more fragmented and disjointed. The word and concept “synergy” seems to be limited to a power company which operates in Western Australia. (And, let’s not venture into commenting on its standards, consistency and universality of supply and distribution – let alone costs.)  Alas, all too often, “1+1” is regularly coming up short of 2.

 Consumers and clients tend to have reduced attention-spans, they exercise more readily selective perception whereby large blocks of communication – which are deemed to be irrelevant – are filtered or blocked.

 Typically, blame for advertising under-performance is attributed to the communication channels or advertising agencies. Wrong.

 Access to targeted and preferred audiences can be achieved, but result in little or no responses, if the context is not right.

 PROPER HORSES, FOR COURSES

 The lack of “fit” in the marketplace often relates to a company, brand name, product, service and, yes, category.

 That can and does have implications for defining (or redefining) target audiences, product/service configurations and timing.

 “Outdoor furniture” is a fine example. It is a category which has some unique (and interestingly, self-induced – if unintended) – characteristics demand is typically short-term, with high peaks and low troughs. Price is a key determinant in product and outlet selection.

 Why? In essence, to many consumers the term “outdoor furniture” equates to summer. So in Australia that means consideration for, and contemplation of purchasing products in that category is, (at a stretch) limited from November to March.

 Accordingly, advertising – regardless how creative or price-oriented – will not readily resonate with and impact on targeted primary, secondary and tertiary audiences during autumn and winter periods.

 Mind-sets do constrict interest, demand, sales and relevance. Therefore, effective repositioning of the category - “outdoor furniture” - is needed to promote scope and opportunities for increasing sales throughout the four seasons.

 REDEFINE AUDIENCES

 At differing times, endeavours to communicate with select demographic and psychographic profiles may well be futile or marginalised unless, and until, all factors and variables are aligned.

 Individual consumers fulfil multiple roles in the contemporary pluralistic society. That is; she may awaken next to her spouse or partner and be a “wife”, she then prepares breakfast for the family as “mum”. Driving to work she is another “commuter”, before arriving at work, to undertake her role and obligations as a “boss” or “employee”.

 On the way home, after a full-day’s work, she calls into the supermarket and completes the task of a “shopper”, before participating as a “team-member” in a local sporting club.

 Thus, the self-image and role-specifics of a prospective outdoor furniture buyer may, and probably will, differ.

 Our research has verified and identified that key point, together with prioritised purchase criteria that are applied, buying “outdoor furniture”, or alternatively repositioned product categorisation.

 STIMULATING INTEREST

 Developing awareness and sensitivity of often unrecognised needs is an important component of the communication mix.

 The actual products or categories may not be primary purchase items. They can be, and often are, dependent, subsequent or complementary acquisitions.

Establishing and profiling such value-packages tend to de-emphasise price sensitivity, demands and expectations.

 Alas, the four “P” components of the selling philosophy – Product, Price, Place, Promotion – have been eclipsed, again.

 Advertising may be an element in the mix, but it is questionable that it is “the” problem.

 STEPS TO SUCCESS

 Certain key aspects of the communication and marketing disciplines, when developed in sequential order enhance impact, resonance, effectiveness and sales. They include: 

  • REFINE TARGET AUDIENCE PROFILES

    Extend consideration beyond demographic and psychographic profiles. Identify, isolate, analyse and focus on relevant lifestyle role-plays. This will personalise headlines and messages.

  • REPOSITION BRAND/SERVICE/COMPANY CATEGORIES

    Broad-brush generalisations typically lead to commoditisation.

    “Department stores” are passé, outdated and hold little interest for many. Discount department stores suffer from an image and positioning problem, which is reflected in poor and falling sales and profits.

  • CONSIDER COMPLEMENTARY PURCHASE OPPORTUNITIES

    Not all products, services and brands are, in isolation, a primary purchase item.

    Their value is enhanced when clustered with other, often more dominant merchandise:

    “Would you like … with that?” is a well established proposition that elicits positive responses in sufficient numbers and percentages, to increase the bottom line.

  • RECALIBRATE THE ADVERTISING

    From a “clean slate”, decisions need to be made about the content, the headline, context, channels and scheduling of the advertising/communication mix.

As implied in this sequential overview, advertising can prove to be (an important) footnote, rather than a problem. 

Barry Urquhart

Conference Keynote Speaker

Marketing Focus

M:        041 983 5555

L:         (08) 9257 1777

E:        Urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

W:       www.marketingfocus.net.au

THE ROAD TO RUIN

Ironically, street names are not good at addressing marketing, selling and merchandising issues and challenges.

Business failures, vacant premises and “tired” looking operations are typical consequences, and are the manifestations of inaction, and of many well-intentioned initiatives which simply focus on the wrong metrics.

Endeavours to reignite and re-emerge Parramatta Road and Oxford Streets in Sydney, Chappell and Lygon Streets in Melbourne, James Street in Brisbane, Melbourne Street in North Adelaide, or Rokeby Road in Subiaco, South Terrace in Fremantle, Oxford Street in Leederville, Albany Highway in Victoria Park and Beaufort Street (Northbridge, North Perth, Mt Lawley and Inglewood) in metropolitan Perth have certain common factors.

Roads, streets, avenues and boulevards can be long, transcending suburbs, localities and even regions. Therefore, business clusters, compositions and groupings can, and usually do differ along the one arterial transport network. Hence, no single profile or brand accurately and appropriately projects a compellingly attractive image. Temptations to visit are soon overwhelmed by confusion and multiple – if not conflicting – value-offerings.

It has been said many times (arguably unfairly) that the best thing about Victoria Park is Albany Highway… because it takes you out of the township and has you end up some 400 kilometres south at picturesque Albany.

Atrractive and appealing precincts, centres, squares and destinations are seldom defined by their main street.

Moreover, images, expectations, perceptions and selections are developed, and determine decision-making long before the consumer or consumers negotiate a given road-way.

MYOPIC FOCUS

Great opportunities are often forsaken, but await those who are insightful on the scope to project specific, relevant and resonating brand names for discrete business clusters and limited localities.

Bugis Street and Orchard Road in Singapore have been long eclipsed as the addresses for bargains, discounts and fashion. Individual, differentiated and branded destinations enjoy consumer interest, visits and transactions.

Even Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood has seen the sun go down on its boom-times. And on a broader scale, Route 66 in the United States of America remains in name only in most places. Tumbleweed and run-down vacated communities are stark reminders of that which was once dominant.

ROAD-MAP TO SUCCESS

Local government councils, chambers of commerce and business interest groups are right to be concerned about tough times for local businesses. The key and most effective triggers for positive prospective customer responses are well beyond street names, customer service training and the conduct of street-markets and erection of pop-up bouncy castles, for kids.

Creative, original and challenging rebranding will have people going to their mobile phones, GPS and wallets to consume – and not to commute.

For interviews:

Contact:                    Barry Urquhart

                                    Marketing Strategist  

                                    Marketing Focus

Mobile:                      041 983 5555

Email:                         urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

Office:                        (08) 9257 1777

GENERIC BRANDS MAKE OTHERS GERIATRIC

Converging forces.

Increasing acceptance, indeed preference for house-brands and generic products, services and apps are symptoms and consequences of tectonic shifts in marketplace dynamics. It’s a phenomenon which transcends categories, sectors and regions.

Projecting, protecting and deflecting brand names are becoming increasingly important, and difficult to both achieve and sustain.

Repeated exposure to non-branded or house-brand alternatives, with lower prices, satisfying quality and reassuring value is desensitising consumers and clients to the implied and perceived innate advantages, benefits and reassurances of recognised, respected and traditionally preferred brand names.

The progressive devaluation of long-established brand names is being accelerated and compounded by the increasing use of online channels and forums, like Amazon Marketplace and eBay.

Consumers are inclined to go online and nominate product/service types and categories. Requests for information about, and the sources of, say, coffee are received by, collated, analysed and segmented by algorithms. This form of artificial intelligence may be unfamiliar with the number “43” or not recognise and associate “George Clooney” with the product, category or implied brands.

Put simply, algorithms do not recognise, respond to or understand many verbal nuances. Therefore, brand selection is determined by factors and influences well beyond the control and input of the individual and brand name owners, and numerical weightings can, and do, determine, and therefore nominate channel-owner, (read: Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, etc) generic and house-brands. 

Branding’s visual, verbal and special cues, which impact on and influence consumer perceptions, preferences and selection are typically neutered in social media. So anti-social!

Advocates for artificial intelligence will rightly argue that the arithmetic formula applied by algorithms produce rational and statistically validated decisions and outcomes. That belies the reality that most buying decisions are heavily accented to emotions, perceptions and subjective determinants.

For the algorithms, it’s a black or white issue. Consumers may recognise that their lifestyles, preferences and consumption take place in a world of “grey”. Brand owners and managers will quickly find themselves in purgatory

The need to be, and the lure of being present online is understandable. Attendant costs and loss of control are often difficult to quantify.

EVIDENCE-BASED REALITY

A recent significant Australia-wide study by a global finance entity concluded that house-brand products in supermarkets were growing in both volume (up to 4 times that of established independent brands) and market-share.

Cost-of-living expenses, increasing utility costs and stagnant incomes were identified to be key influencing variables in this situation. On balance, that represented only part of the story. The migration of window-shopping to online channels and the presence of its virtual assistants, Siri, Alexa, Nina and Bixby were not considered.

At Easter time, in Christian-based communities, Cadbury’s purple Easter eggs have an inextricable integrated presence in the minds of children, parents and chocoholics at large.

“The Battle for the Mind”, a concept so strikingly and articulately expressed by marketing leaders, Jack Trout and Al Ries back in 1969, has been largely marginalised by mindless artificial intelligence, algorithms and the like.

WHERE’S THE VALUE?

These patterns transcend categories, nations and regions.

Economic headwinds are suppressing the sale of new motor vehicles around the world. Preferences for specific brands and models remain.

However, a seismic shift is being witnessed in the servicing and maintenance of vehicles. Generic and house-brands, or non-original equipment manufacturer parts are being accepted by increasing numbers and percentages of consumers.

Similar circumstances are evident in sectors, like earth-moving equipment. Brand names Caterpillar, Komatsu and Hyundai dominate. Notwithstanding that dominance, acceptance of “un-branded” parts is increasing at a rate.  

BRANDED ANSWER

In an emerging and surgent sea of house-brand products, the value and integrity of recognised, trusted, respected and preferred brands stand apart and proud in a cluttered, commoditised marketplace.

Several recent case studies highlight the point.

The desires, and directions of manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers of certain high-profile pet foods, and breakfast cereals to increase both wholesale and retail prices were rejected by two major Australian national supermarket chains.

Supplies ceased, and stock soon sold out. Consumers were confronted with empty shelves.

The key lesson learnt was that consumer behaviour reflected the attitude that the customers, typically the female head-of-the-household, could do without shopping for those selected items from Coles and Woolworths. To sate the appetites and the preferences of pets and children, there were no acceptable alternatives to the nominated brands.

Confused? Don’t be. The presence and importance of house-brand products will continue to grow. The best and most sustainable defence is ongoing and integrated investments in brand names. The optimum is to establish, and have the brand name accepted as the generic reference of the product, service, application and company.

Those brand names that readily come to mind include:  

·         Hoover

·         Nugget

·         Vegemite

·         Google

·         Windows

·         iPhone

·         Amazon

·         and ... (complete the list – hopefully with your brand or brands)  

Barry Urquhart

Marketing Strategist

Marketing Focus

M:        041 983 5555

E:        Urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

W:       www.marketingfocus.net.au

“KNOCK-OUT” PLANNING – MEASURED, BALANCED AND DISCIPLINED

Muhammad Ali had the capacity to land a telling blow.

None more so than when he said:

            “The best-laid plan is forgotten the moment the first punch hits.”

In business, many strategic plans are soon forgotten, filed or sidelined when competition intensifies, cash-flows dry up, client and consumer confidence contracts and banking credit policies are tightened.

Long-term visions shorten to myopic perspectives. Expansive scopes narrow, and positive responses turn quickly to knee-jerk reactions.

Alligators, elbows, draining and swamps readily come to mind.

IT’S NOT ALL RISK MANAGEMENT

The current and recent business landscapes are littered with morsels and entrails of liquidations, failures, foreclosures, forced acquisitions and collapses.

It is an unseemly and ongoing calamity.

Retailers, fashion distributors, car dealerships, new-home builders, property developers, contract and digital/on-line service providers are well represented in the unenviable lists. Few sectors, professions and disciplines are precluded. What are the dominant common factors?

Among the public listed entities, it is apparent that the striking commonalities are in the composition of Boards of Directors. Lawyers, accountants, bankers, merchant bankers and fund equity managers are well represented, often being an overwhelming collective majority.

Understandably, the skill-sets that are foremost at those boardroom tables and in deliberations are financial prudence and risk management. Mitigation strategies can, and do save money. Sadly, they do not address the need to make money.

Rapid change, innovation, creativity, disruption, technology and encroaching artificial intelligence are unrelenting. The impacts are fast, widespread and accumulating. Customer-facing managers and service providers experience are sensitive to those dynamics. But sadly, are seldom or poorly represented on many Boards of Directors. Redundancy and obsolescence seem inevitable consequences.

Business is an art-form. Its language is heavily nuanced. That should be reflected in the wording and nature of documented strategic plans.

Sales margins, profits and market share can be very short-term.

“Good”, appropriate plans are a balance between financial prudence, risk management and strategic direction. The latter attribute and feature typically comes from the input of experienced, qualified practitioners who have specific industry/sector/profession skills. It is “They” who are so often unrepresented.

DON’T GET LEFT BEHIND

The broader retail sector represents a telling case study. Among the trail of high-profile, established public-listed retailing operations which have been subjected to liquidation in recent times are Maggie T, Roger David, Pay-Less Shoes, Toys R Us and Ed Harry.

In most instances, there was a noticeable lack of industry “street-smarts” among the board members. “Capital” ideas are not limited to funds and funding.

Fashion retailers around the world have been found to be floundering in the presence of fast-fashion operators, like Zara, H & O and Uniqlo. Productivity, velocity and volume among the latter-set have dynamic and appealing business models. Business operators and consumers win.

Laggards soon lose touch with the marketplace, and with previously loyal customers. Market leadership in past years and decades counts for little.

Those factors, more so than the intrusion of on-line sales and the distribution of digital marketing and AI (Artificial Intelligence), expose long-established businesses to the very real prospects of decline, failure and liquidation.

Conversely, many highly prospective start-up entities fail because of the time taken to formulate, document and implement an appropriate business model.

Inputs from accountants, patent lawyers, funds managers and passive seed-capitalists typically don’t address the very real need to plan for success, and are huge drains on scant resources.

BUSINESS, ACTION, TACTICAL OR STRATEGIC PLAN

Over four decades it has been apparent to us that many plans labelled “strategic”, fall well short of that benchmark.

A recent review of a local government strategic plan showed that, at best, it was an action plan. The emphasis seemed to be on “doing things” rather than addressing needs, fulfilling expectations and achieving desirable outcomes.

The response from the local government executive was direct, striking and disturbing. That plan complied with the accepted template, which determined structure, topics and essential focus.

Compliance was essential, to secure state government funding for the documentation of the plan.

So, from the outset and before any scripting, the plan was destined for failure, under-performance or non-performance. Some reassurance appears to be gleaned from the fact that all, or most, peer local government strategic plans would be identical, or similar.

Therefore, among many, not all, local government municipalities and involving multiple interest groups and people, expect a lot of activity. “Doing things” is the forte of the plans. Achieving outcomes seems to be outside the scope and the planning template.

PLAN TO PLAN

Planning is an imperative. Reducing visions, intent, opportunities and priorities to writing tend to contribute to the realisation of favoured outcomes – if formulated astutely.

Within the military context, an overwhelming majority of strategic plans (not battle plans, which are essentially tactical) are not about winning wars. Rather, most seek to avoid conflict and casualties.

When conflict is inevitable, casualties are minimised. The first Iraq War, during the 1990s, resulted in success for the allied forces and loss and destruction for the Saddam Hussein-led Iraqi forces.

Indeed, General Colin Powell and his field commander, General ‘Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, caused fewer than 250 deaths, some 70 of which were “misadventure” from “friendly fire”.

AND THE POINT IS …

When the marketplace and economy at large turns tough, there is an understandable need to sustain income, competitiveness and strike a measure of stability.

That does not diminish the need for effective, genuine strategic planning.

             Ready. Fire. Aim.

This is a dangerous, high-risk philosophy, which typically bears a high cost of casualties and failures.

Those with experience on the battlefields and shop floors have much to contribute. Analysing spreadsheets, with an emphasis on the bottom right-hand corner entry of “internal rate of return” are deficient.

Sting like a bee. Float like a butterfly. Don’t retreat to your corner, and throw in the towel. Above all, remember, not everything goes to plan.

Barry Urquhart

Facilitator – Strategic Planning

Marketing Focus

M:        041 983 5555

E:        Urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

W:       www.marketingfocus.net.au

NO IFs..., BUTs OR MAYBEs...

(Apology, Rudyard Kipling)

When all around you are losing theirs, keep your head.

Royal Commission notwithstanding, the relevance and currency of those words extend beyond Australian bankers, insurance agents, financial planners and mortgage brokers.

Every person, brand, company, product, service, application and concept is being subjected to scrutiny, audit and review. Transparency and accountability lead the agenda of most aspects of business.

Personal, corporate, individual and collective worth are being questioned, and rightly so. It should have been for ever thus. Many customers, it seems, have been short-changed.

RESPONSIBLE

At times like these it is important to accept responsibility. Resist taking the blame in isolation, particularly when all seem to doubt you. Whether it’s internal or external to a company, it is important that leadership is apparent, consistent, articulated, supported, applauded, endorsed and celebrated. That attribute appears to be in short-supply at present. “Sitting on the fence” and “spinning wheels” do not reflect leadership. “Follow me” is a style which is back in vogue, and is re-emerging.

The “road ahead” will have many twists, turns and peaks to conquer. Milestones should be checked off, quantified and maintained.

Allowances will need to be made for “doubting Thomas’s”, of which there will be many. Self-belief will be, is, and always has been a virtue. Self-monitoring provides reassurance.

The immediate challenges for nations, regions, sectors and professions will be formidable. Remedial actions will be draining. Therefore, it is imperative that one overcomes tiredness. Ultimate success and progress will have their own rewards.

VIRTUES

At no time should lies be contemplated, or tolerated.

It is unconscionable, to charge for services which have not been sought, have been paid for but never utilised. Issuing or maintaining life insurance policies for the dead is simply beyond this world.

Be true to yourself. To do otherwise is to cheat yourself.

The evidence during, and the consequences since the conduct, conclusion and release of the report from the Australian Banking Royal Commission is sufficient to identify the extent, toxic nature and adverse manifestations of lies, many of which were ingrained in corporate cultures.

Those will not die, and the perpetrators will have to live with them and themselves.

There are no shades of grey in lies. It’s a matter of black and white.

A COOL HEAD

In moments of anxiety, panic and concern a “cool head” is a magnet that facilitates cohesion, integration and focus. For some two decades home builders, property developers and real estate agents were too involved in reaping the fruits and benefits of continuing “boom” times.

Returns from an investment in taking the time to contemplate and to ponder the question, “what if”? were not recognised, nor respected. The consequences are typically immediate, sustainable and profound.

“Buts” and “Maybes” need to be considered in context. They are seldom barriers or impediments. Rather, they demand justification, and that is reasonable and ultimately reassuring. There are lessons aplenty awaiting those in the broader retail sector.

Imagine the scope possible for the Brexit negotiations between Britain and the European Union, and within Westminster. Accountability and justification apply to all.

Funding, construction and the administration of a wall on the border between the United States of America and Mexico may well be another issue.

In that instance key questions relate to the aim itself. Some things are not negotiable, as evidenced in the attitudes of the US President and the Democrats in Congress. What is the aim? Raw political power. The proposed wall is simply a means to that aim.

GOOD TIMES AHEAD

With the effluxion of time, good times will return.

In those periods, as now, it is important to not look or present “too good”. Talking too much will have little or no audience.

Don’t stop dreaming. However, dreams and their content must never become the aim.

And yes, think. Share those thoughts. Develop, refine, reinforce and extend them. But avoid the temptation to make them the final objective.

Innovate, create and simplify. Each is an essential attribute of disruption.

Don’t leave it to others to ask, “IF?”

RECALIBRATE

Volatility, toxicity and dysfunction are each components of the prevailing marketplace and, seemingly, the cultures of many entities throughout the world, across Australia, within communities and among peers, clients and associates.

At a time when all around you are losing their heads, a measure of stability, consistency and integrity is greatly valued.

A measure of balance will enable the “ship” to be steadied, a new course to be set and broad horizons challenged and conquered.

IF (only). Thank you Rudyard Kipling.

THE AUTHOR:

Barry Urquhart

Conference Keynote Speaker

Marketing Focus

M:  041 983 5555

E: urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

L:  (08) 9257 1777

TRUST DEFICIT

Trust accounts for a lot in business.

Deficits and debts constrain or restrain many. Together, trust deficit spells trouble. It’s presence, consequences and manifestations are writ large in politics, banking, insurance, financial planning and commerce at large.

Forensic examinations and cross-examinations at Royal Commissions and political election results serve to highlight the philosophies, cultures, policies and practices which cause, contribute to and exacerbate the lamentable reality of trust deficit.

LESSONS LEARNT

The former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who was effectively removed from office by a coterie of “ungodly”, extreme right-wing, evangelical religious (principally back-bench) politicians was not necessarily liked, endorsed or supported for his policies. However, the process and seemingly personal and negative intent of his removal breached a lot of trust tenents throughout the electorate of Wentworth, in New South Wales.

A high-profile, independent, married lesbian was elected in the resultant by-election.

Prey tell.

It is doubtful that the original agitators and the new member sing from the same hymn book.

Unintended consequences abound.

BANKER DEFICITS

Australian banking Chairs and Chief Executives, present and recently past, have fast come to recognise the presence and nature of trust deficits. Many trust accounts were found to be in deficit, big time.

Remedial actions will need to extend well beyond funding deposits, and will reach out for considerable periods of time.

Interest will be high on all counts, and viewed from many perspectives.

The consumers’ assessments will not necessarily be black and white. Records will be tainted red. Just how effective was the training in emotional intelligence? On reflection, it’s not a dumb question. 

KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS

An interesting and significant oversight in the media reporting, analyses and commentaries is the absence of references to “goodwill”.

For those in small business, that often represents a large component of their retirement funding. Accordingly, it is a key attribute of financial and emotional well-being.

Discounted “goodwill” may well become the currency of the immediate future for many banks, bankers and financiers. As the individualists “move on”, their legacies will persist.

A SALE AT ANY COST   

Many people around the world have despaired at the reaction of U.S. President, Donald Trump to the murder, if not assassination of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia-born, American resident and journalist.

Tolerating such, and not responding appropriately because of the possible consequences to commercial contracts between the United States of America and Saudi Arabia have been recognised as being unconscionable:

Clearly, a sale at any price is not acceptable.

“Fees for no service” and “costs to deceased former clients” are equally unpalatable.

Trust and integrity are two pillars of value. “Doing the right things” and “doing things right” should be instinctive, self-determining and self-monitored.  

Authority does not, and should not reside solely in executive suits, and company board rooms.

That implies a trust deficit throughout the organisation, and among the team members.

Consistency and continuity builds confidence and is integral to the “doctrine of no-surprises”.

Japanese workers, when asked who leads and runs “this business”, typically respond: “we do”.  No trust deficit there.

A LONG-SHOT

Many sectors, professions, entities, management teams and individuals have been found in recent times to be well behind the eight-ball. It will be a long, arduous way back … to winning the trust, respect and support of customers, clients, supporters, the media and public at large.

Each will need to dig deep, to reflect, objectively evaluate and determine the best means to establish, or re-establish belief systems which will define, project and sustain value.

Parameters will delineate that which are acceptable, and unacceptable.

Credits will need to well exceed deficits. Trust me.

CULTURE EATS STRATEGY

In conclusion, endeavours and initiatives intended to optimise, sustain and stabilise trust in, and the integrity of the business need to begin with the corporate culture. It is the very essence and being of an entity, and of its contributing people.

Training programs on customer service, leadership, efficiency and emotional intelligence suffer trust deficits if, and when the initial and primary focus is not dedicated to, and channelled on the overriding corporate culture.

Well-intentioned practical and tactical practices are dismissed, internally and externally, when they are not preceded, determined and supported by complementary policies. 

Barry Urquhart

Service Excellence Keynote Speaker

Marketing Focus

M:        041 983 5555

E:        Urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

W:       www.marketingfocus.net.au

FIRED WITH ENTHUSIASM OR, BE FIRED, WITH ENTHUSIASM

Good intentions. Questionable execution.

A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald reported about a letter distributed to Optus staff members by the Chief Executive Officer.

The message was succinct and pointed. In essence, it declared that those staff members who made customers unhappy would be sacked, if and when it was referred to the boss.

There appeared to be six degrees of separation with the mythical statement made by a Roman centurion:

            The whippings will continue until morale improves

WAS IT NECESSARY?

The need for such communication was questionable, – if the “right” people had been recruited, inducted into a universal, supportive team ambience – and then trained, developed and inculcated into a positive service excellence corporate culture.

It is a challenge. Some 24% of the adult Australian workforce has the appropriate psychological profile and attributes to be great service providers. Identifying, isolating, recruiting, inducting, celebrating and rewarding them is imperative.

Such individuals are self-monitors and consistent enforcers of the service standards of peers, and among their own internal customers.

“We don’t do things that way” is a very powerful statement of values, intent and self-worth. It comes naturally to a “driven” service provider.

CAUSE, EFFECT OR VICTIM

Telecommunication campaigns rank second highest among client (corporate) and customer (consumer) complaints received by regulatory authorities, after banks.

Everyone, it seems, has a story – or an experience – to share about a bank and/or a telco.

Significantly, in both sets of instances, policies, processes, procedures and technology are primary causes of annoyance, frustration, exasperation and yes, “unhappiness”.

In short, the cause and issue are often determined and experienced before personal interactions with a service provider. Indeed, they too may well be a victim of the operating business model which has been formulated, implemented and measured by the Chief Executive Officer, and the senior management team.

In facilitating interactive workshops for in-house sessions of “Service that Satisfies SELLS”, care is taken to explain the context and content when dealing with the typical “customer from hell”.

The issue at hand is often not the issue at hand is a key and fundamental principle.

Condescending and personal outbursts are often the consequences of unrelated, precedent experiences. In-store perceived or real deficiencies can be a trigger that compounds an earlier instance of road rage, a domestic argument or difficulty in finding a parking bay.

Sometimes, minor shortcomings and infractions are the trigger that “breaks the camel’s back”.

COMPOUNDING ACCELERATORS

The current Australian finance, insurance and service sector Royal Commission has revealed, highlighted, and forensically analysed appalling instances of the neglect, abuse and contempt of customers.

Deficient and inappropriate corporate cultures and staff member reward systems have been uncovered and roundly criticised.

Employment contracts have been terminated, and career paths shattered. Moreover, consumer rights have been profiled, and accordingly, expectations and demands have been heightened, sharpened and are being pursued by a more sensitised customer and client base. There has been a recorded 35% increase in complaints submitted to the telecommunications industry regulatory authority.

Clearly, for all and sundry, there is no place to hide. Service excellence is a non-negotiable performance indicator.

Fine-print provisions are no protection. Simplicity, focus, transparency and accountability are dominant driving forces in a challenging and challenged marketplace.

Concerns about the surging increments in the costs of power and public utility services including water, sewerage and rubbish removal… are being addressed by politicians, governments and regulatory authorities. Comparative cost charts are being drafted, distributed and applied to the advantage of the consuming public and business sectors. However, consumers’ satisfaction languishes.

Some 25 years ago Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong-based international airline, learnt about and profited from the advantages of simplifying the value-package and retail cost offerings.

Little wonder, the success is in delivery.

The promise:

            “32 European destinations

            1 price”

Brilliant

Easy to comprehend, to assess value and to be satisfied. No-one was going to get a better deal. 

FOLLOW-UP, FOLLOW-THROUGH

A major concern and annoyance to customers is the lack of follow-up and follow-through once a sale or service issue has been successfully concluded.

A personal expression of “thank you” is a strikingly effective relationship enhancer.

Such sentiments and emotions are noticeably absent in the many transaction experiences that typify the prevailing digital marketplace.

CONCLUDING COMMENTS

For most entities there are eight to ten matrices that define a total positive customer experience (read: great customer service).

These arise before the initial face-to-face (voice-to-voice) interaction, and then evolve following the conclusion of the transaction or issue resolution.

Appropriately and consequentially applied, these factors ensure customer satisfaction and negate the need to distribute letters threatening the sack for infractions which, supposedly, result in customers being “unhappy”.

Structure, discipline, belief and enthusiasm contribute to a corporate culture which provides delight for all … Chief Executive Officers included.

SUMMARY OF KEY POINTS

1.    Document a detailed job description – specified duties.

2.    Script a job specification – outline essential human attributes.

3.    Recruit discerningly – match profiles with individuals.

4.    Induct into a comprehensive service culture.

5.    Support, reinforce and celebrate consistent service delivery.

6.    Empower. Delegate authority to self-monitor and self-regulate behaviours.

7.    Reward consistent standards.

8.    Embrace P.R.I.D.E. – personal responsibility for delivering excellence.

9.    Insist on “one-touch” service.

10. Provide on-going customer feedback, and training.

THE AUTHOR:

Barry Urquhart

Marketing Focus

M:  041 983 5555

E: urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

L:  (08) 9257 1777

THE EMPEROR’S GOT NO CLOTHES

It’s time to step up, stand up, speak up and call out reality.

Put simply, the pursuit of, and responses to disruption, change, digital and social media are, in most instances, deficient, inconsistent, under-resourced and not transparent.

Let’s call a spade a spade…  

                        The Emperor’s got no clothes.  

Immense amounts of money, time, skills and resources are being invested with little-or no quantifiable and verifiable returns. Responses are typically mute. No one wants to admit to poor decisions or sub-optimal performances.

Everyone is doing it. Going with the flow has a touch of Group Think about it. Performances, good and bad, tend not to be standouts. Disturbingly, some things in commerce are simply not spoken about. The facilitators, designers and consultants are not being brought to account. Measurement seems to be difficult, if not impossible.

FRACTURED REALITY

The early signs of fracturing of newly conceived, designed and implemented business models are appearing.

Structures, numbers and budgets are being refined and refocused. The rapid migration to all things digital and on-line is experiencing a wash-back.

Value ratings of the mass-media – print, television, radio and outdoor – are being reassessed. As a result, better balances are being achieved.

Omnichannel and multi-channels are being subjected to makeovers in which integration between the parts is being prioritised as a primary goal.

Noticeably widespread, there is a lack of urgency. A lack of consensus in boardrooms and management suites exists. The score and scale of under-performance are not being quantified, monitored or discussed in open forums.

Based on readily available anecdotal evidence, it is reasonable to contend that over 80%, and possibly up to and including 90% of digital, social, on-line and disruptive strategies are not achieving significant and sustainable increments in demand, sales, revenues profits and customer satisfaction.

In many instances, difficulties are encountered in measuring outcomes and establishing cause-/effect relationships.

Many conclusions and decisions are being based on intuition – “feelings”. Questions abound. Answers are rare, and wanting.

The lack of definitive, concrete evidence obscures recognition of the need for immediate affirmative actions, with appropriate follow-up and follow-through.

Few, if any, entities, brands, products, services, apps, sectors and regions seem to be immune.

GAINING MOMENTUM

The “green-shoots” of revision-and review are becoming more conspicuous.

Major, mass-volume project home builders are now distributing letterbox drops. Imagine return to junk mail in the modern digital era.

The same entities were, and remain, at the forefront of the transition to social media marketing campaigns.

A general economy downturn, tightening of bank lending policies and competitive head-winds do not explain in full declines of 10, 20 and 25% in sales.

Creative licence is being applied to offers on renovations, property sub-divisions and joint-venture initiatives.

Interestingly, these do not appear to address consumer demands, but rather, seek to stimulate interest and intent through the supply of alternative thoughts. It’s back to the future, with greater use of traditional established mass-media.

Issues of risk, security, stability, fear and income-flows are not readily addressed or highlighted: Those alone temper positive responses.

CRITICAL MASS

The marketing of consumer household products is being subjected to the same rigorous review.

 There is a widening, pronounced emphasis on point-of-purchasing, promotional and merchandising endeavours. Old established and proven practices are new… again.

Sadly, price-discounting is common, suppressing the resultant benefits of increased volumes, with squeezed margins and thus, profits.

The importance and potential power of brand is being recognised. It is one attribute that has been compromised with a reliance on, and preference of on-line marketing and supply. In such circumstances, recognition and recurring transactions have tended to be assigned to, and enjoyed by the platforms.

“I buy on Amazon”, “we visit eBay” and “my preference is Gumtree” are typical refrains.

TAKE STOCK

In an over-communicated world and marketplace, information-overload prevails. Target audience segments turn-off. Selective perception filters and blocks the transmission of what may be considered compelling, attractive and relevant offers by the transmitters (manufacturers, distributors, suppliers and retailers).

Impressive access to huge mass audiences count for little, when recipients are not positively receptive.

Impressive statistics on “hits” can be meaningless, particularly when recipients delete the missives. A better, more meaningful classification would be “hit and miss”.

CLOTHING ESSENTIALS

In fashion, as in life and commerce, the cut of the cloth is important. So too is the fibre, but many social media, digital and on-line communication strategies are now threadbare.

Indeed, in some cases, notwithstanding rationalisations and justifications…  

            The Emperor has no clothes.

A full wardrobe, with considerations for various external factors, is now being reconstituted.

(Robes, tiaras and crowns may be a little premature...)

BACK TO BASICS

History is repeating itself. Calls to get back to basics are misplaced. Lessons from the past highlight the need to never leave or forget the basics.

Digital disruption, change, innovation, social media and on-line business are not the total answer. They are part of the drive, focus and solution.

At present the potential is not being fulfilled. In a figurative and literal sense, execution is the issue.

Barry Urquhart

Business Strategist

Marketing Focus

M:  041 983 5555

E: urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

L:  (08) 9257 1777

THE FUTURE IS ’FUSION’

Get the word right. Fusion, not confusion, is the future for most sectors, products, services and entities.
 
Fusion is a concept – not a miss-spelling or a mispronunciation. Its relevance transcends sectors, product types and service categories. Its contemporary application is a back-wash from over-use and often misuse of market segmentation, which ultimately led to market fragmentation.
 
Micro-managing and endeavouring to consider nano-segments of populations are often unviable and ill-advised. Having the ability to discriminate and delineate discrete nuclear sub-groupings of existing and prospective customers is not enough justification.
 
The evolution of market-segmentation witnessed changes in focus, from demographic profiles (age, occupation, income, gender etc) to psychographics, which centred more on lifestyle pursuits and self-images.
 
Time–series analyses consistently highlight the fact that tightly profiled primary target audiences – centred on demographics or psychographs, and occasionally a combination of them – seldom represent more than 40% of actual customers and clients.
 
It is clear that many individuals and entities that do not “fit” the profile, aspire to do so, or related best to those who did.
 
Perceptions and self-images can - and regularly do - overwhelm reality. Thus, the statement:
 
                        The consumers’ perceptions
                        are the marketers’ realities
 
Look no further than the number and percentage of all-wheel-drive sports utility vehicles which never leave the bitumen, clog the freeways and create gridlock on the streets around schools at twice of each weekday.
 
TARGETED FUSION
 
In recent times many businesses and sectors have fallen victim to well-intentioned broadening of product/service mixes, as a means to generate additional revenue.
 
Incompatible customer profiles, needs, buying routines and purchase criteria have been significant filters and blockages to such endeavours.

Superficial analyses have not enabled appropriate delineation of underlying circumstances which determine and contribute to commercial success.
 
For example, the purchase of domestic floor coverings is typically taken at differing times and on distinct bases. Renovation is a complex web of decisions, purchases and endeavours: only those who truly know their customers can identify the distinctive nature of such.
 
Endeavours to integrate – fuse, if you will – newsagencies and pharmacies have in the main suffered similar outcomes. Increasing visitation rates to retail pharmacies or related operations do not ensure increased revenue in that discrete product mix.
 
Pet product retailers and veterinary surgeries are exploring related initiatives, with mixed and often imbalanced results, in which win–win is not a constant.
 
FUSION, AS AN INFLUENCE
 
Many restaurants and cafes have enjoyed success with fusion cuisines. They tend to avoid attempts to integrate and coordinate differing ethnic-based food-types. Indian, Chinese, Italian and Swedish is an interesting mix, but by nature is not fusion. To many consumers it is not a mouth-watering temptation.
 
Fusion, it seems, is at its best when it is an influence, not an ingredient or component of a mixed offering.
 
Consistency between signage, branding, ambience and menu is important. It may be unique, a hybrid and a reflection of the rich mosaic of life, society - and the globe.
 
Purity and consistency are idealisms from the past, but probably never realisable or existent.
 
The increasing presence of key influences, stimulates interests, establishes expectations and contributes to positive, enjoyable experiences: differentiates. All these are significant factors to stimulate returned patronage.
 
A DIFFERING PERSPECTIVE
 
In many respects marketers who seek to effect “cut-through”, resonance and relevance to discrete market segments endeavour to exclude certain consumer groups and sectors, as a means to achieve optimal performance.
 
Doubtless, the segmentation process precludes many opportunities, be they related to targeted audiences, product/service ranges and communication texts and channels.
 
Conversely, fusion tends to be more inclusive, embracing and capitalising upon prospects with secondary and tertiary factors. In short, an absence of delineation which is definitively “black” or “white” promotes the reality and prospects of that which resides in the broader continuum of grey.
 
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
 
In the prevailing marketplace it seems acceptable, indeed possibly preferable, to be operating “under the influence”. It puts a differing hue to being considered a conviction marketer.
 
Confused? Hopefully not. Just starting on the journey to a fusion future.

THE SAME OLD STORY - A DRAG ON THE FUTURE

It’s an all-too-familiar tale.

Mass retrenchments, closure of premises, product withdrawals, corporate restructures and, yes, mergers, acquisitions and liquidations.

The increasing trend and pace of shortening lifecycles for businesses, products and services reflect growing intrusion, impact and consequences of rapid change, disruption and innovation.

A recent public announcement by Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunication corporation, grabbed international media headlines. It was to retrench some 8,000 staff members (around 25% of its workforce) and would split its structure. That caught the attention of millions and carried explicit and implicit messages to business leaders and owners – no-one or thing is immune to the evolving forces of the future.

SYMPTOMATIC CASE STUDY 

Telstra’s circumstances should not be reviewed in isolation.  They are symptoms of encroaching realities for many sectors, professions and entities.

Disturbingly, the manifestations, consequences and ubiquitous presence of dynamic change are not being recognised, respected and planned for.

Public references to “shock”, “unforeseen” and “unexpected” are sad indictments of inadequacies of the visions and analyses of both internal and external leaders and experts.

Ongoing, periodic objective assessments, audits and forensic strategic analyses should be mandatory and programmed.  They will not avoid the challenges of change, but will provide time for allocation of resources and priorities to address and redress their direct, indirect and cascading impacts.

Many supposed business and strategic plans have an orientation or sole focus on the future.  Some detail contemporary, comparative analyses. Often overlooked is the past, and the genesis of the entity, its product/service range and that of the sector in which it operates, and to those to whom it seeks to serve.  Therein lie many questions and countless answers.

THE ROOTS OF THE MATTER

Beyond the narrow focus of Telstra is a telling story.

Telstra in its own right is worthy of contemplation.  It has lost its dominating and monopolizing presence.

Selling off, and losing control of one’s supply chain is fraught with danger and has intermediate to long-term adverse consequences.  The “cash-rush” from the sale of its copper-based network to NBN (National Broadband Network) was not reflected in enhanced dividend payments to shareholders, or in the share price.

Indeed, the share value and, thus, the market capitalization of the corporation have more than halved during the two years to June 2018.

Telstra, which was consistently ranked (by capital-worth) in the top eight publicly listed companies on the ASX (Australian Stock Exchange) is no longer among the top 10.

Disposal of the former large revenue and profit generating Yellow Pages, appeared to have little impact on operations or value.

The roots of the Telstra family-tree appear to run deep.  A landline telephone network, copper wires, “Yellow Pages” and, yes, call-centres.  Each is reflective, and tied to the past.

TRANSFORMATIVE FUTURE

The prospects for growth, resilience and reasserted competitive advantage for Telstra appear to centre on new and substantial pillars, being:

  • Foxtel

The corporation’s substantial shareholding in the on-line channels of Foxtel provides scope for penetration and access, making the categorization of being a telecommunications company somewhat redundant.

  • Content

    The leverage point of its Foxtel investment will inevitably be the rich rewards possible with the content that is produced and transmitted, rather than the transmission channels themselves: like Netflix

  • 5G

    It is conceivable, and reasonable, to forecast that the embracement and utilization of 5G technology will, to some considerable extent, make the NBN network obsolete, inadequate and relatively inefficient and expensive.

    So much for the projected investment of around $30 billion (currently $58 billion, and still counting) without the advantage and evaluations of a cost/benefit analysis by a Labor Party Senator and party powerbroker.  It seems the political party power was misplaced and poorly applied, and the numbers weren’t counted.

NATIONWIDE ISSUE

The lessons learnt from the Telstra scenario have widespread relevance, with significant structural and societal implications.  Look no further than the six largest corporations by market capitalization listed on the ASX.

Four are banks.  In 2017 Westpac celebrated its 200th year of continuous trade.

BHP, the recently rebranded “The Big Australian” is there.

So too is CSL, the former government-operated Commonwealth Serum Laboratory, which is the youngest, at 102 years old! It is also the best performing and has been the fastest growing of the six, since its public listing in 1996.

Collective ageless beauty? I think not.  It’s a cause for concern.

The contrast with the six largest public listed USA corporations is striking: Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Google.

None were operating in 1985.  Four had not been established in the year 2000, and each has in recent times stated they do not need banks or banking to transact business.  They have their own payment systems.

And then there is Alibaba from China, which has similar attitudes and capabilities.

THE MESSAGE IS…

The restructuring, downsizing and thinning of Telstra is, it seems, a frontrunner for what will happen to the big four banks in Australia.

BHP is on the front-foot.  It is rapidly embracing technology, artificial intelligence and automation.

Shareholders will be gladdened with the prospects for increases in production, reductions in staff numbers, enhanced revenues, margins, profits, dividends and share prices.

Who’s looking back to the past? Hopefully, no one, other than to appreciate the path taken.

BE PROFESSIONAL

Casual or heightened interest in the Telstra, banking and mining industry case studies are insufficient for many public and private, big and small corporations, firms, partnerships and networks.

Detached observations need to be upgraded with disciplined, structured, committed and well-resourced engagement.

In recent times I have enjoyed the challenges, insights and positive outcomes from facilitating detailed strategic analyses and business development workshops for lawyers, accountants, dentists, pharmacists, engineers and veterinary surgeons.

A new dawn is awakening for each discipline.

The future has arrived and it’s spelled:

Digital

It’s time for all commerce to extract the digit.

Barry Urquhart

Business Strategist

Marketing Focus

Mobile:     041 983 5555

Email:      urquhart@marketfocus.net.au

Landline: 08 9257 1777

GUARANTEED – REALLY?

There are no guarantees. Money-back offers have been marginalised, if not neutralised. They currently offer little prospect of generating additional revenue, placating consumer anxiety, stimulating preferences and developing or sustaining relationships. To some they are considered “quaint”.

Their peak usage and effectiveness of such were attained in the 1980s, when consumers were less informed about quality, performance standards and were particularly less aware of, and inclined to exercise, consumer rights and entitlement provisions.

MAKE IT SIMPLE

Macy’s department stores in the United States of America were explicit, concise and unqualified in their promise:

            Satisfaction guaranteed. Period.

There were no limits, compromises or necessity to justify, and to submit written substantiations of claims. 

Recognition of, and respect for the life-time value of a customer dictated delivering the promise … - without question.

This practical, simple policy which genuinely empowered Macy’s service providers with the authority to provide satisfaction, and fulfilled a basic aspirational consumer goal, being:

Peace-of-mind

 It was a distinguishing and powerful point of difference, and competitive advantage.

Competitors were hesitant to duplicate the offer, fearful of the cost and expectant of abuse by consumers.

To an overwhelming percentage and absolute number of Macy’s customers the money-back guarantee was appreciated, respected and valued. Abuse of the privilege was isolated and very occasional.

NOTHING LASTS FOREVER

Over time other retail networks introduced, promoted and adhered to the ideals, led by Costco, Target, Nordstrom and Kohl’s.

Increasingly, consumer expectations changed and reached higher planes.

A competitive advantage was transformed into a basic essential. Not to do so precluded one from the prospective shopping list.

Many business laggards still suffer from a loss of opportunity, revenue, profits, repeat and referral business, as well as loyalty, - unaware or alive to the importance and centrality of explicit and implicit guarantees.

BEYOND WARRANTIES

Major motor vehicle manufacturers (for a long time) offered limited warranties related to the purchase of new cars.

Local dealerships extended similar, restricted assurances with the sale of used vehicles.

In the former instance, the deal was typically valid for 12 months or 12,000 kilometres – whichever lapsed first. For used vehicles the offer was three months or 3,000 kilometres. Measured peace-of-mind. 

In the current marketplace seven-year, unrestricted-kilometre guarantees – with capped service costings – are not unusual. For a significant percentage of consumers that represents a risk-free proposition, with the resale value of the vehicle is written down to nothing. Hence, any price paid is a bonus.

It makes for easier, - not necessarily easy, - decision making.

ASSERTIVE CONSUMERS

Contemporary consumers tend to be better informed, more discerning, demanding, price-sensitive and aware of their rights (and prepared to exercise them) than ever before.

Accordingly, guarantees are often considered to be a given. That is, implicit.

No one wants to, or indeed does read the fine print of (sales/supply) contracts.

Access to, and a preparedness to share experiences on social media have tipped the scales of balance and justice in favour of the customer. Guaranteed.

SOME THINGS CAN’T BE GUARANTEED

One particular Asia-based international airline would find it difficult to win favour and increased custom by extending a money-back guarantee.

Two high-profile instances, in which hundreds of passenger lives were lost, are indelibly imprinted into the minds of people around the world.

That makes guarantees non-negotiable and, possibly, inappropriate.

Safety is sine qua non (second to none).

The calendar year 2017 recorded the lowest global number of paying passenger casualties. It was not a perfect record, but did reinforce the high expectations about safety by intending and actual airline passengers.

Consequently, Qantas has lost any competitive advantage based on its safety record, and the endorsement of actors Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rain Man.

Sometimes things don’t need to be promised or guaranteed, - just delivered.

 Barry Urquhart

Marketing Strategist

Marketing Focus

M:        041 983 5555

E:        Urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

W:       www.marketingfocus.net.au

CUSTOMER SERVICE SKILLS UNSHACKLED

Customer service skills are easy. But in many instances they are impeded and compromised by inadequate, superficial and narrowly focused corporate cultures.

Well scripted mission statements, philosophies and visions, that abound on display on office walls, are insufficient and often misleading. They seldom detail and articulate the underlying driving force (which makes things happen).

As a consequence, considerable resources and funds are channelled to processes that reduce costs and seek to enhance internal efficiency … at the cost of customer and client satisfaction.

Under – and unutilised customer skills often remain, unrecognised, not valued, not supported and not implemented, by a lack of delegated authority. This is to the detriment of unfulfilled customer advantages, benefits and rewards.

RESULT:        The importance of customer service is appreciated, but remains unrealised, to the dismay of front-line service providers and recipients.

THE STAGE IS SET

In many ways, customer and client satisfaction is determined by, and measured against expectations and initial experiences encountered before personal interactions with key service providers. Pre-programmed, automatic telephone systems, which often do not provide the option of immediate access to personal service professionals remain a source of annoyance, frustration, dismay and dissatisfaction.

It is difficult to recover from heightened anxiety, frustration and annoyance. Neutralising such emotions may be deemed to be a commendable milestone – but it is a long way short of satisfaction, delight and exuberance.

A case in point is the declaration by Centrelink that wait-times on the telephone line had been reduced substantially … to around 17 minutes.

Against the benchmark of service excellence being achieved when incoming calls are answered within three rings (that’s 9 seconds), it is little wonder that the public at large is left speechless, and fuming.

Department stores, particularly those in Australia, are reporting losses in sales, revenue, profits, market share and customers.

In recent times, senior management and Boards of Directors have declared commitments to a number of customer-focused endeavours, numbered among which are training in customer services.

Such utterances fall short, well short. As do the number of available and accessible service providers.

The consensus consumer perception for the Australian department store sector is that it is difficult to find staff members.

So having highly trained, qualified team members, who possess great product knowledge count for little if they are insufficient in numbers and can’t readily be found “on the shop floor”.

REFLECT:       Excellent skills, contrasted by inadequate culture compromise customer service standards.

Successful leaders of the largest Australian mining company, BHP, do not need to be engineers or geologists.  Similarly, being an IT wonk is not an essential pre-requisite to take the mantle of chief executive for Apple.

However, there is a universal need for all senior executive and non-executive ranks to be alive to the need for, and nature of customer service delivery.

Financial spreadsheets do not necessarily measure relevant performance standards.

REFLECT:       Context and ambience are as important as content to achieve satisfaction, and peace-of-mind.

ONE-TOUCH SERVICE

The manner, and speed in which product returns, quality issues and service deficiencies are addressed and resolved are key indicators of the degree to which a positive service corporate culture prevails, and is applied by all.

A need to refer matters to another person or department mars the experience of a disenchanted customer, and possible long-term business advocate.

Delegated authority improves morale, contributes to staff loyalty, stabilises team compositions and reassures customers that they are dealing with people who are willing, and have the capacity to resolve issues to their satisfaction.

HOLD ON, NO FOLLOW-UP

For some, follow-up to customers who have just outlaid considerable funds to do business is expensive, time-consuming and does not necessarily generate additional referrals and revenue. Moreover, unease is common among some entities that are reluctant to expose themselves to inviting expressions of dissatisfaction from customers.

Some things are better to know first-hand. Third-hand endorsements and complaints are difficult to manage, counter, contain or to negate.

Open, two-way communication is a key characteristic to sustaining positive relationships, client satisfaction and to achieving loyalty.

UNCOMPROMISED COMMITMENT

Customer service initiatives are commendable, and particularly relevant at this time. Each should be universally embraced and applied.  With service excellence there is no place to hide.

However, big budget allocations alone are not enough.

Training undertaken by team members should, indeed, must, involve senior management and Board members. Active participation is positive. At the very least, training participants will feel rewarded, and be reassured that they have been heard when at the conclusion of the program they are able to deliver personal presentations of considered and determined action plans to senior executives and non-executives. It’s the very least one would expect of a customer-focused/driven/centric/first entity.

 Barry Urquhart

Conference Keynote Speaker

Marketing Focus

M:        041 983 5555

E:        Urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

W:       www.marketingfocus.net.au

LET'S GET PHYSICAL

Ah, the ebbs and flow of commerce. In recent times there has been a noticeable migration from dedicated on-line business channels to the acquisition, commencement and implementation of traditional bricks and mortar premises.

At the forefront is Amazon, with its acquisition of the retail network Whole Foods, and its 450 + outlets in some 43 states of the United States of America. It is also studying the possible takeover of the Toys R Us retail network in the USA.

The physical presence complements the global, easy and immediate on-line access to over 500,000 differing products, services, applications, brands and models. Each outlet provides convenience for customers to collect, review and select desired and intended purchase items. It is an extension of the increasingly popular, click and collect service.

Moreover, the physical ambience is conducive to optimising the potential for impulse and spontaneous primary and complementary purchases, which are typically not capitalised in on-line transactions. Virtual reality does have its limitations.

Omni-channels, when functioning as horizontal cross-over opportunities and not as vertical silos, facilitate the capacity to increase up-sell and cross-sell revenue to the satisfaction of customers.

SELECT ROLES

It is increasingly evident that an effective, efficient on-line presence is an imperative to open the door. Bricks and mortar stores enable prompt sales closures. Moreover, personal interactions, relationships and loyalty are natural extensions.

Individually and collectively, they simplify, expedite and encourage subsequent repeat sales and return visits. Search routines are typically narrowed, brand name recognition and preferences are heightened, and competitive advantage established, sustained and developed.

 B2B

The complementary nature and benefits of on-line and bricks ‘n’ mortar presence is most pronounced in business-to-business dealings.

Time-poor, and often under-resourced executives value simplified and enhanced access to on-line information, when it is enriched and supported by personalised one-on-one interactions.

The latter context enables recognition and appreciation of the nuances which are innate to verbal communication. That promotes a sense of understanding and care – which differentiates companies, products, services, applications and individuals from the commoditisation that typifies contemporary on-line and digital commerce.

Increasingly, senior corporate executives and marketers are accepting, and utilising on-line channels as a tool to reach out, connect and engage with existing, prospective and past clients and customers.

For an overwhelming majority of the 2.4 million trading entities in Australia, it is not a stand-alone, viable business model.

Considerable time, money and resources have been dedicated to its development, introduction and implementation.

Often, that capacity is not matched with the capabilities (necessary skills) that are necessary to optimise performance. Sub-standard and variable performance levels typically result in the dissatisfaction of clients and customers, and to the financial pain of business owners, managers and shareholders.

SECOND-BOARD LESSONS

The many lessons from the ill-fated Second Board of the Australian Stock Exchange from the 1980s seem to have been forgotten. In that instance, a key learning was that a single product does not a company make.

Newly listed public entities rapidly closed. So too did the Second Board. Likewise, a dedicated solus on-line presence can be, and often is, an expensive non-competitive business model. Old habits persist, and die hard. Put simply, many people simply like doing business with other people, in preference to algorithms, artificial intelligence and technology.

Customer service does cost. Labour costs in Australia can be high. However, a lack of customer service costs more. Business failure is one key measure.

EFFICIENCY, EFFECTIVENESS

And so it is, that a growing ground-swell of opinion is evolving in which on-line channels are recognised as being imperative initiatives to optimise efficiency, open-up communication, and to provide access to information.

Effectiveness is most readily attained, sustained and valued by consumers with investments in physical presences, people in particular.

TOO EXPENSIVE

Decisions to discontinue the operation of dual on-line and physical channels as “too expensive” may well prove to be a false economy.

A focus on one to the exclusion of the other will, in all probability, preclude a business from countless opportunities. Thus, sales, reviews and profits will be constrained.

Difficult and different times demand a fresh, if not a refreshed model … in the virtual and in the reality.

Barry Urquhart

Marketing Strategist

Marketing Focus

M:        041 983 5555

T:         9257 1777

E:        Urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

W:       www.marketingfocus.net.au

ENHANCE THE VALUE OF BUSINESS PARTNERSHIPS AND RELATIONSHIPS

Stop.

It’s time to recalibrate the purpose, nature and measure of worth for business relationships and strategic alliance partnerships.

Indeed, the review must extend to supply contracts, collaborative marketing initiatives and networking activities.

There is increasing awareness that such connections are effecting little, no or declining mutually beneficial outcomes. The direct and indirect costs are formidable.  

Individual self-interest and territorialism are significant common barriers, impediments and filters to the original idealistic objectives of team and joint endeavours.

The subsequent and recurring investments of time, money, people and resources are recording little tangible, quantifiable and monitorable benefits.

PROFITS ARE NOT THE PURPOSE

Pursuit of immediate, now profits misses a key strategic outcome.  

Profit is not the purpose of business. It is a consequence.

Fundamentally, all activities in commerce should, or must be to the benefit, advantage and reward of existing, prospective and, yes, to past customers and clients.

Value is the countervailing force to cost. When value exceeds cost satisfaction, repeat and referral business, loyalty and sustainable competitive advantage are natural outflows and consequences.

Subsequent increased incomes are often recorded, received and, for some, banked.

Therefore, deliberating, determining, defining, articulating and sharing the value that one intends to bring into a relationship, no matter its scale, nature or complexity, are imperative, and are effective and key accelerating elements.

That’s right, a focus on the input, not the take-out of an existing or intended connection. It’s refreshingly different … and of interest to others.

ACCOUNT FOR EVERYTHING

Accountants are an interesting breed. They enjoy a privileged position in commerce. The power, authority and influence they exercise, particularly with many owners of small to medium sized enterprises are daunting, if not alarming.

They are, in many instances, the first and the last point of reference for important, significant and substantial decisions.

In recent times, with an economy that is challenged, confronted by headwinds and typified by rampant, widespread discounting, squeezed margins, contracting discretionary expenditure, accounting practices are themselves being subjected to review - and accountability.

Increasingly, the discipline and its practitioners are being identified as a cost, rather than a revenue-generating factor.

Perhaps expectedly, the first agenda item for many accountant-client meetings is their fee total, and how best to lower such.

Introduction of lower-standard bookkeeping services is well intentioned, but misguided. The real issue is value. References to cost are symptomatic of the underlying concern.

Complementary services, including financial planning, insurance consultancy, estate planning and legal services, are typically recognised by clients to be primarily for the advantage of the accountant rather than themselves.

Likewise, the conduct of client events addressed by providers of accountancy software packages, at the conclusion of which attendees are invited and encouraged to contemplate the outlay, and investment in expensive packages are widely identified to be offensive and inappropriate. Discount offers do not temper the negative resultant emotions.

I have been retained by a number of astute accountancy practices to address existing and prospective clients on how they can best increase their revenues, enhance and sustain their competitiveness.

Strict parameters ensure no so sales squeeze to buy professional services at the conclusion.

Value is derived from investment in the relationship, to the advantage of the client. It works … - for both parties - in the immediate, intermediate and longer term.

SUPPLIER INPUTS

Requests and demands for suppliers to contribute to, or pay for cooperative advertising, featured point-of-purchase displays, product sampling exhibitions and the like, are often repetitive, costly and ineffective.

There is a better way. The challenge is, to find it.

We have enjoyed the experience of providing insights on consumer and client perceptions, preferences, purchasing criteria and buying patterns which enable, and empower, the participating partnering entities to capitalise on their own creativity, innovativeness and entrepreneurship.

I think it’s called, win-win.

WHY BOTHER?

The inordinate number of hours which are committed, and usually wasted, in attending business networking events is breathtaking.

It is difficult to justify spending time with 100 other business people, each of whom is seeking to increase their revenue sources.

Few, if any, ever register and attend such gatherings with the intention of investing or effecting expenditure.

It is important to evaluate the worth of such activities. They need not necessarily be summarily dismissed. However, they are an opportunity – cost. Alternative pursuits exist.

There is value in consistently identifying, respecting and quantifying the opportunities that are forsaken by attending such networking events.

Convenors, coordinators and facilitators are usually ranked highly among those who profit most.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

In communication, I learn most, and benefit best when I listen … - to the other people.

In research, I ask concise, targeted questions and gain invaluable insights … - from other people.

At conferences, I’m inspired most by the interactive workshops I facilitate following a keynote address, - by the participants.

There is a lot to learn, earn and spurn from the benefits, advantages and rewards, which are directed to, and enjoyed by others in relationships, alliances and partnerships.

Barry Urquhart

Conference Keynote Speaker 

Marketing Focus

M:        041 983 5555

T:         9257 1777

E:        Urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

W:       www.marketingfocus.net.au

THE DEATH OF SHOPPING CENTRES

Shades of Mark Twain. The reported death of shopping centres is, somewhat, premature.

It’s a catch-all, generalised statement that is selectively true in small parts. Perhaps the premise (orientation?) of the statement is questionable.

Rather, we have entered an era in which the rebirth of shopping centres is self-evident, and growing.

Allocated capital expenditure totals are impressive. External upgrades and remodelling of tenancy mixes are only parts of the total story.

MIXED-USE PROFILES

It is inevitable that the sprawling metropolitan areas of Australian cities will be subjected to redevelopment, centred on increased density. Infrastructure, mass public transport in particular, will be a pillar of the new concepts and planning visions.

Therefore, one can confidently project the construction of multi-storey, integrated complexes with the lower floors being occupied by retail outlets complemented by commercial tenancies on the first or second floors, and the higher premises being residential.

That’s right, primary, target audiences will be living and working on-site. Retail tenancy mixes will be refined to include alfresco dining, complementing existing fast service food halls.

Service precincts, featuring health, insurance and business support facilities will become commonplace.

Our mobile society will be acknowledged, with the introduction of new motor vehicle dealerships, finance agencies and yes, collection points for goods, services and applications which have been purchased on-line. Click and collect, together with multi-channel marketing will be alive, well and operating in a shopping centre near you.

Indeed, many of the transactions undertaken in bricks and mortar premises will be concluded, and paid for, on-line. Alas, the buying, delivery, possession and utilisation phases of the purchase process will be delineated, differentiated and integrated.

Progression from convenience to access will be part of the transformation.

THE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE

Many public statements about the shopping experience are, in reality, shallow references about enhanced ambiences. Few detail, or give extended consideration to engagement with and by the customers.

Most important will be the need for, a character of a seamless experience. In short, there should be no boundaries.

Integration will be fundamental. Shopping centre lessors and managing agents will need to be true collaborators (read: strategic alliance partners) with retailers. That will include a remodelling of tenancy, and rental agreements. Mutual respect, benefits and rewards will be the essence of sustainable relationships.

Doubtless, some agreements will founder.

DIFFERENTIATION

Personalisation and differentiation will, in the near, intermediate and longer terms become virtues.

Commoditisation, evident in almost identical tenancy mixes between larger shopping centres, will impinge on development and consumer loyalty, ultimately leading to the demise of an increasing number of tier 2-sized complexes.

Rebirthing is an exciting prospect – for shopping centre owners, managing agents, retailers and consumers.

Barry Urquhart

Facilitator – Strategic Planning Workshops

Marketing Focus

M:        041 983 5555

T:         9257 1777

E:        Urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

W:       www.marketingfocus.net.au

BUSINESS LIFE CONTINUES, PROSPERS AFTER AMAZON

Amazon is not infallible, it is not invincible and is not necessarily the cheapest.

The Tuesday, 5 December 2017: the launch in Australia of Amazon marketplace highlighted several deficiencies, inadequacies and vulnerabilities.

Access to the site was not readily achievable, comparison-pricing underscored, so that, in some instances, entities that were utilising the Amazon marketplace channel were more expensive than local bricks and mortar retail outlets.

Delivery standards were not nationally or universally consistent.

Doubtless, many first-time prospective customers left the site disappointed, disillusioned and still in need of products, services and applications.

 RATIONALISED REALISM

The Amazon marketplace launch in Australia was a limited opening. Amazon Prime and Fulfilment by Amazon (BBA) were not operating, while access was denied to Amazon.com, which operates from the United States of America.

Partial “soft” and rolling launches are fraught with danger. It’s true, you only ever get one opportunity to create the first impression.

Losses of image, reputation, expectations, sales, referrals and recommendations would have been immediate, and considerable.

Winning back the disenchanted will be less rapid.

 AN AWAKENING REALITY

For many despairing retailers and prophets of doom it was sobering to realise that, notwithstanding the commencement of Amazon operations in Australia, the earth still turned on its axis and the sun rose in the east.

Hope springs eternal. Competitive edge is still possible for big and small businesses which are committed to lifting their standards, updating their business models, reviewing their pricing policies and establishing, and sustaining the enhanced relationships with existing, prospective and past customers – founded on consistent, high-standard personal customer service.

 PLUG THE LEAKING

The prospects for, and subsequent reality of losses to new interlopers like Aldi, Costco, numerous fast fashion outlets and Amazon were, and are the consequences of the poor, inconsistent and impersonal service of existing bricks and mortar and on-line businesses.

In each case the decline in sales, failures and appointments of administrators was simply a matter of time.

Consumer annoyance, frustration and intolerance have increased substantially during the past decade. Local and localised Australian entities were insulated, if not protected, by geographic isolation.

That changed significantly with the advent of on-line channels and digital marketing. Convenience was usurped by access.

Range, choice, power extended beyond physical premises, warehouses and inventories.

A slow, under-resourced and inadequately capitalised uptake of an on-line business model, by long-established and recognised traders, simply lowered the barriers, accelerated the entry of global interlopers and disruptors.

Correspondingly, and in part as a consequence of management inaction, for the first time in over 20 years, price eclipsed branding as the third most important criterion in purchase decision making.

Everything, it seems, has changed, necessitating a total audit of marketing, advertising, merchandising, promotions, selling, service, operating, stocking, pricing and staffing.  

FIRST THINGS FIRST

Without question, a primary cause of revenue and patronage leakage to new, often global, entrants is the disturbingly regular instances of negative shopping experiences. Allow me to reiterate a quote from the high-impact, dynamic Business Warfare interactive business development workshop:

            We have met the enemy,

            and they is us.

 Attacking, competing with, and beating Amazon will not, and cannot be achieved by focusing on where Amazon is strongest. That is - low prices, a huge range, house- branded products and services, prompt responses and access.

The best, most immediate and scalable opportunity is personal customer service.

On-line interactions lack the emotional experiences that flow from personalised encounters. They tend to be transactional in nature, with relationships being compromised, loyalty and repeat business a forlorn hope, and everything focused on NOW.

 A PROPER FOCUS

Sadly, opportunities are lost because of service myopia. A narrow orientation on direct, immediate transactional interchanges precludes recognition of, and exploitation of seven key elements of service excellence.

Managing expectations is a fundamental pillar of attracting attention, interest, visitations, sales, revenue and repeat business.

Stimulating intrigue is fulfilling to prospective customers and satisfying for businesses.

Communications, punctuality, consistency and continuity are compelling foundations on which to position brand names, products, services and applications. To do so effectively and efficiently, then formulating, documenting, implementing, monitoring, enhancing and maintaining a genuine service culture is imperative.

Service is integral to the DNA of a business. It is not an add-on. Consistent with the culture itself, service is, could be and should be the force that binds individuals, groups and total entities to the ideals, beliefs and values of customer focus.

A key feature of an integrated and cohesive service culture ensures that two biggest deficiencies of many operations do not evolve. It is these that make companies most vulnerable, and typically, un-performing.

FINAL THOUGHT

So, businesses survive and thrive in the presence of Amazon. Those that do best, lift their sights, standards and disciplines – to the benefit of all.

Services them right!

Barry Urquhart

Conference Keynote Speaker

Service Excellence Facilitation

Customer Service Author

Marketing Focus

M:        041 983 5555

T:         9257 1777

E:        Urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

W:       www.marketingfocus.net.au

The Great Divide - The United States of America

THE GREAT DIVIDE - THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Market big, sell small. Or is that, macro-marketing and micro-selling?

Globalism and digital marketing have dictated the need, and the advisability, to consider, if not pursue, broad-horizon opportunities.

Physical constraints and focus now limit thinking more than they impinge on operations, marketing and distributions.

Many small and medium sized entities now have the capacity to service interstate, inter-regional and international marketplaces. Capabilities and desires are quite distinct factors, for some.

A recent fleeting, but in-depth study of six city-based marketplaces in North America provided invaluable learning and understanding of the complexity of the contemporary, often contiguous economies. It also enables one to understand why the nation is titled the United States and not, the United Markets of America.

San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, New York, Memphis and New Orleans are geographically dispersed. The nature, composition, character and status of the respective localised marketplaces are equally different and individualistic. 

That explains in part the market variability in the performance of national and global marketing campaigns between a spectrum of marketplaces.

Today, target audiences are today complex and challenging. Reliance on established, recognised and trusted brands, complemented with substantial multi-channel marketing budgets are inadequate to achieve optimal impact, penetration, sales and profits.

A local, active and interactive presence is imperative. Passive, stand-off philosophies do not resonate with specific consumers.

Hence, the increasing profiling of local flagship outlets for brands like Nespresso, Rolex, Apple and Ralph Lauren.

It is recognition that effective marketing creates latent potential that can be best and most proficiently converted into revenue by the presence of sales by enthusiastic, proud, committed and product-knowledge – savvy sales and service people.

WAGES STAGNATION

It is often stated that the business of America, is business. Today, it needs to be stimulated, promoted and for deals to be closed.

Marketing, advertising, promotions and merchandising simply open the doors. Throughout the USA there is at present an all-pervasive reluctance to spend. Understandable when one realises that the average income of an American (not the minimum wage), when inflation and consumer price index increments are neutralised, have over the past 40 years increased by a miserable .2%. That is .2% over 40 years, not .2% per annum over a period of 40 years.

Thus, wages-induced wealth creation for the nation has stagnated.

Little wonder the electorate is disenchanted with politicians, political leaders and the public service. Unintended consequences, including the election of Donald Trump as President, are conspicuous.

Those in the evolving economically important millenniums generation will experience living standards marginally below those of the preceding generation. Greatest concern is held for the economic well-being of children who will enter the jobs market and economy in 10 to 20 years’ time.

The rate of economic decline will accelerate.

CAPITAL INVESTMENT

Infrastructure in the long-established cities, like San Francisco and New York, is aged, and in urgent need of repair, upgrading, renewal and replacement.

Sadly, the state and capital cities of those localities are deep in debt, burdened by the need to repay loans and lacking the prospect for increased revenue, generated by growing incomes.

Growth in local manufacturing is being achieved without the need to invest in new plants and capacity. Recent contractions in output and workforces are being reversed. However, capacity has not been increased and concrete plans for capital investments are scant.

Making America Great Again is a relative, not an absolute statement or goal.

HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL

Notwithstanding the barriers, filters and impediments, the USA will continue to produce entrepreneurs, digitally-disruptive entities and rapidly accumulated wealth … - for some. There will be those whose focus will be on thinking big and complementing it with an integrated and committed supply-chain populated with those who act small, and locally.

Opportunities were readily identified in retail, pharmacy, construction, finance, wholesale and accounting services. In addressing and facilitating business development workshops for those in respective disciplines, it was apparent many enthusiastically comprehended and embraced available philosophies, strategies and tactics.

Opportunities seem to be global. Fulfilment is typically local.

Amazon in Australia is a case-in-point.

 BEYOND PHYSICAL PRESENCE

Seattle, on the West Coast of the USA, in the state of Washington, is the home city for the head-offices of Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Nordstrom, Boeing and Starbucks, among others.

It has a population of some 3 million in the greater metropolitan area.

The presence of Amazon is ubitiquous, but not conspicuous. Its workforce in the city is reported to be 55,000.

An entire city block is occupied by the Amazon campus for training, development and further education. Adjacent are three high-rise buildings which accommodate most of the local Amazon team members.

Noticeably, there are no Amazon signs, logos or uniformed employees.

Macys, the largest department store chain in the world, has occupied an eight-storey building for over 108 years. It has been hit by the marketplace presence of Amazon. In recent times it has sold the top four floors for a total $110 million (US). The purchaser – Amazon. Alas, the perpetrator has become the saviour.

Commercial and residential rents, along with house prices, have spiralled in recent years, to the extent that many aspirant Amazon employees can’t afford to live in the area.

Amazon is currently searching world-wide for an affordable co-head office location. It has received a reported 238 submissions.

The company has traded in, but not from Australia, for more than a decade. Opening its first Fulfilment Centre in Victoria on Thursday, 22 November (Thanksgiving Day in the USA) heralded a new era for consumers and businesses.

A local physical presence will accelerate conversion of the potential, which has been created by its global marketing.

Point made. Lesson learnt.

Barry Urquhart

Business Strategist

Marketing Focus

M:        041 983 5555

T:         9257 1777

E:        Urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

W:       www.marketingfocus.net.au

ATTENTION-GRABBING COMMUNICATION

Your attention, please.

 Why is it that I can’t get my message through?

Nobody, it seems, is listening, reading, recognising brands, valuing relationships, exhibiting loyalty, referring services or responding.

Consumers and clients seem distracted, uncommitted, inclined to impulsively press the delete button and declare that the communication has never been received.

The ubiquity of social and digital media, catalogues – in print and on-line – doesn’t seem to be registering and resonating with people.

A universal lowering of costs on social, digital and on-line communications has been instrumental in increasing the affordability and volume of mass communications, but to little or no avail. Personal salutations seem marginally effective, at best.

Doing so much, so often to many is a common practice … - and contributing materially to the issue.

Attention has become a goal, commonly out of reach to many. Content is a tactic, and in many instances poorly structured and delivered.

Many marketing practitioners are recalibrating the long-held and shared maxim that, 50% of my advertising works and 50% of it doesn’t. I just don’t know which 50% is which.

An evolving truism centres on an 85-90% rate of ineffective, non-responsive advertising, marketing and promotions. It is – a daunting set of statistics and implications.

DELIVER THE PROMISE

Audiences and targeted consumers and clients are increasingly informed, discerning, price-sensitive and highly expectant of both great quality and value.

They seek out, utilise and regularly return to sources which they find credible, verifiable, transparent and, above all, authentic!

To many entities, these expectations cause considerable harm, particularly with the promotion and conduct of webinars. Sadly, the delivery skills of an overwhelming majority of speakers are poor, if not appalling, reflecting badly on companies, products, services and applications.

Enhancing one’s personal presentation skills is only a partial measure to increased relevance and impact.

Sadly, seeming reincarnations of the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, abound. Conference, seminar and exhibition stages are regularly inhabited with storytellers dressed in black roll-neck skivvies and black trousers. Talk … about commoditisation! Moreover, that mode of dress does little to attract attention.

STEP UP, STAND UP

Critical self-analysis of content, context and style is always justified, commended and should be complimented.

The filtering, blocking and rejection of much communication is a consequence of stereotypical perceptions, and resultant generalised actions.

Don’t take it personally. In many instances intended recipients don’t filter, block or reject individual communications. Rather, a blanket cover is applied to “another email”, “another blog” and “another text”. Little discrimination is applied in an over-communicated world, or on an over-exploited smartphone, tablet or computer.

To achieve human connection and elicit positive engagement, more focus and effort are needed on attracting attention.

Short attention spans dictate the need to think, formulate and implement headlines. That is, - a concise, enticing and compelling 3 to 5-word statement, challenge, question or proposition.

OVERCOMING FILTERS

Consumer and client apathy and indifference pervade.

Enthusing and motivating demotivated and unconnected minds is a difficult, daunting challenge.

Endeavouring to change people may be, and often is, futile. Perhaps one should reflect on the words of Leo Tolstoy:  

            Everyone thinks of changing the world,

but no one thinks of changing himself.

An interesting and significant allure is to encourage and offer real-time personal responses. It is something that around 80% of business clients and 64% of consumers welcome and value.

Increasingly, recipients to countless communications recognise, reject and are offended by impersonal, mass-distributed missives. Personal salutations are conspicuous, transparent, and often, deemed to be offensively-insincere. Accordingly, they do not counter widely-held negative sentiments to- “another email”, “another blog” and “another text”.

In all of this it is well to remember that customer churn is only one bad experience away. Many potential relationships are never established because of communications that lack the vital ingredients which attract attention, resonate and are recognised as being relevant.

IT’S AN ARTFORM

Don’t give up. Step up. Sharpen up and gear up.

Disturbingly, many supposed digital and on-line marketing experts are deficient in their ability to attract attention for clients.

They are good at registering with algorithms, which lack dimensions of emotion.

Self-discipline in refining concise headlines, respecting the power of brevity and providing credible, verifiable and authentic personal advantages, benefits and advantages to targeted audiences will progressively be a competitive and rewarding experience.

Having attracted your attention, you can now relax.

Barry Urquhart

Marketing Strategist

Marketing Focus

M:        041 983 5555

T:         9257 1777

E:        Urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

W:       www.marketingfocus.net.au

GET ON WITH IT

You’re on your own.

Well, for business leaders, that’s close to reality. We can’t, and shouldn’t, rely on government, regulators and many commerce associations.

Politicians seeking, then winning, office often do not honour their electoral promises. It is understandable and reasonable for many in business to question whether Prime Ministers, Premiers, Treasurers and Ministers have any honour.

The recent Western Australia state election was a timely and, potentially for large numbers of entities, a costly case study.

Promises of no increases in taxes were broken at the first budget. Increased imposts in payroll and gold taxes/levies were referred by the Premier and Treasurer as being temporary and short term. Interestingly, their time span is longer than the four-year term of an elected government. Can one reasonably conclude that the incumbent state government is temporary and short-term.

Few governments create jobs or wealth. At best, they can facilitate both, primarily by standing back and allowing individual business leaders, entities and networks to get on with the job.

The history of those in business, waiting for elected members to take the lead is littered with broken promises, shattered dreams and unfulfilled expectations.

“Attribution Theory” is alive and well in the political spheres. Politicians are quick to claim to be parents of business success. Failure is an orphan.

Between election campaigns business leaders and owners need to recognise the prevailing, often government-applied, parameters and optimise their productivity and competitive advantages.

CONFORMITY – OR BUST

On balance, the charter for most regulators is to monitor, administer and enforce compliance and conformity. In short, to maintain and sustain the status quo.

In the prevailing economy that offers little hope or scope for individual growth – unless one is prepared to ‘push the envelope’, to be innovative, creative and disruptive.

Staying tight, ‘holding the line’ and conforming with the prevailing status quo will inevitably lead to ‘going down with the ship’.

Many sectors are drowning in regulations, which contribute little to striving for and enhancing increased productivity, velocity and volume.

The exceptions, those who are thriving – not surviving - are those who dare to be different. They are typically recognisable because they are pilloried for operating outside the norm, the established practices.

Wearing the disdain of established competitors comes with the territory. It is a cost to be borne, one that does not impinge on profits, market acceptance or relevance.

Globally, their identities are established, recognised and supported. The include UBER, Amazon and Facebook. Within Australia they are equally successful, profiled and are strikingly non-competitive (that is, they dominate their sector and targeted audiences).

In each instance, discounting, sales and bargains are not the norm. Lower prices, consistently applied, are. A different, unique, and, often, exclusive business model has been developed and is employed. Look no further than the relative performances of traditional fashion retailers and those who have embraced the ideals, principles and advantages of “fast fashion”: reported profit, success and failure rates are striking. Fast fashion is rewriting business models. It is not a case of making a fast buck. Sustainability will evolve.

The late Sir James McCusker, founder of Town & Country Building Society, now part of ANZ Bank, was quoted in the book “The Jindalee Factor – Insights on Australian Entrepreneurs”:

Rules are for guidance, not obedience.

Sage advice. Rule setting should be assigned equal importance to goal setting. On reflection, winners usually write the rules …- and history.

The alternative is ill-defined, and certainly not self-determined, as: one complies and conforms.

ASSOCIATED SUCCESS

Professional trade and industry associations are under pressure.

Membership losses are common. Value is often difficult to articulate and to quantify.

Astute advocacy by association executives and office-bearers in the political corridors of power can be difficult to relate, or identify as a causal factor, towards increases in revenue, profits and market share.

The profiles of associations’ elected leaders, and the individual entities they represent can be insightful.

Leading, large and established businesses often find advantage and benefit in maintaining the status quo, rationalising such with the term in the common good.

Start-ups, interlopers and disruptors find the implicit glass ceilings unappealing and inappropriate.

Little wonder some choose to go it alone, retain their independence, seek (and often secure) a seat at the table with the political power elite and enjoy media acceptance and visibility, much to the annoyance of peers.

Association executives walk a narrow plank. Satisfying everyone is beyond the capacity of mortals. However, they need to make a statement – clear, concise, telling, and refreshingly honest.

Changes in personnel and culture, rather than by-laws, provide a window of opportunity. Being prepared to confront, challenge and, yes, offend, can be laudable. That approach is most likely to impact positively on the cash-flows and profitability of existing and prospective members – immediately and continuously. They are the key performance indicators (KPI) being implicitly applied by association members.

In a marketplace and economy constrained by the intrusion of politicians with questionable measures of honour, regulators who revel in efficiency, profit-sapping procedures and some association executives who see their primary role to be advocacy, with little regard for improving the lot of individual, or group members, now is the time for business leaders, owners and managers to get on with it and go it alone.

Barry Urquhart

Conference Keynote Speaker

Marketing Focus

M:        041 983 5555

T:         9257 1777

E:        Urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

W:       www.marketingfocus.net.au

The Hidden Costs of Discounting

Everything costs, including discounts. Price cutting is currently rampant …possibly endemic. The practice seems infectious, if not too rash.

Short-term sales events, bargains and promotional offers have immediate, widespread and lasting impacts on the integrity of brands, and the trust placed in the related value-packaging. As a consequence, full, standard and recommended retail prices are typically forever beyond reach and retrieval.

Customer relationships and loyalty are often casualties of consistent, tactical price discounting.

THE NEW ORDER

The intrusion of global fast-fashion outlets like Zara, H&M, UNIQLO and Forever 21, has dictated the need for all in the fashion retailing supply chains to invoke discipline, to strive for greater productivity, velocity and volume, and to trim margins to remain competitive, relevant and compellingly attractive.

Individually and collectively, those initiatives are not discounting prices. Rather, they are the aspects of a new dynamic, customer-focused business model that constitutes a new order.

It is exciting for some, particularly consumers, and burdensome for others.

COST/BENEFIT EQUATION

The underlying premise of discounting is that lower prices will stimulate sufficient interest and increased sales, to more than compensate for the loss of profit that is integral in lowering prices.

It is well to remember that 100% of the discount is taken from the profit margin. Fixed and variable costs remain essentially constant in the short-term.

Disturbingly, few “discounters” undertake forensic analysis of just how much increased turnover is required to compensate for, and to neutralise, the impact on profits of lower prices.

Attendant costs and operational considerations are incurred, including increases in inventory, warehousing and retail space, staff numbers, electricity costs, rentals, insurance premiums, advertising and shrinkage. Understandably, most are bracketed in the variable-cost structure.

As a sweeping generality applied to retailing per se, (with a 30% profit margin) a 10% across-the-board discount will require an increase in turnover of around 296%. That’s right, a near three-fold increase in turnover.

For those who market, seek and retail services, (such as travel agents,) physical inventories are not a key factor in the equations. They require a “modest” 180% average increment in turnover to counter a 10% company-wide discount.

I readily accept and, indeed, can endorse discount propositions …. - once that I’m assured of a 1.8 to 3 times resultant acceleration in turnover. On-going variability in prices result in further costs. That is - the impact on the integrity and trust attributed to the brand. Arguably that can be, and often is, dismissed (or discounted!) as an opportunity cost.

Its presence is not apparent on spreadsheets. However, its manifestations are quantifiable.

START AT THE BEGINNING

Too often, the introduction of a discounting philosophy or policy is the unintended beginning of the end.

A rush to, and a rush of “corrective” contingency plans are the usual consequences.

An appropriate alternative is to recognise, respect and respond to a new prevailing structural order of the industry, sector or category.

Formulating, documenting, implementing, operating and developing a fresh business model are laudable.

Avoiding comparative analyses and lamenting past “buoyant times” is essential.

A clean slate, a zero-datum point, a focus on customers and clients, and an orientation to the future must come first.

It is, arguably, too late to expose the virtues of self-induced obsolescence, given that that mantle has been assumed by economic, competitive and innovative “disruptions”.

Fortunately, in the new order there are no traditions, norms or established rules.

One is left to dictate their one’s own standards, projections and values.

Productivity, velocity and volumes will be the foundation touch-points, the measures of which will be self-determined.

SO, WHAT’S NEW?

Some fundamentals in commerce are constants. Ignoring them has consequences.

History is littered with case studies of failure which resulted from unabashed, typically aggressively advertised discounting campaigns.

Offering consumers attractive “savings” can mean that little prospect exists to save the company.

Barry Urquhart

Marketing Strategist

Marketing Focus

M:        041 983 5555

T:         9257 1777

E:        Urquhart@marketingfocus.net.au

W:       www.marketingfocus.net.au