…by giving out blank USB memory sticks with your logo down the side but not filling them with any brochureware or marketing materials inside?
In the recent copy of the Hong Kong British Chamber of Commerce magazine there is an interview with Fergal Murray, the Master Brewer for Guinness. He is asked “what do you think it is that makes Guinness so distinctive?” He replies,
I think there are a number of elements. From the brewers point of view, we want you to have a great all round experience. We don’t just want you to have a beer that’s refreshing, we want you to have an experience, to go through the ritual and theatre of emptying that glass. We want there to be a visual impact as well, it has to look fantastic. Finally, there’s a lot of flavour…
And you thought you were buying a pint of the Black Stuff because it was refreshing and tastes good. Yet for the Master Brewer these are bottom of the pile. Most important is the experience.
This is something that is missing in much software development. There are very few master brewers who go beyond just satisfying their customers with features and functionality, to focus upon delivering “a great all round experience”. To turn the mediocre and mundane into theatre. Like Apple have done with the iPhone. Like Guinness do with their stout. Yet something gets lost as you move away from the strategic owners of the Brand, to those responsible for tactical implementations. And this loss can obviously be costly. If the Guinness Master Brewer was only responsible for a drink that is an acquired taste, would it still be the sixth top ranked global Beer brand?
I’ve only thought of blogging about Lois Vuitton once before and that was on how they positively encourage queueing outside their stores during busy periods. It’s a pretty strong brand that can tell its customer to hang about before being allowed to come in and shop.
This time I’m not blogging about them in a positive light, and nor are many others. Jeremiah Owyang describes the situation they are in well. Their brand has been hijacked by Nadia Plesner, an artist trying to raise awareness about Darfur and how the media considers Paris Hilton with her “designer bags and ugly dogs” to be more worthy of attention than genocide in Darfur. She uses an image of a LV bag in her T-shirts. LV take offence and sue, she refuses to budge and suddenly the image, the issue and LV all hit the spot-light. And in this David and Goliath contest, who is going to come out worst? There can only be one looser.
So why didn’t LV just ignore it, or even as Jeremiah suggests, harness the issue, turn it into a conversation that would paint them in a good light? I’ll argue that it is because they don’t understand risk.
There was always a risk to the brand be de-valued by being associated by asociation with Dafur. And this is what the marketing and legal team jumped on with such zeal. Did no-one think about the risk to the brand of turning this into the issue it has become on the web? Laying out the options and doing a risk analysis would have been a worthy exercise.
Option 1. Assess the global impact of nadia plesner, assume it is minimal and do nothing. Risk to brand: minimal.
Option 2. Follow standard route of brand defamation and sue. Ignore association with ‘good cause’, ignore blogosphere. Risk to brand: potentially significant.
Sadly, it seems that LV ignored the whole concept of risk and went with the default option – sue. They are not alone in failing to assess the risks properly before pursuing a course of action. In IT this approach is endemic. Where is the greater risk? Placing all your eggs in one basket, investing heavily in a desired outcome that will be many months before it sees the light of day. Or take a more gradual approach, investing ‘just enough’ to get ‘just enough’, ‘just in time’. The latter approach is lean and agile. A good agile project is a lesson in risk management, building resillience into the process and testing options as you go. It is organic and evolutionary, (rather like nature), as opposed to the plan and control approach of waterfall which is brittle and will struggle to react to or accommodate risk appropriately. I should write more but there is a day’s work ahead.
Someone from the Barclaycard research centre rang me today doing some customer research. It is great to know they take the customer experience seriously – many of the questions were around my experience with the brand. But then they dropped this corker, not once, but twice.
To what extent do your other credit card providers offer innovative products
How important is it to you that your credit card provider offers innovative products
How on earth did those questions get through and on to the list? What is an “innovative product” when talking about credit cards or financial services? What is an “innovative product” to Joe Public? Maybe I can relate to an iPhone as such, but my credit card? Product innovation is hardly something that you or I consider when we pull a credit card out of the wallet.
“Innovative products” are something that marketeers talk about, they are not in the credit card users lexicon.
Marketing may be a touchy-feely occupation, but the language that marketeers use is far from it. Campaigns, strategy, tactics, targets… all out of the military handbook. That might be OK within the organisation, but it shouldn’t be exposed to your customers. An email sent by BA inviting customers to register to a special deal results in a page informing the customer; “Thank You, [name] Your pre-registration for this campaign has been successful”. Now what is that all about? They’ve spent so much time creating the campaign, how it fits into their overall strategy that they’ve overlooked the details around what really matters – fullfillment, wording and how the customer feels about BA at the end of the process. I feel a little cooler than when I clicked on the promotion.
Walk around London and it’s hard to miss the Maestro “Cash Is Dead” advertising campaign. You’d never believe this in many small bricks and mortar retailers; try to purchase something with a card for say £7.99, pull out the plastic and the shop keeper shakes his head and points to the sign – “no card payments for under £10”. What sort of madness is this that retailers refuse to accept money because it is the wrong sort of money?
OK, so there are interchange fees; a card payment is probably going to incur a charge of around 2% of the transaction. For the retailer there is therefore an incentive to prefer cash. But at what cost? (Perversely for the banks they penalise against not using cash, despite the handling for cash being so much more than an electronic transaction).
Let’s say I am buying something for £7.99. Let’s say the cost price for the item is £3.50. That’s £4.49 gross profit. Obviously this doesn’t all go into the retailers pocket; the tax man takes his share in VAT and there are the operating costs. I’m no retailer, but let’s assume that a whopping 90% of the gross pocket is swallowed up in costs, leaving the retailer 45 pence net profit. Now of this, the bank is going to take 15 pence from the retailer for me using my card. Which the retailer is not happy about.
And this is the mad part; for the sake of 15p the retailer is willing to loose the sale (OK, that is 36% of his net profit – and that is a lot, but isn’t cash flow king?). He has given me a shocking customer experience, not allowing me to buy from him this time (and I’ve got a memory – not going there again). I’ll go down the road to the supermarket where they will not only accept my card – but give me cashback as well!
There is of course, an alternative. Give the customer an option of using the card, passing on the card fee. For most customers, the opportunity cost of paying slightly more but getting instant gratification is probably more acceptable than either driving several miles out to the supermarket, or having to find a local ATM.
It sounds clichéd and old hat, but it is true. Truer now than ever before; the web is an enabler for new ideas. It provides you with the tools for disruptive innovation. Sadly for too many organisations it has become a hindrance.
A recurring theme with many organisations is the length of time it takes to take an idea to market. Especially in retail financial services, where you would expect lead times to be short it is not unusual for innovations to take a year to implement. This seems crazy, it’s not as if there is a physical product to manufactured.
So where are the hold ups? More often than not, they are rooted in the organisational structure. Innovative products often cross business boundaries; whilst customers only see the a single brand, different product teams only see what they are responsible for. They have own objectives that often conflict with other parts of the business; gaining agreement and consensus across all parties can often be a time consuming and painful experience that slows and often kills innovation.
Then there is the technology. Changes to systems have to be scheduled (along with every other request). Unproven ideas are put to the back of the queue. The business starts to perceive IT as a hindrance rather than an enabler and lines of conflict are drawn up.
Channel is the next hurdle to cross. Typically a face to face channel or telephony will be easiest, but getting something on the web? Now a new area of the business needs to be involved, the Internet Channel Team who interface between the business and IT. They’ve got to design web pages, get the creative done, produce requirements for technology to build (and schedule into deployment for which the dates are even further into the future), do usability testing… Long lead times are inevitable.
And then, before the innovation sees the light of day, someone new comes in to rationalise the product portfolio, the innovation doesn’t quite fit in with their new priorities and it is quietly ditched. This half hearted attempt at innovation has taken a year, cost in excess of a million and has come to nothing.
There has to be a better way.
There is. Do things at speed. You can start by sticking some amphetamines into ideation phase. Someone’s got an idea; identify who has a vested interest in it succeeding (or failing) and get them into a room to thrash it out. This doesn’t need to take long. Workshops are best limited to 90 minutes at a time (after that people get Blackberry withdrawal symptoms and loose interest). But if all the stakeholders are geographically dispersed, a structured day’s off-site might be the best solution. Avoid letting people dial in or video conference, this is one meeting where people have to be there in physical presence. Also avoid having too many people in the room, especially when forming ideas (there is a trade-off between having the right people and too many people to make the process unmanageable). Start with the users, the customers, the people whose lives will be changed by the idea. Scribble out personas -describe who they are, what their goals are, the perceptions of your company, of technology. Print out pictures of people that represent the personas, rip out photos from magazines, anything to bring them to life. As the idea takes shape, turn it into pictures. Draw out the customer experience. What would the persona do at each stage. Far better to do this than write it down in a document that can be open to interpretation. Illustrate the touch points. What does technology need to do. (Can we be pragmatic and use roller skate implementation rather than getting bogged down in an integration quagmire?)
Now is where it gets interesting. There once was a time when you would need to invest time and money into producing a heavyweight business model and business case for the innovation. You still need a business case, but at this stage it probably doesn’t need to be too robust; make some basic assumptions then test it. All too often business cases are built on flaky assumptions; build something quick, test it and get real data to build your models on. Again, this is about doing things at speed; a couple of weeks after the first workshop there is no reason why a small team of developers can’t be actually building something to bring the idea to life. So the team is using Ruby on Rails to build a proof of concept. There may be disquiet that this doesn’t fit into the current technology stack – doesn’t matter, it is a proof of concept. Six weeks later the proof of concept is done. It is not a static, prototype that demonstrates linear page flows, it is fully featured and fully functional. It can be usability tested (but more likely you were doing that on wire frames alongside the build). What then? In two months you’ve taken your idea and turned it into something tangible.
Why not put it into the market for real. Whilst IT might not want this Ruby “thing” on their stack, that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible and can’t be done. Large organisations have a testing ground of consumers inside a secure environment – their staff. Use them to beta pilot the idea? Friendly customers are delighted to be part of product development – put it out to a small and selected group of customers, and have some smoke and mirrors processes to handle fulfilment. The objective is to prove the viability of the idea, get data to make informed decisions and make your collective mind up quickly. To fail fast or succeed cheaply.
SEO is high on any on-line marketeers agenda. There’s plenty of agencies about that can give advice on how to leapfrog up the google rankings, but before you do that, take a look at Website Grader. A neat tool that grades your site, gives you insight into the search engine world and tips on how you could improve your ranking.
Social networking is all the rage at the moment. I’m attending meetings where clients are buzzing about creating a community… and I find myself challenging their enthusiasm. I return to a simple question: “So what”. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and ask “What’s in it for me?” Leisa says this succinctly:
If you’re thinking of joining the bun rush (or your client has insisted that they must), I think the first and most important question to ask is from your potential users perspective – what’s in it for them? What’s their motivation to sign up, to find and make friends, to participate, and to come back, ever?
What is it about a community that you are looking to build? Indeed is it really a community that you want per se, or is it more about building affiliation around your products? Where is the justification for the investment? Is the business case geared more towards product development; about letting your customers comment on your products, providing feedback that you can use to improve, enhance and develop new products and features – a forum for listening to your customers conversations?
Maybe you think there is something in your proposition and it demands a social network. How are you going to make it a destination of choice, to cut through the noise of every other social networking site (how long before we see friendship fatigue setting in?) Facebook has opened up its APIs to the outside world – Could you leverage Facebook, developing applications that will sit on their platform rather than trying to build a network from scratch?
But most importantly keep asking So what? What is in it for me?
Here’s a presentation I recently put together on digital strategy and what Web 2.0 could mean to a fictional jewelery company. It rapidly introduces some of the key concepts then presents a customer journey through a “what if” scenario. Apologies for the poor audio!