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This guy was mediocre, what he did to increase his popularity will blow your mind!

You clicked. I knew you would.

But is it fair? Have you clicked because you value my commentary or because the headline delivered an emotional promise? Do you consider this click-bait or will this post actually deliver something?

If you are a B2B marketer I hope this will be of interest, because I want to understand whether the “Upworthy-Style” of headline writing has any place in B2B marketing.

The Upworthy headline has infiltrated almost every corner of the internet and anyone who’s spent time on Facebook will recognise the style. There is no room for debate in the proposition they present. Loaded with hyperbole and superlatives, your emotional reaction to the content is being primed as you read the headline. The post promises that “Your faith in humanity will be restored”, or that it will “Blow your mind”.

Of course, the reality is that you are unlikely to be shocked by what you read. The content probably won’t “blow your mind” and your faith in humanity is more than likely to still be in tatters. But that doesn’t matter because it still works. Upworthy is now the third-most-shared publisher on the Internet and the average Upworthy post attracts 43,446 Facebook shares.

It’s a divisive approach. Personally it annoys me. I don’t like to be told how I should react to a piece of content before I’ve even opened it. However, I acknowledge that this is a very personal opinion and the [Upworthy] traffic statistics speak for themselves. I also acknowledge that what’s going on here is more than just click-baiting. After all, click-bait only gets you to click; the content needs to stack up if it’s to be shared.

Upworthy knows this, it hires staff full time to scour the internet for the most compelling content before applying the Upworthy headline formula to it (a simple mash-up of outrage, mood and mystery).

The Upworthy style isn’t inherently new. It’s classical storytelling. It’s “conflict and resolution”. If we want to understand how the conflict was resolved we must click.

The real question, regardless of your personal opinion is whether this approach is something B2B brands could (or should) be using in their content marketing. Is it time to the classical, descriptive headline?

After all, the conflict and resolution structure of an Upworthy headline translates well into what B2B marketers try to achieve; present the challenge (conflict) and present the solution (resolution). Would a subtle shift in the way the content is packaged positively impact a response rate?

Upworthy’s own data claims that a headline can vary traffic to a piece of content by as much as 500%. It’s not uncommon for them to test dozens of headlines before going live. If you’re not convinced by the power of a headline in generating shares, take the case study of Zach Sobiech.

Diagnosed with a form of bone cancer when he was 17, Sobiech was given a year to live. During that time he recorded a song about how he was dealing with illness and was the subject of a short documentary called “My Last Fays: Meet Zach Sobiech”. In total his story was viewed by less than a 100,000 people globally. That is, until Upworthy repackaged the content after Sobiech’s death in 2013.

Posted under the headline This Amazing Kid Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular”, the story went viral and went on to be viewed several million times (at the time of writing the video has been viewed over 12m times).

Sobiech’s song went on to become No.1 on the Apple iTunes download chart and more than $300,000 was raised for cancer research through a link Upworthy added to the content.

Remember, the content hadn’t changed. Upworthy was simply tuning how it was packaged.

Upworthy’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed by the more traditional publishers. Some have even tried to replicate the style; with mixed results. In January, CNN tweeted a story synopsis, employing the Upworthy style of headline writing.

cnn_upworthy

The reaction was caustic. The was a story about the murder of a child and the obvious click-baiting lent an air of levity to a tragic event.

cnn_upworthy2

So, while I’m [personally] keen to experiment with the Upworthy-style with some simple A/B testing on some of our future campaigns, CNN’s experience offers some warnings.

Positive stories only: The enigmatic prose of an Upworthy headlines works best with positive news stories. Like CNN, don’t apply levity to a serious issue that involves human tragedy.

Conflict and Resolution: Remember; the Upworthy style relies on a very basic storytelling principle. Present a challenge (conflict) and deliver a solution (resolution). Don’t explain how you get from the conflict to the resolution in the headline. This is the “curiosity gap” and it’s this that will make targets click. Let’s take an example.

Traditional Style: AcmeTelecom uses sensor technology from the medical industry to improve network performance.

Upworthy style: When customers demanded more speed, AcmeTel found the answer in an unlikely place.

Brand alignment: Not every brand can make this work. Established news outlets (CNN, BBC etc) are unlikely to be able to replicate this style without its audience calling them out for “dumbing down”. Likewise, the Upworthy style is designed to appeal to the masses, so luxury brands, or those with a very small, niche target should avoid such prose.

Good content: A good headline is no substitute for good content. Click-bait headlines that drive targets to misleading or poor content will have a negative impact in the long-term. Brand engagement will reduce and unsubscribes will increase.

Forget viral: Upworthy wants its content to go viral. Its business model relies on advertising and sponsored content. It’s untargeted so achieving the greatest number of shares across a wide consumer base is the priority. In a B2B context, while a viral piece of content is certainly beneficial, it shouldn’t be top-of-mind when packaging a campaign. The same rules of marketing apply; understand and target your audience. With this in mind, the priority for this style of headline is click / engagement rate.

Above all, remember to measure the right thing: I’m not suggesting that the Upworthy style is right for every B2B campaign, but as marketers it’s our job to test, finesse and figure out what works best for our audience. Sometimes we can get wrapped-up tracking things that don’t matter to our organization’s goals. An increased click rate is meaningless if it doesn’t create a sales uplift. Make sure you can track the engagement and that your metrics are aligned to the financial goals of the business.

I’d be fascinated to learn of any B2B case studies that have looked at this style of headline writing. Again, I’m not advocating this as an approach for everyone; but given Upworthy’s traffic stats, it must be worth some exploration. I’d also be fascinated to see if my own Upworthy headline will indeed increse my popularity (traffic stats)!

MWC and buzz-word porn for the terminally lazy marketer

 

Marketing in the telecoms industry. What’s happened to you? 

This is my personal “photo of the week” from Mobile World Congress 2014.

Why? Because it’s buzz-word porn for the terminally lazy marketer.

say things that sound right

The marketing team behind it probably sat in a room and decided to “just say words that sound about right”.

…Words that are on-trend.

…Words without context.

…Words that an anoymous executive feels they need to shout about in order to stay in the game. 

When I look at this, I’m in disbelief. Seriously – this is me looking at it right now. 

It’s non-commital messaging; designed to be vague enough to draw a crowd but not strong enough to differentiate or commit the brand. It’s safe. 

All it needs is another sign just saying “Stuff for sale”.

 

 

 

 

 

“Microsoft tech-support virus scam”

One downside to home-working (I’m in my home office three days a week), is that you realise just how often your home phone rings during the day.

I try to ignore it, knowing that it’s very likely to be a cold caller, but there’s always a concern it’s actually important; perhaps the kids’ school, a delivery I’ve been waiting on, or a family member.

I’m usually quick to filter out the cold callers and simply hang-up. However yesterday’s call caught my attention. It was from Microsoft and they were kindly calling to inform me that my PC had a virus.

Of course, I knew it was a scam. I’ve read the stories about this practice; “We are Windows tech-support, you have a virus, let me show you, Now I’ll have an engineer fix the issue, but it’ll cost £200 for the anti-virus software”. 

But I was intrigued. This scam has been going on for years, so it’s obvioulsy “profitable” for someone. As a form of social engineering I wanted to see how they did it; and so I played a long for a couple of minutes.

Here’s the audio. I missed the start of the call, and if you want to read the full process these scammer go through (including remote-control of your PC and Paypal access) then read this.

 

 

Customer Journey Mapping

Customer Journey Mapping has become an important exercise for mobile operators looking to improve the customer experience. Here are some best practice guidelines for anyone thinking of running a journey mapping project.

The customer journey (how your customer progress through your business from acquisition and beyond) is typically “owned” by several functional groups within a business. This makes customer journey mapping is a worthwhile exercise. It focuses the organization around a common goal where the outcome is improved Customer Lifetime Value (profitability & retention) and not just P&L improvements within individual functional areas of a business.

However, conducting a customer journey mapping exercise can be complex and it must have a purpose.

The first stage is to clearly define the existing (and desired) customer journey, highlighting the touchpoints and the “moments of truth” that form it. Typical touchpoints may include a retail store, channel stores, bill, web, social channels, the contact center and even the device and network themselves.

These touchpoints (and particular the moments of truth) are influential in setting customer behaviour; how they use a product or service, how they discover new services, seek support etc – and therefore a customer’s retention and spend. In many cases NPS/CSAT surveys are already deployed at these touchpoints which gives a great baseline of their individual performance. However, it’s still important to conduct VoC surveys to supplement NPS – ie: if someone is a detractor, why? An NPS score on its own is meaningless if you want to build business cases around the journey map.

The next stage is to actually use the map to direct investment and resource and build business cases.

Building business cases

Remember, each touchpoint and moment of truth will be owned by a function / department within your business. Where NPS is poor the key exercise is to root-cause why. For example, is it a problem downstream with a failure in another area? Think about a new smartphone customer and how the processes employed by product marketing for the out-of-box experience might negatively impact support traffic if the correct set-up information is not included.

These disconnects are typically the result of one of four things:

  1. Misaligned KPIs: One functional group may be incentivized to work in a way that damages another. Perhaps the contact center is measured by Average Handle Time only, or the retail operation by volume of devices sold rather than monitoring the percentage of devices returned within 30 days.
  2. Bad Processes: Outdated process that cause delays.
  3. Poor Knowledge Flow: Does the engineering, marketing or retail operation have visibility of the problems hitting your contact center? Could they benefit from understanding the problems facing customers at the coal-face?
  4. Poor Technology: Outdated systems or siloed systems that make it impossible to create a common view of the customer.

By getting all functional owners in the steering group they can see how misalignment and deficiencies in these areas can cause downstream cost. Be careful, it can be a caustic discussion if not managed correctly; no one wants to take the blame for another person’s misfortune.

Once you’ve mapped the journey, you can then look at the touchpoints / moments of truth that have the greatest impact on retention (those with poor NPS / VoC results) and prioritise efforts in those areas. Solutions can then be built around the problem areas – it might be as simple as a process change, a change in pre-launch device testing or it might be as large as deploying technology in the network or in the contact center.

One point to consider is that the influence you have over touchpoints (and your ability to improve them) will vary:

  • Owned touchpoints: Your own operations. These are the simplest to monitor and improve.
  • Partner touchpoints: Those owned by outsourcing partners (contact center outsourcers for example) or retail channel partners. A degree of influence and change can be applied, although beware;legacy  outsourcing agreements are often driven by cost savings and contractual relationships may need renegotiating.
  • Thirdparty touchpoints: Some things you just can’t control; a good example is the postal service.

In summary

The key is that you can connect any CEM investments back to a tangible “desired” customer journey and an NPS fault-point. Finally, because you’ve engaged with multiple functions you also instil a sense of ownership; that they’ve personally had a hand in defining the customer journey.

Whatever customer experience management investment you are looking to make, customer journey mapping is your due-diligence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Third party

Amazon can be a real tease

Amazon can be a right tease sometimes.

I signed up for a free 30-day Prime membership over Christmas and decided to keep it. Free next day delivery (I concluded) was absolutely worth paying for so long as I used Amazon for more of my shopping.

However, it can be rather a tease. Have a look at these screengrabs I took.

amazon

I’ve just purchased a CD. It’s a gift and I really need it for tomorrow. Amazon [Prime] tells me that if I order in the next hour I’ll have it by tomorrow. Perfect.

I use one-click buy and am immediately presented with a delivery estimate the day after tomorrow.

How does that work then?

I’m not an unreasonable person. I don’t expect everything here and now – but I want the facts before I order, especially when I’m buying to a deadline.

Amazon has set my expectation. It’s told me I’ll have it – then as soon as I’ve transacted decided to change it’s mind. OK, so there’s obviously a disconnect in the system somehere but I can’t help but feel slightly duped.

2014 non-trends: 3D printing

Marketing Week’s “Marketing Trends for 2014” includes an entry for 3D printing becoming mainstream and gaining wider adoption within marketing campaigns as brands begin “using it at scale”.

Let me be the first of the year to call B.S on that one. I cannot conceive of any scalable marketing campaign that could be executed more cost effectively using 3D printing in the next 12 months.

I’m not dismissing 3D printing; some of the potential applications are inspiring and it’s an established technology. But will it bring about a third industrial revolution anytime soon? I’m not so sure. As we ride the upward trajectory of the hype cycle, the media are making it difficult to separate spin from reality.

The technology here isn’t new. It’s an 80’s technology used for prototyping. What’s happening is a rapid drop in the price point making desktop 3D printers accessible to a wider audience. But technology isn’t the only factor to accessibility.

In their current form, 3D printers are still prototyping machines for small scale production (so suggesting wider adoption as brands begin “using it at scale” seems something of an oxymoron).

But even then, in the land of hobbyists and prototypers, most folks aren’t designers, nor do they have the skills required to complete complex CAD-enabled 3D designs. I won’t even get started on the complexity of mechanical engineering. People train for years to understand how to create functional, working products.

So, that leaves us with downloading 3D printing pattern and printing the product at home.

Ever wondered why most of the available patterns are simple chess pieces, smartphone covers, fantasy figurines etc? Simply, in their current form 3D printers use a single material. It’s hugely limiting when you consider that most objects use multiple materials.

Want to home-print a circuit board? Forget it; at least while you remain limited to a single non-conductive plastic material.

Want to home-print a spare part for your car? I wouldn’t trust my life on it.

I’m not saying that advancements won’t come. Of course they will.  But can we get the hype cycle into perspective. Anyone suggesting mainstream adoption of 3D printing in the coming 2-3 years is getting carried away.

Let’s not forget that desktop CNC machines have been around for several years at comparable prices. They certainly haven’t sparked a new wave of garage manufacturing or marketing innovation for the same reasons, despite being able to work with a far wider array of materials. They remain – like 3D printing – prototyping machines.

We are at least 10 years away from the promises we read in the media. Not one of the current methods for home 3D printing (thermal fusing of plastic filaments, UV light to cut polymer resin, glue to bind resin powder etc) comes close to reaching the standards of a professionally-tooled factory, nor does the material used. Indeed, while the price falls for home 3D printers they are still a far cry from those used by engineering firms to fulfil “just in time manufacturing” of components – many of those use titanium powder in their production, and are priced not in the thousands, but millions.

The Marketing Week trends piece was contributed by a brand marketing director at a UK mobile operator, so when he claims we’ll see “bigger, more significant 3D campaigns and projects next year”, I’m going to take a wild guess and say he’s thinking about personalised smartphone cases.

3D printing is cool. Of course it is. But let me save you some embarrassment (should you be thinking about smartphone cases). The technology has been there for more than a decade, but the economics remain unchanged; the minute you start scaling into the thousands, your money is better spend tooling a factory line and adding personalised digital printing if required.

When content integrity fails at the hand of SEO

I’ve always been rather uneasy about the relationship between SEO practices and journalistic integrity. Given the importance of both, they remain rather uncomfortable bed-fellows.

I’ve seen it happen too many times; an author hands over the promotion of a carefully crafted and researched piece of content to the web team and suddenly the headline and extract has been edited; crafted for SEO at the expense of journalistic integrity.

SEO has its place, but the clue is in the name “Optimization”. When optimization becomes blatant link-baiting we’ve failed our readers / followers, content authors and our brands.

Here’s a great example spotted over the Christmas break, from ITV (the largest commercial television network in the UK).

Several Facebook friends posted this over the course of 48 hours. It’s the sort of timely content designed to be shared, commented-on and liked. “Met Office confirm it will be a white christmas” the headline tells us. “The Met Office have confirmed that this year will be a white Christmas in our region with snow possible everywhere…”

snow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEO goldust. Share…share…share.

But click through and read the original story.

Where the Facebook post tells me that the Met office confirms it will be a white christmas; the original article is headlined “Met Office say it may be a white christmas”.

And the original extract reads of a “chance” of a white christmas….not confirmation with snow everywhere. 

snow2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Content has always been designed to drive readership / eyeballs. But I’m sorry, this isn’t even subtle. It’s pure link-baiting. It’s deceptive and designed to drive traffic to ITV’s website. 

Brands such as ITV really should know better and it raises a wider issue; that while editorial content goes through many stages of approval (editorial, legal, regulatory etc), SEO remains something of a wild-west.

Marketers, take note. . without better governance we risk the integrity of our content and the trust of our followers. 

 

Retailer tactics to make online price comparisons harder

Maybe it’s slightly conspiritorial of me, but it appears that in an attempt to make online price comparison as difficult as possible some online electrical retailers are using web/java script to disable the “highlight / copy” function on parts of their website.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has browsed through a retailer’s website, looked at a product and then copy and pasted the [typically superfluous] product name to perform a price-comparison elsewhere. Far easier than retyping AcmeTech F657xc7A-UK, for example.

Well, go to pcworld.co.uk or currys.co.uk (two of the UK’s biggest electrical retailers and both owned by the same parent company). You can’t highlight and copy any of product text. It never used to be this way (I’m almost certain) and blocking the copy function on a web page requires a dedicated piece of script. It’s a concious decision.

I’m guessing it’s to mitigate the very behavior I described above.

We’ve heard about the threat of showrooming in the physical world; consumers browsing in shops and then buying (at a lower price) online, but this is the first time I’ve been aware of a retailer extending its defenses to its website.

I’m not fully resolved in how I feel about this. I sympathize with retailers that must cover the overheads of bricks and mortar stores (against pure-play online retailers), but in making my online experience more difficult than it should be, I can’t help but feel disappointed in the brand(s) responsible.

Marketing: Repaving the Yellow Brick Road

Technology and telecommunications companies have, for too long, relied on three increasingly obsolete business principles. That population expansion will ensure our growth,  that R&D investment will protect our future and that creating uniqueness in our offer will insulate us from competitive forces.

For decades, and across many industries, reliance on these myths has resulted in high profile casualties. However, in the technology and telecommunications sector, where obsolescence, disruptive technologies and hypercompetition are a constant threat, the risk is even more potent.

Consider Blockbuster. More than a decade ago its market for home movie rentals peaked. It had 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees, and it also turned down the chance to acquire Netflix, just a start-up  at the time, for US$50m. For years, Blockbuster relied on population growth and cheaper access to home video equipment to develop its market. It innovated in this insular world, expanding geographically and consolidating distribution networks. It also built uniqueness around the size of its inventory and licensing agreements (and therefore customer choice). But it neglected customer demand for distribution and pricing convenience; both of which were exploited by Netflix (now valued at $20bn).

Blockbuster, like many others companies focused solely on the needs of itself, of converting inventory into cash and through generation of profit via operational efficiency. It was focused only on protecting its own market and not about servicing the needs of a changing customer base. Put another way it led with a sales culture concerned only with fulfilling product demand, not creating it.

Herein lies the danger for any technology or telecommunications company; and the reason why marketing (the customer and market champion of any company) must redefine itself; rejecting the  role as an ancillary service to sales and engaging at board level to change an industry that’s at risk of losing focus.

A superior product won’t sell itself

Companies can too quickly becoming blinded by what they see as an indispensable product in a naturally expanding market. Little thought is given to how to expand, mature or redefine the market proactively. The arrival of a disruptive force in our industry is inevitable and companies that work in this myopic way often find themselves too slow to react to change.

Of course, the role of marketing in creating a more sustainable market through product demand and value-satisfaction is well understood. Yet it remains routinely ignored; playing a supportive role and tasked solely with working in a closed loop of product fulfillment.

And when the need to respond to margin or market erosion occurs, companies turn inward. Although not unique to the technology and telecommunications industry (but almost certainly amplified), is the focus on Research & Development as means of survival. Many markets rely heavily on R&D investment; in fact companies including Toyota, Microsoft and Samsung routinely spend over 8% of annual sales revenue on R&D. However, it’s how R&D investment is made and how it impacts the company culturally that needs careful management.

The argument that “too much R&D can be a bad thing” is a difficult one to make, especially in an industry where many of the success stories have come from companies who have placed particular emphasis on R&D disciplines and technical innovation.

However, the initial receptiveness of the market to a new disruptive idea is beside the point. Instead the concern comes from a continued misconception that a superior product will sell itself and that the key to continued growth is continued R&D. Just how sustainable this is over the long-term, as the disruptor becomes the incumbent, must be questioned in a corporate culture that naturally defaults to a position of producing “assets” rather than satisfying a customer need.

Too often marketing has no seat at the R&D table, as such the reality of the market can be ignored. Customers and markets are of course acknowledged by engineers, but so often we see business cases built not on an underlying desire to satisfy a customer demand or redefine a market but instead on the need to increase production or lower unit costs within an establish model. In fact, one could argue that a poorly managed R&D strategy actually reverses corporate and market development. Initial disruptive innovations can, and often are, built against satisfying a need; however they are then followed by a series of innovations designed only to improve the production efficiency of that product to an established market; improving a process or researching improved materials for example. While this, of course, remains beneficial its value is short-term and mustn’t come at the exclusion of addressing the wider, disruptive elements and changing customer needs that may present themselves and that marketing should assemble a business around.

Of course, none of this criticism is designed to come at the expense of any business’s core objective; to generate cash.  Instead it is to reinforce the point that today, business has become dangerously short-termist by increasingly positioning marketing as an ancillary service to sales. Without a mature and enlightened marketing operation the goal of sales begins and ends with convincing a customer to exchange cash for goods. Making marketing subservient to this ignores the chance to ensure continued sustainability by understanding market nuances, creating demand and arousing customer interest.

Does business mistake operational efficiency for strategy?

Operational efficiency remains essential in achieving profitability but it doesn’t differentiate a business nor does it create a sustainable market position. A company can only truly outperform its rivals if can create a point of differentiation that can be maintained over the long-term.

Efficiency improvements in the technology and telecommunications market have helped to push lower costs and improved quality to the customer; the reduced cost of tablet and smartphone products is just one example. However, improvements are easily replicated by the competition and perhaps only give a company a window of several weeks to exploit.

As companies look to drive efficiency through outsourcing, automation or other innovations, it raises the bar for everyone competing in the market. Companies homogenize as they race to the bottom. The UK mobile market is a perfect example. As mobile operators fought to capture market share, heavy price discounting and hardware subsidies forced most to protect profitability through operational efficiencies (network sharing, outsourcing etc.). Net gains were realized only by the end-customer who benefited from greatly reduced prices. There were few competitive gains for the operators who eventually found themselves having to discount further to retain customers who’d been conditioned to associate mobile operator value with price.

Marketing’s place on the board

Relying only on operational efficiency is a mutually destructive path. Unfortunately, strategic intent has given way to the demands of the shareholder. Boards have become focused on measurable financial figures to satisfy short-term quarterly reporting and so naturally their composition is heavily steered towards directors from a financial background.

In such scenarios, customer and strategic focus can too easily be marginalized. The board’s focus becomes less about value-creation and more about managing risk. Of course there are companies that acknowledge the relationship between marketing and driving strategy across multiple functions, but scratch through the veneer and those that have marketing representation at board level remain few and far between.

There are also many companies that expertly understand value-creation and the need to build differentiation. Consider Starbucks. Its customers actually pay for inefficiency. Rather than focus only on operational efficiencies that could drive down the cost of a Latte, it focuses on a more personal, human-touch. The company has long sought to be positioned as the “third place” (home, work, Starbucks) and for many customers, Starbucks has become a hang-out, characterized not by price, but my comfortable seating, wifi and accessible power outlets.

We’ve created hypercompetion and now we fight wars of attrition

Having created our own hypercompetitive markets, the same disproportionate focus on operational efficiency (at the neglect of strategy) can lead to poor M&A practice. Forced to fighting wars of attrition, companies look to limit the competition through market consolidation.

Motives for M&A activity typically revolve around wealth transfer and three core principles; an ability to grow market share quickly, improved profitability through economies of scale and creation of a larger organization that can better access capital markets.

These motives are shareholder friendly in the short term. However approximately 50% of mergers and acquisitions fail to deliver a positive outcome over the medium term. Why? The global consultancy McKinsey suggests that companies too often focus on cost-cutting and integration at the expense of day-to-day activity. Less palatable is the notion that too many acquisitions are undertaken as a lethargic, defensive move to gain critical mass over a competitor.

Unfortunately only a few enlightened organizations can truly claim to have made an acquisition based on a desire to satisfy an emerging customer need, or to grow a new market and disrupt its own, established model. It’s not only Blockbuster’s refusal to acknowledge Netflix as a potential threat; history is littered with such examples. Yahoo reportedly rejected an offer to buy Google at a $5bn valuation (a fraction of its current value), and, although not technically an acquisition, Verizon Wireless rejected Apple advances to be the first network to carry the first generation iPhone based on Apple’s revenue share requirements  not suiting the established wireless business model.

Swap brand value for customer value

Maintaining the status quo risks fostering a culture that promotes only operational focus and not market or customer-focus. Building unique and defendable market positions that drive customer value is the key role of today’s marketing functions. MBA graduates have long been taught that marketing should be a core growth-engine for a business. The reality if often very different, with marketing relegated to the position of a supporting, ancillary function.

Of course the criticism goes both ways and marketers must change behavior in order to break through the glass ceiling and achieve wider board influence. Even the greatest companies would be foolish to claim that they are to directly correlate each and every marketing dollar to financial value in a language understood by finance and operational executives. This is not a criticism of marketing practice, simply the reality that some marketing programs are more difficult to tie to customer lifetime value than others. It’s these grey areas of marketing that make it hard for chief executives and chief financial officers to break away from treating marketing as unaccountable spend with an unclear relation to profit.

And so as marketers, our focus must be on creating clear and long-term value creation that creates demand and builds differentiation ahead of operational efficiency. Of course, our operational teams must still execute on the non-strategic, day-to-day activities, but as marketing leaders we must become broader customer-champions that live-up to what the latest round of MBA graduates are being taught.  Too often we lose customer contact and our ability to empathize with their needs. Our influence must dispel the business myths that risk damaging our long-term survival and we must clearly demonstrate why value goes beyond financial improvements. Finally, it’s time to stop talking about brand equity and starting about customer equity.

A PDF version of this article can be downloaded here: yellow_brick_road_TDSCV.

What Storm St. Jude tells us about the state of news coverage

According to the office, we don’t name storms in the UK. So the minute news broadcasters started calling this week’s storm St. Jude, you knew the hyperbole machine was in top gear.

Of course there were some tragedies as a result of high winds, and I’m not belittling the storm (which hit Denmark and Germany the hardest), but in retrospect I think we can safely can agree that the most damaging force this week was the relentless coverage from rolling UK news stations.

The advent of 24-hour news has redefined the meaning of hyperbole. With broadcast hours to fill, viewers are worn down through repetition.

We were bombarded with phrases such as “hurricane force winds”. In reality a hurricane requires sustained wind (for more than one minute) in excess of 74mph. We didn’t have this in the UK. We had “gusts”.  By contrast, Hurricane Sandy (which hit the US last year) had sustained wind speeds of 115mph.  The Great Storm of 1987 gusted across the UK at 122mph.

But we accept the claims put out by the news channels and trade them as part of the public consciousness.

Of course, with outside broadcast units mobilised, none of the news channels was going to admit that the storm was actually something of a damp squib. And so we continued to be fed on a diet of hyperbole.

My favourite clip (from Sky News) shows a reporter at Milford-on-Sea in Hampshire. However the setting seemed altogether rather tranquil; and so he resorts to pointing at “ripples” on the water and a “swan battling its way against the wind”. Apparently this man is a serious journalist.

I’m not belittling the storm. People died. But our broadcasters have become too quick to adopt a tone more befitting of a Hollywood disaster movie. In other parts of the word, what happened this week is classified as a Tropical “Disturbance” or Moderate Tropical Storm. Last year 531 people lost their lives in the US through weather-related incidents alone.

Instead the cataclysmic rhetoric of UK rolling news stations almost certainly influenced the decision of transport chiefs to ground planes and cancel rail services unecessarily.

An increasing proportion of our news output is produced at great speed to meet the demands of 24 hour news. Our news is no longer carefully curated. It seems to have become lazy; trading in half-truths and interested only in selling opinion and conjecture. Increasingly it cares less about the validity of a claim and more about the ability to put a claim to the public as quickly as possible.

In fact it sounds like Twitter.

 

 

video courtesy of Waykiwayki  http://www.youtube.com/user/waykiwayki?feature=watch