Friday, 30 November 2007

Show me yours then I'll show you mine

Something is changing within the eBay community. It's now become the norm for sellers to 'reciprocate feedback' i.e. only giving feedback once they have received feedback from buyers.

I have an issue with this. As soon as you have purchased and paid for an item you have completed your part of the deal and should be instantly rated by the seller, irrespective of how they perform and thus the feedback to which they are entitled.

Is this laziness, a way to increase the volume of feedback sellers receive, or something more sinister; an implied 'leave me good feedback and I will respond, if you are thinking of leaving me neutral or bad feedback just remember that I can do the same for you'?

Two years ago things were not like this; what's changed? I have been watching this for a while and my last 15 purchases did not receive unsolicited seller feedback, however a few did generate 'show me yours then I'll show you mine' messages.

Who would have thought that we would have small online vendors acting like old-fashioned corporates; trying to control the conversation?

Friday, 16 November 2007

Brian or Brand?

I want to tell you about Brian. He needs help.

Brian is a Chief Information Officer that loves to speak at conferences on behalf of vendors that have done great things to help transform his company. Not only this but he's very good at it, engaging and articulate; an amazing advocate.

What's Brian's problem? He has the misfortune to work for a non-global brand in a smaller country and is therefore invisible as an asset to marketers.

Does this make his evidence any less compelling or relevant for prospective customers?

Not a bit of it. He has gone through
the dip and out the other side and potential customers are smart enough to recognise this and visualise how to apply his learning to their businesses.

So why are marketers so hung up on Brand? Answers on a postcard please.

I vote for Brian over Brand. Actually I would like to help the Brians of this world gain enough exposure that the Brands pay big money to hire them resulting in Brian PLUS Brand.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Purple Reign (but not rule)

Radiohead's 'pay what you wish for our album' concept was covered exhaustively elsewhere. Now that some time has passed it's interesting to see what happened:

Comscore's survey found that nearly two-thirds of downloaders paid nothing while the average price paid was $6 (£2.90), with a US average of $8.05.

Meanwhile in the UK Prince gave away his latest album, Planet Earth, free of charge via a newspaper.

Both Radiohead and Prince have deep enough pockets to be able to do this however I see these acts of community typifying the reality shift being experienced by old business, and especially marketing.

After making such an interesting move his purpleness has now gone and blown it of course; requesting that album covers, images of him in concert and any lyrics removed are removed from unofficial websites.

In may way this is similar to companies that are currently experimenting with Facebook advertising; when will they realise that it's about authenticity and not about control ie. brand association is not the same as endorsing company messaging.

True advocacy and communities happen when customers become part of your business, improving offerings in the process.

Whether it's finding that your album is worth 1/4 of it's traditional price, that fans own part of your image, or that the customer you thought was happy with the solution you implemented actually thinks that your customer support sucks, this is marketing in dialogue with people that care.

Digital is not a bigger opportunity for control; just the opposite.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

He who pays the piper

At every gathering of customer reference professionals the conversation inevitably will touch on one subject:

"We need more reference customers; should we run an incentive programme?"

There is no easy answer to this one; I for one believe in incentivising busy sales teams but not in "payment for praise" and see this as fastest way to damage the integrity of any programme.

Rewarding and recognising amazing advocates is another thing entirely; value exchange is what reference communities are all about, not dangling carrots.

Do what's right long-term and concentrate on making it easy for customers to become advocates, then to make their advocacy as effective as possible.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

What is it like to be one of your customers?

Sometimes I make potential clients feel uneasy. Hopefully in a good way :o)

One of the first questions we pose to any potential client that needs help to "mend a broken/ineffective reference programme" is "What is it like to be one of your customers?"

There is no shortage of advocates for great companies that constantly delight their customers; the trick is in making it an easy rewarding experience for them to discuss their experiences with like-minded souls.

It's not about control and payment of nameless customers that happen to work for a brand with which you wish to be associated; it's about people and (almost) impartial facilitation.

People are talking about you and your company anyway; decent companies that can handle and use the truth to improve are creating true reference communities that shorten sales cycles facilitate long-term business.

Better than being stuck in the short-term 'payment-for-spin cycle'.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Can advocacy programmes create terrorists?

One-way relationships. Not fulfilling and certainly not sustainable long term.

So why do some companies view their reference customers as a resource to be sucked dry, with no thought for the hows and whys advocates devote so much energy on a company's behalf in the first place?

These are real relationships; throwing a few treats is not going to cut it. Value exchange has to happen on many levels; mutual respect for mutual advantage.

We all know about the detractors and terrorists; ex-customers hell-bent on destroying a company they believe has slighted them.

Have you ever wondered how many detractors started off as advocates?

Monday, 8 October 2007

Newer/faster/bigger is not always better

How long should companies support yesterday's products and what happens when support is removed?

You expect at least ten years support from a car manufacturer and (really) depend on twenty from an aircraft company, but what about less expensive purchases?

Take software; not everyone wants the latest software, nor will all hardware support it but what if the PC/Console game you love depends on servers provided by its creators?

EA Sports have been switching off servers supporting 49 last-generation games, some of which were only brought out in 2006.

A smart move? Not from what I have read on gaming blogs or seen in the gaming press.
Newer/faster/bigger is not always better, nor is it always affordable.

I am pleased to see that, following a luke-warm reception for Vista from business users, Microsoft seems to have listened; extending the lifespan of XP.

This make sense; No-one has a wish to go back to windows 2000 (make a cup of tea and some scones while it boots-up) but XP is now a stable business tool.

So will there be a day when something in the digital domain becomes a classic and worthy of protection/preservation?

Maybe; it's surely not going to be Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 for Xbox either but companies such as EA would do well to remember that those that cannot afford to play the 'faster hardware/ bigger software/ faster hardware 18-month redundancy game' are advocates and detractors too.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

The new dawn chorus

It's a sleepy Saturday morning; Catriona, Peter and Andrew are up and slowly moving around the house in preparation for the day ahead.

It just struck me that, rather than birdsong or the background noise from a radio, the new dawn chorus at Hamilton mansions is the noise three windows PCs make when they boot up.

Catriona is checking the weather (very British) and bus timetables while Peter and Andrew simultaneously manage to draw, instant message, maim and destroy in some wargame and check their email before they can even string a sentence together (teenagers, I rest my case).

Broadband is now a utility like electriciy, gas and water, not thought of as remarkable until it's not there.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Small but important worlds in a big-process Solar System

Seth Godin talks about being the No1 in the world at whatever you do; it's just a matter of finding the 'world' that applies to people for whom you can meet their exact needs, then exceed their expectations to make you the clear leader.

We can all be No1 at something and if your selected world is big enough to sustain a business then this = success and a creative and rewarding experience for all concerned. Count me me.
It then follows that every large organisation is a solar system comprising separate worlds of people, each with their own requirements and definition of who would be their No1 provider in their world based upon ability to meet these.

So how do you become No1 for a Solar System, or even better still, a Universe?

Relevance is always the answer but how can this be possible across an entire solar system?

It can't.

Relevance for Mars is not going to be the same as relevance for Jupiter yet these worlds still revolve around, and are bound by, the same central point of influence (Think large organisation HQ, brand and processes as the Sun).

I guess that you have to design your team to carry the Sun's overall philosophy across the Solar System but sub-divide and customise what you do to become No1 to Mars and Jupiter simultaneously, maybe ignoring Saturn altogether or being No2 to all worlds.

An analogy stretched too far? probably. This is rocket science after all.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

How far does brand loyalty go?

I've always thought of the Mac vs. PC conversation as something bordering on religion.
I used to work with a team of graphic designers that had a picture of Bill Gates on the wall with added horns and black teeth and had major hissy-fits when asked to open MS Word documents; they saw this as a betrayal of everything Mac.

Likewise PC owners have traditionally viewed Mac supporters as weirdy-beardy muesli-eating creative/geography teacher types.

Take the recent adverts from Apple. this did nothing to ease the situation.

Now lets talk iPod vs. Zune. Apple has 80% of the mp3 player market and MS has just under 4.5%; it's the David and Goliath ratio flipped on it's head.

Buying an iPod is completely acceptable to a PC owner because Apple has got it right. By all accounts the newest of Zune players are merely equal to last-generation iPods so I can't see any Mac owners making the switch just yet.

Brand loyalty only goes so far...

Thursday, 27 September 2007

It's obvious (isn't it?)

Sometimes I can be a little slow on the uptake. Take diagon alley; I had read the first three Harry Potter books before I realised that there was something obvious about the name of this street!

It happened to me again today.

Melissa and I were having a chat about reference programme with a software company when I asked "why are customer references seemingly more important to software companies than other organisations?" I had noticed previously that attendees from software companies appeared to be the most plentiful at customer reference forum events.

It was explained to me that, other than the interface you cannot see software or easily separate the qualities of one software flavour against another. Potential customers want to hear or see third-party endorsement of the business benefits a software product can bring. Doh! (Obvious when you think about it)

Sometimes only seeing is believing; this is where reference programmes come into their own

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Do some of your best work; take time off

I have a brilliant job, really. I get to talk with people all over the world about their reference programmes (programs), working with them to create better ones.

While there are some universal constants such as 'How best to engage with the sales teams?' and 'Do we incentivise the customers and/or salespeople?' I am always amazed at the breadth of challenges requiring bespoke solutions.

Here's the thing, we run around from meeting to meeting and deadline to deadline so when do we have time to think and truly create?

Most creatives agree that their breakthrough ideas come when they are doing something completely unrelated and out of their normal 'work' environment; exercising, even walking seems to be top of the list.

Concentrating more and more on an issue is probably not the answer. I currently have some projects that require radical solutions.

Sounds like a need a day off...

Monday, 17 September 2007

343 million reasons to give customers a choice

Continuing the thought about Google and how a brand should keep delighting customers even (and maybe especially) when it achieves market dominance rather than abusing its position (an easy mistake to make) I found the Microsoft anti-trust ruling and £343m fine interesting.

Is this about giving consumers more choice, a European court taking a shot at an easy US target or a precedent for something bigger?

The legal team was quoted as saying:
"these principles of the judgement will not just apply to the Microsoft case...They will apply to any dominant company that engages in the same behaviour...It provides legal certainty now as to what you can and you can't do in relation to information you have to make available to companies who compete in your environment to enable them to be a viable competitor..."

I suspect that Google and eBay are watching developments in this case with interest.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Ten things Google has found to be true

Very few would argue with the statement "Google is a cool company". Any organisation that maintains this perception while achieving a dominant market share is doing something right.

I came across this list of Ten things Google has found to be true which is now four years or so old. Still rings true and a philosophy to which I subscribe.

1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
2. It's best to do one thing really, really well.
3. Fast is better than slow.
4. Democracy on the web works.
5. You don't need to be at your desk to need an answer.
6. You can make money without doing evil.
7. There's always more information out there.
8. The need for information crosses all borders.
9. You can be serious without a suit.
10. Great just isn't good enough.

Count me in. This is how a brand name becomes a verb.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Detractor to Promoter in five minutes flat

I am pleased to report that customer service is alive and well in Cheshire, UK. Recently I hoped to enjoy a business dinner with a colleague in an impressive country house, converted into a hotel and extended to cope with the huddled masses.

The restaurant was recommended (good start) and was almost empty, however things went slowly (the perfect word) downhill as with well over an hour since placing an order and our meals yet to make an appearance I decided to have a discrete word with the maitre d', who swiftly informed me that it was indeed our fault for ordering things that took a while to prepare and maybe I should, on reflection, consider sushi or a blue steak next time.

My colleague had caught an early flight from Germany and we were just a the ' OK, let's leave' stage when our meals finally appeared. The food was great, however by this point I was in the middle of a real British 'never to return' rant (under my breath of course) and more likely to buy the latest 50cent greatest hits CD than act as a promoter for this establishment.

Then a strange thing happened. I was presented with a bill on which there was no charge whatsoever for food. I questioned the maitre d' who now agreed wholeheartedly that the service we had received was appalling and under no circumstances would he consider charging a single penny. Wow (this was a pricy eatery).

Ok so I'm back as a promoter, which goes to show that I can be bought. Easily.
Click here for a great meal in comfortable surroundings with slow but and excellent service :o)

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

The world's favourite airline? When a brand represents a nation

British Airways is about to launch a print, online and radio brand campaign entitled “Upgrade To BA”. Interesting; I really hope this is a little more than a smoke and mirrors PR exercise and here's why:

I have journeyed from committed BA advocate to reluctant detractor in a short space of time (This is an airline run by accountants; never a good thing. BA, you had my loyalty and you blew it) meanwhile BA has almost continuously and very publicly damaged its brand (
Brandindex) in recent years, creating no lack of negative publicity and prompting crisis management as a result.

Even if we discount the scrapping of Concorde they have had the
lost luggage issue (28 thousand bags), the price fixing issue (£271 million in fines which lead to the departure of Martin George) and the January strike. I could go on.

So what? you might say. Well the B in BA is pretty important to me and around 60million other people. When a brand represents or is associated with an entire country surely it has a duty to be remarkable, and for the right reasons.

The good news is that this campaign is to highlight “high levels of services” while predictably attempting to spin "improvements in fuel efficiency" for the green lobby.

Maybe some of this £60m advertising campaign investment could have been better spent investigating a
how to make a WOM-worthy airline (jackie huba) to deliver an exceptional customer experience, learning from the marvellous Captain Denny Flanagan.

'The world's favourite airline' is a worthy ambition requiring substance behind the spin when a brand is also a nation's flag carrier.

Monday, 3 September 2007

27 forbidden phrases, including "there's no money"

When you receive poor service you can always complain, vote with your feet and withdraw your custom. What do you do when faced with an unacceptable level of assistance from a government department? Shrug your shoulders and wait for the next election to effect change?

It's not surprising that Government departments get a lot of bad press as the rules of customer service and accountability have not historically applied in this environment.

Until now. as per
this BBC article Alexander Kuzmin, mayor of Megion in western Siberia has issued a list of 27 excuses which city officials must no longer use, including "I don't know" and "it's lunch time".

Mr Kuzmin's three main points were:

  • "City officials should help improve people's lives and solve their problems, not make excuses."
  • " I am tired of civil servants telling me that problems were impossible to solve, rather than offering practical solutions."
and my personal favourite...
  • "the use of these expressions by city administration officials while speaking to the head of the city will speed their departure."
Banned phrases include:
  • What am I supposed to do?
  • I'm not dealing with this
  • We're having lunch
  • The working day is over
  • Somebody else has the documents
  • I think I was off sick at the time
  • I don't know
  • It's lunch time

We recently supplied references to the UK cabinet office which was keen to demonstrate how public-sector IT projects CAN be successful and run to time and budget.

Apart from references being hugely important in providing assurance (and justification) for those holding the public purse strings I think that Alexander Kuzmin has got it right; accountability and service are not merely restricted to the private sector and/or election time.
He gets my vote.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

How do you rate the raters?

One of the good things about Amazon and sites like it is that you can see all feedback from purchasers (check out Ben McConnell re adding review to e-tail); one of the not-so-good things is the activity I call 'adverfeedback' (adverts thinly disguised as feedback) which devalues the whole concept.

Now let's consider RateItAll where you can provide feedback on products and services; not only seeing who is providing feedback but selecting your own group of trusted or like-minded reviewers. Nice.

Also worth looking at is Jeremiah’s feedback and post concerning

Not that I always agree with consensus; while 'Cheers' and 'The Golden Girls' were indeed fine programmes surely there's been some sort of mistake in the RateItAll list of top 80s TV. How can the smooth yuppie soap 'ThirtySomething' be placed in 76th position while 'Magnum P.I.' currently sits in the no. 11 spot? Can an undeniably fine moustache and exotic surroundings make up for an astonishing startling lack of plot or is irony a big factor in this chart?

Maybe the endorsement effect is exponential; the top results are a very clear indication of quality while there may not be much difference between position 10 and position 50 (or 76 in this case)...

Sunday, 5 August 2007

It's a long way from collateral to community

Recently while attending a reference conference in Berkeley (oh yeah, more fellow reference geeks than you could shake a stick at and a great time had by all) I watched the reaction to a presentation given by Jeremiah Owyang concerning the implications of social media for customer reference programmes.
This where things got a little strange; Jeremiah did a great job however I quickly became aware of an overwhelming reaction from the audience of 'how does this affect me?' or ' this is not my job'.

Now while monitoring the blogosphere to seek out and respond to posts may not fall into traditional reference activities we are talking about customers making positive or negative references and prospective customers are listening.

Surely the fact that we have a new way of interacting is a good thing; anything that can drag reference programmes from collateral to community is worth investigating.

'Web 2.o' and 'social media' may not be all that some would have us believe (there is a lot of 'so what' yet to be answered) but I believe that if we are not yet at he tipping point we should at least have a map for how we get there and know what we're going to have for lunch.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, that's creativity.

When I was first tasked with investigating the world of customer references, I thought all my horses had come in at once.

Here was a really simple concept - Mavis enjoys a fantastic week’s holiday in the Greek Isles. Six months later a friend is looking for a new holiday destination – does she ask the travel agent to recommend somewhere? Maybe, but she would take their advice with a pinch of salt because they are blatantly biased and desperately keen to sell that bum trip to a goat colony in Outer Mongolia. So instead she turns to a trusted advisor – her friend and colleague Mavis.

Mavis has no reason to lie about her travel experience, no reason to say something was great when it wasn’t, and having had an extraordinary time on her holiday she is actually keen to share the experience with her friend - influencing her buying decision by proxy. Easy.

But that’s just one person recommending one holiday to one other person, increasing the travel agent’s bottom line by one measly holiday - what real impact does this have on business? Multiply this conversation by 1,000, 10,000 or 50,000, and your travel agent is laughing all the way to the bank.

Over the last ten years all manner of businesses have started to aggressively harness the concept of word of mouth referencing through formal strategies, and guess what? It’s working.

The figures are staggering. More and more companies are proving that customer endorsements are influencing the success of millions of pounds/dollars/Mongolian tögrög worth of new business every day, and with more businesses jumping on the customer reference treadmill, the competition is getting fiercer by the day.

I was right about one thing - the concept of a customer reference is easy. The reality of businesses gaining critical proof-points and endorsements from customers and supporting them with metrics that tie into a company’s growth and financial goals is a different story altogether…

Thursday, 26 July 2007

The Dirty Harry of referenceability

Recently I have found myself becoming somewhat of a Dirty Harry figure when faced with unnacceptable levels of service; not sure how this has happened. The most recent example was when I had an issue with the way that Tescos decided to discount a single copy of the new Harry Potter book if you spent £50 or more on groceries.
a)They did not make this decision to the last minute
b) I had spent £140 in the store 12 hours earlier
c) The store manager looked like a Saturday boy to me (must be getting old), I suddenly found myself uttering the phrase "you have a decision to make here, are you going to tell me that my thousands of pounds of custom p.a. is worth nothing to you and charge me full price on these three books, or are you going to do the right thing? do you feel lucky punk?" (ok so I did not use the last bit).
Armed with my 'customer advocacy professional with a big mouth' credentials instead of a Magnum 45 and the near-riot that I was now starting in the foyer of the store the manager folded. Well-done Tescos; you were looking more like muggles than wizards at one point.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Breaking up is hard to do

Things gone wrong with a customer? Been de-listed?
It happens to everyone at some point; customer relationships have a biorhythm. Sometimes it’s not your fault, the new broom will bring trusted vendors with them; you can only move on and hope that your old contact gets the opportunity to affect change in their new role. If things have gone bad, perhaps you screwed up (it happens) in the past you might have said “this is bad but we can learn from this, move on and will not make the same mistake again”

I have some bad news for you.

We have noticed a trend in a few RFX forms in recent months. As well as asking for positive references companies are now asking for the contact details of customers that have de-listed you. This is a brilliant move; they get to find out why you were de-listed PLUS they get to find out who replaced you and why. As Ben McConnell says, “Google never forgets”; just don’t think that you can walk away from treating customers badly and start again if you want to win big business with a corporate. It's never been truer that what goes around comes around.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Here come the MIBs

The time of the ‘men in black’ creatives will continue a while longer however those that cannot connect creative vision with the business outcomes of marketing do so at their peril. OK so this ties into the ROMI discussion but this is more of a philosophical quandary; where does creativity meet business for a marketer?
I have worked with teams where the word of the creative director was the law, which is a fine, if slightly old-fashioned way to run a team. I have also had the same experience as a client; ‘creatives’ telling me how I am going to spend my money to enable their ‘vision’ with no concept of accountability (other than their agency being removed from my list of suppliers).
Breaking the mould, thinking out of the box are great attributes which drive our industry (and let’s not kid ourselves, it is still a 90% perspiration 10% inspiration world) however agencies need to wake up to the fact that the buck has to stop somewhere and asking their client to take a creative journey with no thought for outcome is soooooo last century; the creative bubble is actually becoming a goldfish bowl.

Friday, 13 July 2007

ROMI wasn't built in a day

Closed loop is not for the faint of heart; all good things take time and dedication. Every company with which I talk places Return On Marketing Investment as the biggest marketing issue they currently face.
Organisations are right to question marketing expenditure; ACP variation, clickthrough rates and volume-based metrics only tell a small part of the story and those dedicated enough to follow the circle through at least one loop are heroes in my book.
This is a motion that is going to increase; it means getting granular and being relentless, OK so technology and process will support it but they are mere tools - it’s all about attitude.What I can tell you is that delivering ROMI is the most rewarding part of my job; 25 years in marketing and only now am I able to have meaningful conversations about the value of marketing to an organisation; so somewhat more than a day to get here but like Rome some things are all the better for the wait.