Thursday, 30 January 2014

Thomson's Simon the Ogre - offensive to the disabled or just poor advertising?

Thomson Holidays has come under fire recently for its “Simon the Ogre” advertising campaign.  The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has received a number of complaints that the ad is offensive to people with facial and physical disfigurements, and that it trivialises disability.

The ad features a husband/father figure who has turned into an ogre and in need of a holiday.  The character is shown as oversized, hunchbacked with horns and teeth sticking out of his mouth.  During the course of his holiday he is transformed, losing his distinctive features.

The ASA has yet to decide whether the complaints merit further investigation.  Thomson has said that the ad was designed to show the revitalizing powers of a good holiday and no offence was intended.

Having seen the ad several times (I know, I do need to get out more), the potential to offend those with disabilities passed me by.  Indeed, I can’t help wondering whether this is yet another case of political correctness gone mad.  This is a fairytale style character that no more trivializes disability or facial disfigurement than the much-loved Shrek character does.

What’s more disturbing for me is what Thomson is seeking to achieve by the ad itself.  Yes, I understand it’s about getting people to identify with the benefits of a good holiday.  But I’d argue that the message is already well understood by the average customer and evidenced by the billions spent on holidays every year.  What the ad singularly fails to do is to associate those benefits with Thomson specifically, rather than holidays generically.  And it also fails to advocate the benefits of the package holiday over the growing trend for independent travel fuelled by the ease of online booking of flights and accommodation.

In my book, Simon the Ogre is a triumph of storytelling, prosthetics and lavish budgets over the core principle of convincing the average holidaymaker to buy a Thomson holiday.

Here's the ad for you to make your own mind up:

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Crisis? What crisis?

Five lessons from the recent customer crisis at banking giant TSB.

On Sunday an IT problem at Lloyds Banking Group left thousands of customers unable to withdraw cash from ATMs or pay for goods with debit cards.  As the ‘new kid on the block’, TSB was singled out by the media for most of the criticism. It was the latest in a growing trend for banks in the UK to suffer IT issues.

Most organisations will have a crisis management plan in place for such eventualities.  The plan will cover the nuts and bolts of who should do what in the event that something should go wrong.  A key element will undoubtedly be communications management with clear responsibilities for handling customer and media enquiries.  But far too often the plans are focused on the mechanics of what needs to happen and not the philosophy or values that should underpin that activity.

So, what should organisations be thinking about and what should be the lessons for TSB moving forward? 

Recognise and reflect what your customers are feeing, not simply what has happened.  Most organisations know that the starting point is to recognise there is an issue and to apologise for it.  TSB did this, but talked in terms of ’inconvenience’ when the social media networks were full of people expressing their extreme ‘embarrassment’ at having cards refused at checkouts across the country.  Use your customers’ language to show you’ve listened and have really understood what it means for them.

Use everyday language to explain the problem.  TSB talked about ‘server failure’ when pinpointing the issue.  This may well be accurate but how many of their customers actually understood (or cared) what that means?  Also, the preferred internal term might well be 'ATM', but recognise that many Britons use the term 'cashpoint'.

Understand that people have access to the web and social media wherever they are.  Twitter was buzzing with disgruntled customers on Sunday and TSB did well in attempting to manage the comments and to reassure people.  However, TSB seems to have overlooked the fact that many go to the website for information and failed to carry the same messaging there which in turn drove more people to vent their frustration on Twitter.

Be clear about when to use the big guns.  The aptly named TSB chief executive, Peter Pester, set a good example by taking to Twitter to deal with customer tweets and to apologise, sometimes addressing individuals directly.  Good work TSB in avoiding the faceless approach many organisations adopt.

Keep the messaging going post incident and make it easy for customers to continue to contact you.  It may be human nature to breathe a sigh of relief when the immediate crisis has been dealt with but don’t forget that customers have memories.  The TSB website ( has a link to an apology on the homepage but it’s badly signposted and somewhat lost in a ‘busy’ design.   Once through to the message, customers are encouraged to ‘get in touch’ if they have been ‘impacted’.  Commendable stuff, despite the use of ‘impacted’. But click on the ‘get in touch’ link and you’re taken to the normal ‘contact us’ page with no less than 12 options, not one of them relating to the incident.  If you really want your customers to ‘get in touch’ with you about this TSB, make it easy by providing a dedicated email address and telephone number.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Marketers: stop "spray and pray" in favour of quality

Research out this week claims that 70% of marketers fail to deliver real benefits to their organisation in terms of increased sales or market share. 

The reason?  Too many forget that “New Media, Marketing Automation, Omnichannel, Big Data and the likes are only Tools (the “Form”) used to best deliver, analyse and/or optimise the messages (CVPs)”. 

In other words, we’ve been seduced by the potential of new channels without doing our homework in developing CVPs (customer value propositions) that are both attractive and relevant to our audiences.  Many, it seems, have forgotten the basics of our profession.

If 2013 was all about “content is king”, the mantra for 2014 has to be “quality over quantity”.  As customers we are all inundated with content on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.  Much of what I receive is indiscriminate, ill-timed or downright irrelevant. 

To give an example, a few months ago I was looking at hotel accommodation in Sydney, Australia.  At the time many of the websites I had visited were retargeting me online with offers and suggestions.  Fair enough.  But why am I still receiving such messages some three months later?

Everyday I receive emails from organisations seeking to do business with me.  Emails that clearly show they have no idea what I do or what my potential interests are.  I shudder to think what their response rate is.

“Spray and pray” is alive and well it seems at a time when greater focus is needed to achieve stand out.  It’s time that marketers got back to basics: well crafted, engaging, targeted messaging that ultimately supports the sales function.

More information on the research can be found here:

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Forget your USP, it probably isn't 'unique'

Ever been asked what your USP is?  Difficult isn’t it?  You may well have one but can you honestly say it’s something that you genuinely believe in, deliver against and is compelling for your audiences?

Far too often sales teams latch onto what they think is a USP without really thinking it through.  Several years ago I joined a sales-led business as marketing director and made the point of asking everyone I met what the USP was.  There were several responses but the most common was “we were founded in 1980”.  It was a clumsy attempt to show that the business had critical mass, a good track record, some really valuable know-how and was a much safer bet than many of the one-man bands that had been established in the sector.  But unfortunately it hadn’t been thought through and no one seemed able to answer my follow up question:  “that’s great, but I see that one of your immediate competitors was founded in 1948.  Does that make them twice as good as you?”.

The problem with USPs is that nothing is really ‘unique’ in business, at least for long.  Yes there is first mover advantage but what is potentially ‘unique’ today is more than likely to be copied tomorrow.  The net result?  You and your competitors suddenly start looking very familiar.

Instead of spending time agonising over your USP, focus instead on your ‘brand value proposition or promise’ (BVP) and ‘brand story’.  Ask yourself and colleagues some searching questions:
  • What is it that we do particularly well (beyond the purely functional)?
  • What do we stand for and believe in?
  • What is our culture?
  • What tangible and intangible benefits do we deliver to our customers?
  • How do we make our customers feel?

Out of this process will come the core of a BVP and brand story – a clear statement of what your business is all about, how you deliver real value and what your customers feel about doing business with you.

And then of course comes the real work:  making sure that your interactions with customers and prospects really bring your BVP to life.  Oh, and of course, convincing your sales teams that they really don’t need a USP.

More on BVPs and how to develop yours coming soon.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Up close and personal - 4 simple things an airline did to impress

I recently had the opportunity to travel long haul in business class with Singapore Airlines.  The experience was one of the best I have encountered in many years of flying.

Here are the four things they did to impress me:
  1. I was taken to my seat when I boarded rather than sent off on a mission to track it down alone. 
  2. All the cabin crew I encountered seemed to know my name without looking at the manifest.  Spooky at first, but also reassuring. 
  3. When refilling my wine glass, the crew knew the wine I had selected first time around, irrespective of whether the individual had served me or not. 
  4. On my return flight I was greeted like an old friend with a genuine ‘welcome back’. 

These four very simple actions show that personalisation doesn’t have to be complicated or stunningly innovative.  A simple recognition that I’m an individual passenger, not a number, and a willingness to remember my preferences made it a memorable experience and so very different to the 'conveyor belt' approach of many others.

If there is a downside, it’s that the personalisation ended with the flight.  No follow up communication to get my feedback.  In fact, radio silence.  

What a wasted opportunity to keep a memorable brand experience alive.

Friday, 17 January 2014

'Passionate' about your sector? Prove it.

Google ‘passionate about property’ and be prepared for the long list of estate agents who claim to be so.  In fact, you’ll find businesses everywhere proclaiming their ‘passion’ for what they do.  How lucky these people are to work in a field they’re passionate about.

I’m all for brands being clear about what they stand for but I’m also clear that any such assertions need to be explained and then demonstrated through consistent action and behaviour.  I read such assertions and have one response: prove it.

If you’re making such assertions in your business and you’re serious about keeping the statement, ask yourself the following:

  • What does this mean?  Make a point of asking people inside and outside the business what they understand the meaning of your statement to be.  You may be surprised to find an array of different interpretations, not all of them what you intended.
  • Who says we are? Of course you do, but does anyone else?  What third party recommendations/commentary do you have to prove your passion?  What are the results of your customer satisfaction programme?  What do customers say – not just the last time you asked them, but now.
  • What’s in it for our customers?  Ask yourself what this means for the average customer and make sure you explain it to them.  In the case of the estate agent, does it mean that you know all the properties in your catchment area incredibly well?  Does it mean you’re able to advise on what makes a property saleable to a particular type of buyer?
  • How can we demonstrate our passion every day?  It seems to me that people who are ‘passionate’ about something live and breathe it.  They never cease talking enthusiastically about their favourite subject.  They’re borderline obsessive.  So, if our estate agent is passionate, I’d expect to see them talking regularly in the local media about property and their website should have lots of really useful information about the subject, for example.
  • How do we get all of our people passionate?  This is probably the most important question but may be the most difficult to answer.  Consider appointing role models to champion the cause.  Revisit your reward/commission structures and ask yourself whether they encourage different or counter behaviours.  Look at training options.  Consider how you communicate and behave internally – are you continually talking about the subject and providing your people with the necessary data, tools and know-how to build their own passion?

The key is, whatever you say about your business will be meaningless unless you’re able to bring it to life in a meaningful way for your customers and prospects. 

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Thought leadership - the clue's in the name

Thought leadership has been something of a buzz term in professional services marketing for a number of years.  Many organisations or individuals aspire to be recognised as thought leaders.  In fact, it’s often seen as the holy grail amongst marketing professionals.

But here’s the rub:  few manage to achieve the status.  Why?  Well, simply put, the clue’s in the name. It’s about leadership, not following.

True thought leadership is attained when the organisation or individual is able to demonstrate three key attributes:

  1.  A deep understanding of the topic area.  Not just a working knowledge, but detailed understanding based upon expertise and experience. Backed up by concrete examples/case studies
  2. A relevant opinion, not just the ability to regurgitate what others have said, however eloquently or concisely.
  3. Something new to say, taking the debate to a new level.  This is probably the most important attribute but sadly the one that is often most noticeable by its absence.  It’s one thing to contribute to a debate but quite another to step ahead and lead.
True thought leadership should cause the audience to stop in its tracks.  To stop, think and question.  It should engender fresh debate by introducing a new perspective.

There’s nothing wrong with taking part in a debate about current issues.  If you’re a professional services organization, it can certainly help convey your understanding of your markets, customers and the issues they face.  It might help cement a reputation for expertise, provided you’re consistent in joining in the debate.

But if your contribution is not original or doesn’t take the debate to a new level, please don’t assume you’re a thought leader. You’re probably not.

Let's ditch copycat marketing

Everyday £millions is spent on marketing activity by businesses, institutions and charities. Their aim is to get us, the consumer, to engage with their brand, to subscribe to their service or to buy their products.

Well, at least that's what you might imagine the aim to be.  Far too often the purpose is lost on the average customer.  It's lost in a sea of self-indulgent and often grandiose advertising campaigns where the production values seem to take precedence over the core message.  Where fantasy takes over from reality.  And, sometimes satisfying an internal audience seems to be more important than engaging the external customer.  

And then there's the copycat or "me too" approach.  Imitation may well be the sincerest form of flattery, but it can be confusing and damaging to your brand also.  Why, oh why, have many High Street retailers decided it's wise to try and emulate the success of John Lewis' advertising in such a blatant way? John Lewis was an early pioneer of using a simple story to convey brand messages and to evoke a strong emotional response from customers.   The production values were high, yes, but they also reflected the reality of great service and quality products.  Competitors may well have looked on with envy at the success of the campaigns.  But, that's no reason to jump on the "me too" bandwagon.  Surely, the recent Xmas trading performance of Marks & Spencer's non-food business shows being a copycat is not a guarantee for success?

Brands need to have their own identity, values and tone of voice.  They need to speak directly to their target audience, be clear about what they stand for and be true to their offering.  It's not rocket science, it's basic textbook.  And it's about time that marketers, their agencies and their leadership realised and acted on that.

In this blog I'll be casting a critical eye over what businesses are up to in the field of marketing, advertising, online and more.  I'll be looking at what I think works really well and not holding back on the criticism, when appropriate.  

By putting marketing under the microscope I'm challenging marketers to up their game.