Marketing leaders needed

moi-quan-he-ky-la-giua-2-con-nguoi-vi-dai-bill-gates-steve-obsWe live and work in a region where there are still relatively few Marketers at Executive Board level. In fact, there are fewer Marketing Directors than HR Directors. This may reflect the perception that HR – in its traditional role of controlling the workforce – is more deserving of a seat at the top table than those charged with promoting the business. If so, both parts of that perception are wrong. Companies need HR leaders attuned to the company’s promise to the market, and able to recruit and develop staff to deliver it. But they also need senior marketers; able to represent the consumer point of view at Board level.

When I talk to Managing Directors in Africa, their biggest criticism of the Marketing fraternity seems to be a lack of commercial acumen. Marketers have a reputation of being good act activity, but not so hot on productivity. Happy to spend money; but not too keen to be held to account for it.

The issue is not local. Commenting on the global profession, Professor Mark Ritson of Melbourne Business School is forthright: “I remain convinced that most marketers don’t really understand gross margin and variable costs. They live in a bull***t bubble.”

So how can Marketers rise to greatness? What skills and attributes do they need to develop on the journey?

I must admit that looking for answers in Marketing Week’s ‘Anatomy of a Leader’ research study was unrewarding. Perhaps because 600 UK marketers were sampled; but no opinions sought from senior colleagues in other disciplines. Continue reading

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Customer Experience for Tourists

7996864-african-traditional-jumps-masai-mara-warriors-dancing-kenyaIt’s all change on the regional tourism front with Kenya emerging largely undisrupted (we hope) from its Election process. Tanzanian tourism is delivering much less value for money thanks to ill-considered Presidential interference in taxes and levies. And in Uganda, an entrepreneurial sector continues to develop adventurous holiday options while battling with underdeveloped infrastructure.

All these macro-economic factors impact on the visitors’ perceptions of the tourism experience. It’s hard to address them, because tourism operators are limited to lobbying. And often they find themselves talking to stone deaf politicians and public servants.

But there are many aspects of the customer experience that operators can address. And I don’t just mean making sure the tea is hot or the sheets are clean. Customer experience in a marketing sense – the delivery of brand against promise – is now becoming a top priority.

No wonder, as many companies in the travel industry, particularly airlines, consistently rank in the lower levels of customer satisfaction league tables.

Many tourism brands are generic, following category norms. (Have you ever seen a Safari website without the obligatory leaping Maasai?) If your promise is generic, then it’s difficult to deliver without disappointment.

Poor customer experience on arrival and during the stay does significant damage to tourism brands. Social media has shifted power to the customer enabling them to hold any business to a new standard of performance. Tourist expectations are not static but change due to the broader influence of online properties like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb. Continue reading

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The Three E’s

All businesses rely on a combination of three drivers of value creation, the ‘3Es’ of efficiency, effectiveness, and experience.

Production line (2)

Efficiency has been and remains a dominant driver of profitability since the industrial revolution, Taylorism, invention of the assembly line, and iconic For Model-T. Just utter 6-sigma, kaizen, reengineering or the increasingly popular zero-based budgeting in the boardroom and smiles will appear on the faces of even the most hardened executives. The very executives that pour over financial data rich with watershed cost models, and where 70% of CEOs count cost-cutting as their top priority for yet another year running. Even if you don’t compete on price, you need to offer competitive prices in a world where price fighters are growing ever-more prevalent.  Yet precisely for that reason, price generally does not actually differentiate you from your nearest competitor. It is a qualifier for being considered but not a decider when it comes to choice.

The second ‘E’ is effectiveness. Building a better mousetrap is the origin of many business ventures. But as industries mature, effectiveness gains quickly hit diminishing returns. And in a global world, competitors will quickly follow suit when a quality advance has market appeal. Dorco recently announced the world’s first 6-bladed shaver, challenging Gillette Fusion’s 5-bladed supremacy. Surely Gillette already has a 7-bladed response in the making..

So, what does the customer love enough to buy and to buy again? It is not what companies put into their products and services, it is what the customer takes out. And the word customer is a problem here, as it focuses the business on the transaction. Continue reading

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Shame about the name

Right now, I’m going through the naming process for a new business. An enterprise in which I have two partners. We’ve worked out our reason for being; we have written our brand promise. We have agreed our target audience; we know how we want to deliver the service. In fact, we have done everything by the book so far. As three practitioners, we are trying very hard to practice what we preach to our clients.My WU (1)

Now we’re reviewing naming options and creative designs to bring them to life. It’s an enjoyable process but the pressure is on. Even between three friends it takes an effort to achieve genuine consensus. We must ensure our personal preferences are properly expressed but also be prepared to surrender to what makes the most sense. To the target audience, not to us.

One thing we agree. The brand name must be simple and distinctive. Ideally one word, possibly two. We all feel that the longer the name, the harder it is for people to grasp it. Especially if it is composed of a multiplicity of nouns like ‘Computer System Innovations’. (My own company name The Brand Inside seems to work because it is almost a clause that fits easily into a normal sentence. Nobody has ever tried to turn it into the acronym TBI, not to my face anyway.)

When your brand name becomes an acronym, your marketing has to work harder. Not to create awareness, because it is obviously easier to remember ABC than Aggregated Building and Construction. But to convey meaning. Your sales people need to unpack the company’s purpose when they make their introductions to prospects. Your advertising strapline needs to be more explanatory: ‘ABC. Building stronger infrastructure.’ A little later, your people begin to forget the original purpose of the business and the values that created it. Your business culture may become less distinctive. And all because you got bored with having to use the company name in full.

Last week I was surprised to see a very well-known brand take a leap into the acronym abyss.

Western Union is a long- established business. Founded in Rochester, New York in 1851 it was an industrialised monopoly that dominated the telegraph industry in the late 19th century. It built the first communications empire and set a pattern for American-style communications businesses as they are known today.

Western Union now has several divisions, with products such as person-to-person money transfer, business payments and commercial services. cIts company name is known the world over. It is understood to be American and it feels robust.

But someone has now taken the decision to abbreviate Western Union to WU. Continue reading

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Sticky middle slows business

Just when you thought you had enough problems dealing with Millennials in your organisation, here comes another demographic that requires your attention.Treacle tin

Tim Gould, Editor of HR Morning once said: “I’ve been promoted to middle management. I never thought I’d sink so low”.  

He was talking about people who spend years aspiring to reach a middle management position and end up staying there.

Middle management grows like Topsy inside organisations of any size. By the time your business has reached its first decade they become numerically significant. Soon they are sufficiently established in their habits to justify the descriptor ‘the treacle layer’. Named after the sticky uncrystallised syrup that’s a by-product of the sugar refining process.

Middle Managers should contribute to your organisation in three ways: Continue reading

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Customer experience drives results.

We’re already halfway through the year and one encouraging trend in the region is the number of companies who are taking steps to improve customer experience. I wouldn’t say they are in the hundred, but very definitely in the tens. The numbers aren’t important, what matters is the emergence of a new intent.Southwest meme

Customer experience is not what your customer service centre delivers. Customer service centres exist to address failures in customer experience. If I have to visit another telemarketing centre I may let out a little scream. All those poor people lashed to their terminals, trying to address customers’ fundamental lack of understanding; disappointment and outrage. That’s no way to live; and it’s no way for a brand to act.

If we all hired the right people to deliver our brand promises; life would become a lot easier. Yes, they would need to be equipped and empowered, but that is the easy part. Finding people with the right attitude is the challenge. This is not about adding HR processes, but about making them on-brand; from attracting talent, interviewing, inducting, developing, and rewarding. In practice, talent management in our region is typically off-brand in the sense that it’s entirely generic.

Southwest Airlines, the leading US low cost carrier is often cited as a glorious example of getting the people dimension right. Before telling you about it, I checked out their annual reports for the last five years just to make sure this wasn’t a consultant’s confection. It isn’t.

Southwest decided on a very clear winning ambition*: to be the highest-profit airline in America by delivering the highest employee and customer satisfaction.

(* A winning ambition is like a Mission Statement, only more interesting).

So, they put employees first, because they know that human engagement is the primary differentiator in a service business. Their brand promise is simple – it’s cheap and cheerful. And while cheap differentiates them from flagship carriers, it does not differentiate them from other low-cost carriers such as Jet Blue. All their innovations around keeping prices low have been copied. But what has not been copied in an authentic way is the cheerfulness their people bring to the job. Continue reading

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Manage Millennials for success.

We’re continuing to examine the current culture clash in the workplace. Over the past 2 weeks we’ve indulged the Millennial point of view and given the employers’ perspective. This week I want to suggest three simple actions that you as a leader can take to turn your organisation away from head-on internal conflict. These are based on very recent experience of reshaping company cultures in East Africa. herding cats

First up, East African Millennials don’t reject structure, they crave it. They want to feel part of a collaborative team with an open dialogue. Supplement your company’s vertical hierarchy with a transverse structure. Do this by looking at the middle of your company and organising those people into cross-disciplinary groups (the closest analogy is the traditional project team). Give these groups tasks to create new capabilities or to solve long-established problems in your business. Challenge them with solving ‘how can we market our brand better’ or ‘how should we redesign our training and development programme.’ Help them to define an agenda, and make them report directly to you on a regular basis for feedback, constructive criticism and support in removing obstacles to their progress. Make sure that they are publicly recognised for their achievements – Millennials put self-worth ahead of remuneration.

Secondly, capitalise on the informal leaders that emerge from your transverse structure. Those bright sparks whose ideas crack the problems. The determined souls who use persuasion rather than coercion to generate a positive group dynamic. The showmen and women who can dramatise a concept; bringing it to life in a way that generates enthusiasm in others. You should be looking to identify and promote young people with high levels of EQ and IQ. When you find them, set out a clear development path for them. Millennials need to see where their career is going and they want to know exactly what they must do to get there. Millennials await their next challenge – so make sure you look them in the eye; give them that challenge and tell them you believe in them. The results can be spectacular. Continue reading

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Employers vs Millennials

We’re examining the culture clash in the workplace. Last week we indulged the Millennials’ point of view; this week we’ll give an employers’ perspective. Next week we’ll suggest some pragmatic actions.dont panic

It’s clear that the social contract that existed between business management and workers has been broken by the simultaneous arrival two conflicting perspectives.  ‘No more jobs for life’ from management struggling to free their enterprises from the burden of employee tenure without performance payback. And ‘self before company’ from employees who define satisfaction and success in a very different way.

In between these stands the rump of the HR community, defenders of the status quo. Armed with the HR Manual. Employment Law and a variety of outdated performance management models, many of them are scrambling for relevance in management meetings. . More and more HR departments are sending up the Millenial distress flare. But fewer have innovated solutions to the crisis. The CEO of a huge regional security company summed it up for me last week with his firm assertion that: “HR advises, Management decides.”

But, in the face of change, should business leaders and their HR teams throw every aspect of people management out of the window? I don’t think so; there is time to assess and evolve. Especially here in East Africa where 1 in 6 young Kenyans, and closer to 1 in 20 young Ugandans and Tanzanians are unemployed. Continue reading

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Millennial Matters

Goodness, there’s a lot of talk about the Millennial generation (18-35’s) in the workplace. And arguably too much credence being given to management needing to change its style in response.Millennials will outnumber

I’m giving the matter some thought over the next few weeks, and I suspect I will be looking for ways for leadership to push back. But after listening to a podcast from the young American comedian Alex Edelmann, I thought I’d begin with the Millennials’ point of view.

Edelmann began by raising the case of Trail King Industries in Mitchell, South Dakota. The boss, Bruce Yackley, has gone head to head with the Millennial mindset, accusing young workers of being lazy and venal. Last year he recruited an additional 280 young workers for blue collar jobs in his plants. By December 279 had left his employment. (Why the one remainer stayed is not covered in the flurry of print and social media comment that followed).

Yackley sees no reason to change his leadership style or adjust his management approach. He sees Millennials as lightweights, sloping off to change jobs whenever they feel slighted. Continue reading

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Bridging another divide

Econsultancy’s latest report ‘The future of HR in the digital age’, finds that HR teams in many global organisations are repositioning themselves to be more customer centric. Making sure the actions they take in hiring, retaining and developing human capital are aligned to delivering a better customer experience.Bridge

That’s an interesting trend, and one that has yet to take hold in East Africa. Here the HR profession is more administrative than commercial. One of the reasons why so few HR people achieve Board appointments.

Parallel to this positive trend in HR, the wider world is seeing an increasing number of marketers becoming involved in culture development. They clearly understand that the promises they make to the market must be delivered by people. And the best way to achieve that is to shape a culture with a set of signature behaviours that reflect the brand. So, the brand begins to guide ‘the way we do things around here’.

Simultaneously HR people are opening their eyes to commercial impact and marketers to the importance of employees as an audience. When these two agendas eventually align (at some time in the future) I can predict that we won’t need customer service departments. How marvellous will that be? For our customers, in particular.

Last week I had to contact a customer services representative at my mobile phone company. My bill showed a current amount due which was correct. However, over on the right-hand end of the aged debt summary I was surprised to note a figure of nearly US$10,000 owed by me for over 120 days! I knew this to be incorrect, and my customer service rep. confirmed it. ‘Just ignore the bill,’ she said. Continue reading

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