Archive for April, 2010

In search of perfection: Why listening and continuous improvement matter

Posted in brand, marketing strategy, social media with tags , , , , , , , on April 26, 2010 by wisdomlondon

Last week I succumbed to hype and lunched at Viajante, one of London’s  most eagerly awaited restaurant openings of 2010 in edgy E2.

I say “succumbed”, because the last time chef patron Nuno Mendes fed me was at Bacchus, and it was one of the least enjoyable meals I ever ate.

What I got this time was not just an incredible meal but a perfect example of how a brand or service can turn itself around by listening to feedback, and continuously striving to improve what they offer.

Listening, improving and perfecting

Mendes’ Bacchus got pretty mixed reviews and closed after just 2 years – a short shelf life in even London’s fickle dining scene.  So Nuno regrouped, reconsidered and spent 3 years planning and perfecting his offering for his next venture. In a masterstroke, much of this was done through his hip and exclusive supper club, the Loft, where he cooked for small numbers of paying guests, testing concepts and gauging feedback. His core offer is still the same – innovative cooking that harks back to his El Bulli roots: challenging, precise and surprising.  But it has been tempered, to give the customer more of what they want, less wild experimentation yet what feels like carefully calculated and  thoughtful dishes that – of course – work.

There is a lot here that big business and brands can learn. Namely, it’s not enough to listen, you have to be prepared to act on it.

Fake engagement sucks

With the advent of social media, there is a lot of  ‘fake’ engagement going on. You know, talk to us, tell us what you think, etc and ….. big, fat zip. Listening is not new – focus groups the like being a still crucial part of marketing and product development – but listening in public is. So surely it’s time for a lot more transparency in these conversations, more like: “yes, we’ve heard what you think, actually can you tell us a bit more? we’ve also heard x y and z, what does everyone else think? here’s what we plan to do with this. In fact what about this idea or that idea?”

So back to Nuno and his beautiful food. Hats off for his commitment to getting it right and here’s hoping he doesn’t stop there.

The doggy bag…

And, unwittingly, this has resulted in a figurative doggy-bag – which I will share with you, dear readers, in the shape of Wisdom London’s essentials for improvement through engagement:

  • Feedback, whether positive or negative, is an opportunity to do something better. There’s no place for defensiveness.
  • If your customer has a point of view about an aspect of your product or service, chances are they have an opinion about other aspects of it too, and those of your competitors. Seize it.
  • It’s OK to be wrong sometimes and it’s not only bold, but human, to admit it. We’re all humans dealing with humans, after all, whether or not there’s a brand stamped on it. A simple admission is far more easily forgotten than a bungling attempt to cover up, justify or defend.
  • You have GOT to have a way to link feedback directly into the innovation and product improvement cycle. Are you inviting your customers to feedback to the right people in your organisation? No? Fix it.
  • Once you’ve done all of that and think your service or product might be a tad better, ask for feedback again. And again. And again.

So for all brands out there in need of a comeback (you know who you are), consider this: feedback is your friend, but only if you are really prepared to listen carefully, ask for more – and act on it.

Kate Spiers is founder of Wisdom London

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When #massivefail = opportunity

Posted in brand, marketing strategy, social media with tags , , , , , , , on April 19, 2010 by wisdomlondon

When disaster strikes, brands have an unprecedented opportunity to offer the customer service of a lifetime

The past week has shown quite unequivocally that the unexpected really can happen, in some cases turning our lives upside down, or at least giving them a good shake-up for a while. Who would’ve thought, this time last week, that European airspace would be all but shut down for a week and maybe longer?

It’s moments like this is when marketers and communicators are really tested – when the unexpected happens, how do we turn failure into opportunity?

The business of service

I’ve been amazed that some obvious players don’t seem to have embraced the opportunity fully. For example, after last December’s huge PR disaster in the wake of the channel tunnel disruption, Eurostar have a golden opportunity to show travellers that they can pull out all the stops when disaster happens and – vitally – start to reel positive perceptions back in again. True, they’ve done their job by transporting thousands of travellers to and from the continent with extra trains. But they’re not just in the business of travel, they are also in the business of service. So if they can’t transport people (and currently the message is, if you don’t have a ticket don’t even bother turning up) can they still serve them? With information, advice, the sense of going the extra mile when people most need them?

Phone operators – great for business that millions of your customers are stranded and hugely reliant on their phones to keep in touch with business and home. So when they most need you, what else can you offer your customers? Free SMS? Free data? Goodwill goes a long way.

Payback time for loyal customers?

It’s the brands that we rely on day-to-day, with which we feel most closely aligned, who are surely best placed to reinforce that intimacy right now – by saying to customers, you’re stuck wherever you are, but we can help you make contact, find information or a desk so you can keep working, we can entertain  you, even feed you or keep you stocked up with the essentials while you’re away from home.

Brands: these things may not be part of your core business, but surely service is?

As social media has shown clearly in the past week, online communities are a lifeline for sharing information, particularly when it can’t be found from official sources. It’s also where people are most likely to vent or praise – so service providers, take note. Or better still, take action.

Kate Spiers is CEO of Wisdom London

2010 is Year of the Agency

Posted in creativity with tags , , , , , , , on April 14, 2010 by wisdomlondon

After a dark and uncertain 2009 for the marketers and communicators of this world, it seems that 2010 is fast becoming  the year of the agency.


Lots  of reasons (not least that we are very, very busy), but perhaps for the most part it’s the sense of confidence and  renewal that is seeping back into business of late. Yes, it’s been tough, businesses have been kicked when they’re down, squeezed for results and margin but it’s time to reframe, reassess and get back to it.

It’s back to business, but not as we know it. It’s clear that clients have had to reassess their engagement of agencies in the past few years – not just for financial reasons, but in terms of accountability and changing business needs too.   And relationships between client and agency, I think it’s fair to say, are looking a little different these days. (That’s a good thing).

There’s less of the clunky, transactional retainer business. There’s more action, spontaneous activity, experimentation and collaboration. Business demands more of us agencies and right now, we’re in a great position to deliver.

Here’s why:

We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto

The world (and therefore consumers and business) is changing pretty quickly – just look at the communications landscape.  We’re shifting to touch-screens, UGC, social conversations and a personalization. It’s hard for businesses to keep up with what that means in terms to how they market. They still have core business issues to address.  But it’s the job of the agencies to know it, follow it, shape it and use it.  And that’s what’s happening right now…

Bring back Pick ‘n’ Mix…

Pick ‘n’ Mix at Woolies was popular for a reason: You could decide, control, help yourself to what you wanted and when.  And you paid only for that.  Same with agencies.  There is an array of marketing and communications brilliance out there to choose from – in the shape of full-service players, niche agencies and some outstanding freelance experts.

Many organisations out there have had marketing resource cut, leaving generalist expertise and less of the specialist and technical stuff.  Agencies are still, in the main, the best way to get flexible, cost-effective expertise.

Talk costs nothing, but is worth a lot

Us agencies talk to each other.  We’re not afraid of competitors, they way that some businesses are.  We social network, ask questions, challenge, share ideas, meet up, introduce people and …yes, collaborate.  That’s why we’ve got our fingers firmly on the pulse of what’s happening, who’s doing what and what’s working.  That’s worth something.

Of course, I’m generalizing.  There are plenty of agencies out there who are not all of the above, who are cumbersome, insular and over-priced. But there is a whole load of brilliant talent out there… go take a look and see.

Check out some of my favourite thinkers and collaborators:

Kate Spiers is CEO and Founder of Wisdom London (NOT one of the rubbish agencies)

Friday afternoon musings: Great brand names

Posted in Uncategorized on April 9, 2010 by wisdomlondon

Was thinking about brand names as I shuffled down Oxford Street just now and there are some that are simply genius.  For example:

Dave: A brave move – TV channel named after the bloke in the pub you play darts with (or, indeed, my dad) that is “the home of witty banter”. And it is.  Dave delivers.  More please.  I’d like to see: Sophie (“the home of food porn in a totally vintage way”) and Bob (“the home of DIY and telling it like it is”).

American Apparel: There’s a certain pride inspired by the slightly formal phrasing, and evokes US cool into the bargain.  Plus, a bit of well-judged alliteration is pleasing.

Wagamama: Who gives a monkey’s what it means, at least we can say it, and it rolls off the tongue too.  Brilliant that it’s now part of our urban lexicon and we can even give it a pet name too “lunch at Wags”

And hats off to my personal faves: The Duke of Uke (which does indeed sell ukuleles) and the crepe van on Earlham Street called “Full of Crepe”.  Priceless.

Five Essentials of Disruption

Posted in brand, marketing strategy with tags , , , , , on April 5, 2010 by wisdomlondon

I once worked for a firm in the professional services sector whose entire marketing function was tasked with introducing disruptive marketing elements into their marketing activity. A great idea – disruption can after all, bring heightened awareness, drive differentiation and indicate a special kind of boldness and savvy – but let me tell you, it was tough.

We’ve seen many examples of disruption working well in recent times and marketers are getting better at it all the time.  A couple of my personal favourites, for example:

–       Marmite’s “I hate Marmite” campaign: Accepting and even celebrating the fact that your product is genuinely hated by some people is not the conventional way to market. But, by highlighting divided opinion, Marmite managed to make the love Marmite brigade all the more staunch, and in the process be seen as iconic and ironic.

The Evening Standard’s “Sorry” campaign: In 2009, London’s Evening Standard mounted a huge campaign across the capital which saw buses, billboards and ads proclaim “Sorry” for a host of supposed failings, including being negative, predictable, complacent and out of touch. Honestly, the marketer (and cynic) in me adored this.  By heaping self-criticism and recrimination, they saved anyone else from doing it and suggested that of course, their standards should be – and would be – so much higher.  And more than that, it grabbed attention.  To complete the masterstroke, this was all a precursor to the launch of a new-look Standard shortly after.

I’ve thought a lot about why these examples were successful and yet, we in the corporate world found it such a struggle.  Well, for a start, the above campaigns were part of an overall brand strategy and were pivotal to some powerful positioning work.  We, on the other hand, were working within a pre-defined brand strategy and simply trying to wrap a layer of disruptive marketing across our tactical activity in many cases.  A lot of the time I feared we were simply ‘doing disruption for disruption’s sake’.

It’s not easy to achieve marketing disruption in the corporate world, but it’s certainly not impossible.  So here are Wisdom London’s essential pointers:

1. Make it smart – do your groundwork

Rather than disruption for the sake of it, consider what you can realistically change within your means and the value it could bring.  Disruption in marketing is all about making your audience behave differently by interrupting their routine, expectations or habits. So make sure first of all that you have a good idea of how your audience operates – otherwise how will you know what to disrupt?

2. Bold is beautiful…

There’s little I admire more than having courage in one’s convictions, and that’s exactly what you need to make a bold disruption plan work.  If you’re going to be bold, do it – but be conscious that it takes courage and belief to turn things on their heads and confront or challenge assumptions. You’ll need buy-in, you’ll need internal awareness, and a good storyline to back it all up.

3. Small is beautiful too

We tend to hold up the more dramatic examples of marketing disruption as the successful ones, but small steps are good too.  In the corporate world, business is more transactional and less personal, yet we’re still dealing with humans.  I’m a big believer in ‘humanising’ a corporate brand to achieve disruption (where this is not the norm).  For example, being more transparent about who your people really are (beyond their job title), what makes them tick, and empowering them to overturn convention by venturing opinions alongside regular thought leaders or corporate commentators. Small steps.

4. Disrupt how you communicate

The way in which you communicate your brand and proposition is an obvious area for disruptive marketing. Defy your market’s expectations with a bespoke video instead of a proposal document, develop beautiful infographics instead of a PowerPoint presentation or brochure, harness social media if you have not already, and let this open up a whole ream of new opportunities with which to surprise and overturn expectations.

5. Make sure that Disruption = Added Value

Think about how you can add value to your client through disruption – that’s how industry giants like Apple have achieved it, changing the way we behave for the better and adding services we didn’t know we needed.  Can your service or product do that, even on a micro-level?  What about adding value personally in the way you deliver that product or manage your client relationships?  I often send a client or contact an article or URL that I’ve stumbled across and thought they would find interesting or useful.  It may be nothing to do with marketing, but it adds to the value of our relationship.  (btw: this is not intentional disruption, but just good business practice!) Can you add an invaluable layer of service or tweak what exists, to deliver even more value?

Tell us your disruption essentials and best industry examples…we really want to know what you think!

Kate Spiers is CEO of Wisdom London, a creative marketing communications consultancy. Follow Kate on Twitter for more like this.