We all know that customer centricity is essential; even more so these days with the lockdown in most countries due to the pandemic.
Now more than ever, businesses need to put their customers clearly at the heart of their organisation. But I know that many struggle, even in more normal times, to be customer centric. They just don’t know where to start. Am I right? If you’re one of them, then this article is for you.
This week I give you ten simple actions to accelerate your organisation along its path to an improved customer-first strategy.
#1 Review & Revise the Description of your Target Audience
Do all your brands have a clear description of their target audience? These days we tend to speak about personas or avatars.
Is it as complete as it should be? If not, then regular readers will know about and probably use the C3Centricity 4W™ template for storing all this information. You can download it and get the accompanying workbook here.
Include not only your customers’ demographics and consumption / purchasing habits but also information about where they do these things, what values they have that you can tap into and what emotions motivate them to purchase and use your brand.
Do you know what needs your customer has and which of them you are tapping into?
They certainly have more than one need, but you must identify and address only one.
If you attempt to address more than one and especially if they are not sequential, your customer may be confused.
Mixed brand messages on what the brand can do for them will leave your customers perplexed. This will, in turn, reduce the likelihood that they will be convinced your offer can meet their needs and objectives.
Knowing where your brand sits on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has one additional benefit. It can increase the success of regional and global launches by identifying cultures with similar levels of a specific need.
Is customer care only on the objectives of one or two departments in your organisation? Perhaps it's only for the care centre employees or merchandisers to do.
It should, in fact, be on everyone’s annual objectives, to watch, listen and engage with your customers regularly. This will help them to understand how their work fits into the company’s objective to satisfy and delight them.
Every employee has a role to play in customer centricity and connecting with the customers on a frequent basis and sharing experiences with colleagues will ensure that everyone understands this.
Do you know where your business is going? Do you know what might happen in the future and what you would do in each situation? How would you react to new laws, new customer demands, and their new sensitivities such as ecology, sustainability, sourcing or ingredients?
It is better to plan for such events before they happen, so that you can quickly react to challenges as well as opportunities.
I am in favour of developing plausible future scenarios, rather than merely following trends. Why? Because everyone follows trends so they provide no competitive advantage. However, by developing scenarios, they will be unique to your organisation and provide a clear path to answer all possible future opportunities and threats.
#6 Review Your Business Plans for Customer Centricity
Are your customers clearly identified and described in your plans, as well as the customers of your major competitors?
Review your plans by considering how your customers will react to each of your scheduled actions. Not just the outcomes you are hoping for, but a true detailed analysis based upon your understanding of them and their desires.
Have you planned any actions to surprise and delight them, or are you only relying on the “same old” activities, repeated from year to year?
People get bored quickly and you can also “train” your customers to expect your promotions. They then wait for them before purchasing, often in quantity, and will also eventually become of less interest, and perceived value, to them. Plan at least one unexpected WOW action each year.
Are you blocked in an innovation box, relying on your internal technical and expert skills? If you know your customer well you can offer them more successful innovations, perhaps through additional sensorial experiences.
Consider adding sound to taste, colour to services, touch to packaging, aromas to retail displays. Give your customers more reasons to stay with you and they will become more loyal.
I can feel your shock as you read this, but why not review your process for developing your advertising?
If you spent more time and resources reviewing how to connect with your customer, and then reviewed early-stage work up-stream with them, you would be more likely to develop winners.
It would also reduce or totally replace your usual tests just before airing, when in most cases it is too late to change anything.
#9 Define Your Image
Your brand has an image but it might not be what you think it is. Make sure you are measuring it regularly and not only on the attributes that you ideally want to perform well on. You need to include attributes important to your competitors, as well as the category in general.
I so often see biassed attribute lists which, while providing exaggerated, over-positive images, lull companies into a false sense of security. When you are not measuring what is important for your competitors, you will always come out on top.
Another advantage is that the coverage of the total category will be more complete and you may even find a new or adapted positioning that no-one else is currently occupying.
You know that what gets measured gets managed, well are you measuring what needs managing or only the easy metrics to gather?
If you know your customers well, who they are, what they do, what they think of you and your competitors, and then compare these to where you want to take your brand, the metrics you need to be measuring become evident.
Too many organisations rely on financial KPIs alone. Make sure you are not one of them, by adding metrics to cover customer awareness, satisfaction and perception.
I hope this list has helped you to identify a few areas that need revision in your organisation. Actioning even just one of them will improve your customer centricity and your profitability too (according to research).
Of course completing them all will ensure that your customer is really at the center of your business, as well as in the hearts of your employees.
If you would like to know just how customer centric you are, complete the C3C Evaluator™ assessment. It's free! The Evaluator™ will help you to identify where you are today as well as how to prioritise any needed changes in your organisation.
For further inspiration on making your organisation more customer centric, check out our other articles on C3Centricity, or contact us here:
The title of this week’s post might surprise you. After all, the hospitality industry should be highly customer centric, as it relies on satisfying its guests.
However, it can learn a lot from consumer packaged goods (FMCG/CPG), as I shared with industry experts at a Faculty Day of one of the leading hospitality schools in Switzerland. Having spent most of my career in consumer goods, I was invited to share what the hospitality industry could learn from the industry. From the reactions at the end of my talk it seems that the answer is a lot!
It might surprise you, but the two industries have a number of similarities. They both (should) have their customers at their heart. And they are both founded on pleasing and hopefully delighting their clients in the quality of the products and services they offer.
During my presentation, I shared many ideas; here are a few of the points I covered:
#1. From ROI / ROR to ROE
There has been a lot of discussion in the past few years about the need to move from a return on investment to a return on relationships. While I agree with the importance of relationships, I believe that what we should be talking about is engagement. Despite many books touting the need for our customers to “Love” our brands, in reality, I’m not sure that any of us want to have a deep relationship with brands.
The relationship is based on more than just the brand. It is founded on trust and confidence in the product, the brand’s website and their engaging communications. Think Coca Cola and Red Bull as great examples of this.
#2. Build Relationships with Strangers
The hospitality industry is based on serving and satisfying its guests. But in today’s connected world it also needs to consider people who are currently strangers – but could potentially become guests. These may include the friends of past guests, who have heard about the hotel or restaurant and are interested in visiting it for themselves.
One good example of this, but I know many hotels are also doing it, is the Rosewood Mayakoba resort in Mexico. This wonderful hotel encourages its guests to photograph their experiences during their stay at the resort and then to post them on Facebook.
This not only provides free publicity for the hotel, but also enables it to start engaging future guests before they even arrive. In addition, the posts will certainly have a positive influence on website visitors. And the guests who publish their photos, will have an even stronger positive impact on their friends and followers. After all, they will more than likely have similar tastes and desires.
#3. Value is more Important than Price
Having additional control of our lives today, means that customers are re-evaluating what they are offered. They have higher expectations and are more discerning in their choices. They expect recognition at every touchpoint, even if in reality their decisions are influenced by their peers, more than by traditional marketing.
In addition, the internet enables us to compare multiple offers, so we are far less interested in bundled propositions than we once were. Today we often prefer to decide what is best value for us personally, by buying individual elements for our very personalised vacations. For example, we may overspend on experiences and then choose a more modest hotel and car rental. Each buyer will make choices upon their individual value perceptions.
#4. Renovation is more than Buildings
Most CPG companies have annual targets for Innovation & Renovation, sometimes 30% or more of annual revenue. They also have mid-term innovation pipelines which can include partnerships in joint ventures with what were previously only competitors. These help each partner, by building on their individual talents and enabling them to develop better products and services.
To improve customer centricity in hospitality, innovation can no longer be purely physical or rational; we need to consider more emotional and relational ways to satisfy. The Rosewood Mayakoba resort, already mentioned above, is one good example of this; check the link to see the latest photos published on their Facebook page.
The Art Series Hotels are another example of how well they excel at understanding their guests. Their unique offer is called Art Series Overstay Checkout, and means that if no guest is checking into your room the next day, you can stay a few extra hours or even days for free.
#5. Loyalty is never really Won
One of the reasons that I believe we need to work on building engagement and in all industries, not just hospitality, is because customer demands are constantly evolving. What satisfied them yesterday can bore or even disappoint today.
To acquire and retain our customers, we need to be constantly upgrading our products and services, so that they will be surprised and delighted. This also means that loyalty is much less long-term than in the past and lifetime value is now measured in months or a few years, rather than in decades.
In today’s connected world, customers want a say in not only what they consume, but also where, when and how they are marketed to. They want the chance to inform companies about what they want to buy and expect a rapid resolution to any queries or complaints they may have.
According to a recent Edison Research, 20% of respondents expect a company to answer to their social media posts within 15 minutes, 42% within the hour! That means that 24/7 monitoring for all organisations is now essential if we are not to disappoint are most engaged customers.
These are just six of the many ideas I shared during my presentation. If you are interested in seeing the full talk, you can find it on SlideShare here.
Are you struggling to improve your own customer centricity? Whatever people-facing industry you are in, we would welcome the chance to support and catalyse your efforts. Please check out our website for more information on our training and consulting offers, and then contact us here.
This post was first published on C3Centricity in 2013 and has been regularly updated since.
Were you surprised to read the title of this post? Do you believe that using technology to understand customers is the only way today? Then let me explain why I believe it’s not quite that simple.
In today’s data-rich environment I’m not really suggesting that you actually ignore data nor technology! However, in working with clients around the world as well as in numerous industries, I have found that many are lost by the wealth of information that is available to them.
In fact it seems to drown out their reasoning of what to do with all the data and they remain frozen in indecision. Or worse, they invest in the latest platforms and systems in the hope that using technology to understand customers will help them with their knowledge void. Is this your case? If so, then just follow the steps I detail below and you will soon be doubling, quadrupling, if not getting 10x the ROI from your data.
The Current Situation with Data
Data is everywhere and most organisations are drowning in it! Technology is being blamed for disrupting businesses, but in most cases these companies have simply not adapted to this new data-rich world.
I admit, a lot has changed. Consumers are adapting their behaviours to the trading of their personal information. Companies are changing business models as their value shifts from products to services, or even to the sale of the information they gather.
Some organisations are reinventing themselves to take advantage of these changes. Others are ignoring them – at their peril – since they are at risk of becoming the next Kodak, Borders or Blockbusters. And of course the latest covid-19 epidemic will hasten many others to unfortunately follow suit in the coming months.
If you’re interested in reading an analysis of the US Retail Apocalypse and the 23 big retailers closing stores then I highly recommend this post on Fox Business from last year. No doubt it will need updating in 2021 when the fallout from the current pandemic becomes clearer.
So what should you do? Well, I believe that you should start by renovating your business model to take advantage of the countless new opportunities all the data and new technologies open up for you. And in my opinion, you had better do it sooner rather than later, because your competition will almost certainly be investigating ways to make use of it all!
Yes you have data and information, but if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you will know that you have to turn these into knowledge to understand your customers. And then develop insights and actions. But this can only be done by asking the right questions of your data and information. The latest technology is not going to make up for your lack of thinking!
If you are struggling to take needed action despite a wealth of information, then this is certainly where you should start making changes – fast!
56% of the 1,000 senior decision makers surveyed claim that their investment in big data over the next three years will exceed past investment in information management.
65% admit they risk becoming irrelevant and uncompetitive if they do not leverage data. This is especially true given that non-traditional providers, like startups thriving on big data processing, are moving into their industries.
Although companies realize they desperately need to dig into data analytics to maintain their business position, 45% surveyed think their current internal IT development cycles are not sufficient for new analytics and don’t fulfill their business requirements.
Making matters worse, over half (52%) of those surveyed see the speed of their organization’s insight generation from data analytics as constrained by its existing IT infrastructure.
So what has happened in the past couple of years? Not a lot in terms of usage, but a lot in terms of data gathering; just check out the graph below from Kleiner Perkins for current and estimated growth of data volume. It is expected to more than triple over the coming five years.
Of course big data has been big news for years, thanks to its 5Vs (volume, velocity, variety, variability, value). These were the driving forces behind the need and finally the upgrades in computing power that made it possible to adopt a new and significantly faster way of analysing it all.
The EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), with its stricter rules that came into force last year, focuses on many of the data privacy issues that have people the most concerned. It is definitely worth checking out the details here if you have still not made the necessary changes within your own organisation.
Interestingly, there is no equivalent federal law in the US (for now), but that doesn’t mean you can ignore it if your business is based there. Find out more in this other excellent article on Forbes.
It’s true that companies do recognise all the threats detailed in the earlier mentioned study, and while startups flourish in every industry, the mastodons of commerce are generally much slower to change, hence the need for GDPR. (see below for an alternative approach to individualised data utilisation)
An Alternative Approach
Data comes into its own when used for personalised engagements. However, there is an alternative or complementary approach that some organisations are now using. This is to address global issues such as resource management, water usage or pollution, which certain customers feel passionately about.
One example is Nestle whose relatively new CEO Mark Schneider is finally bringing some fresh air to the dark and dusty halls of their Vevey offices. However, cutting costs, selling less attractive business units (such as their US candy business to Ferrero completed in 2018) in the hope of upgrading their image, will not bring sufficient changes that consumers demand of large corporations today.
Compare this to the efforts made by Unilever’s previous CEO Paul Polman. He turned the organisation into one that is admired by consumers and shareholders alike. As they say in their website
“We aim to use our scale and influence to help bring about transformational change in four key areas where we believe we can make the biggest difference:
Taking action on climate change and halting deforestation
Improving livelihoods and creating more opportunities for women
Improving health and well-being
Championing sustainable agriculture and food security.”
Bold words indeed! And Unilever can only do it with the help of data and metrics to measure and follow their progress.Given these very different approaches to preparing for the future, I know which company I am betting on. And you? Let me know in the comments.The appeal of this alternative approach is confirmed by the results of SalesForce’s recent research findings reported in the “State of the Connected Consumer.” To summarise their six conclusions:
Information-Savvy Customers Now Control the Marketplace. 70% of consumers agree technology has made it easier than ever to take their business elsewhere.
The Culture of Immediacy Drives Mobile-First Expectations. 64% of consumers expect companies to respond and interact with them in real time.
Customers Still Value Human Connections in a Tech-Driven World. Two-thirds of consumers say they’re likely to switch brands if they’re treated like a number instead of an individual.
New Data-Sharing Attitudes Spark Next Era of Marketing Personalization. 63% of millennial consumers agree they’re
willing to share data with companies that send personalized offers and discounts.
Smarter Use of Customer Information Expands Opportunities for Sales. More than three-quarters of consumers say it’s absolutely critical or very important to work with a salesperson who is focused on achieving customer needs instead of making a quick sale.
Fast, Personal Service Is Directly Linked to Customer Loyalty. 71% of consumers say that customer service provided on any day at any time has an influence on loyalty, and almost as many (69%) say the same about personalized customer care.
Looking at these findings, it gives me hope for a more human approach to customer connections by manufacturers and retailers alike. I believe that those that fail to take this now highly informed customer into account, are unlikely to survive the next decade.
From a Linear to a Circular Economy
One interesting approach to sustainability that first appeared in the seventies, but which has been gaining increased momentum in 2020, is a new mindset for business, that of the circular economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines a circular economy as:
“A framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design”
They go on to explain that the approach is underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources. The circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital, and is based on three principles:
Design out waste and pollution
Keep products and materials in use
Regenerate natural systems
Those who are supporting this approach are hoping for a positive response from customers to favour their products, since they produce no waste. It will be interesting to follow the trend in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic and the increasing unemployment that has hit almost every country in the world. Will consumers be ready to pay more for a better future for our planet, or will their recent suffering make them more egotistical in trying to return to as normal a life as possible post virus? Only time will tell.
I for one hope that the pandemic has given us all time to reconsider our values and that we will make better choices going forward. From buying local, to recycling and sharing more, to shopping our own wardrobes rather than buying new, the planet will benefit from a more responsible approach to using resources.
Making Data Analysis the Beginning and Not the End
Many organisations think that their problems with data will end when they get the latest technology platform installed or start using the newest system for analysing it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps technology does enable improved analysis, but as previously cited, data is only as good as the questions you ask of it. That’s why using data and technology to understand customers on their own are not likely to lead to success.
“With new consumer expectations being set by companies that disrupted their respective markets — Uber, Amazon, Netflix — the previously accepted levels of customer service are no longer good enough.”
What these three companies demonstrate perfectly is that technology has merely enabled the consumer to get more of what they want, whether that is travel, retail or entertainment. Therefore it is vital to understand your customers and what their needs are behind their stated desires.
Although these are three very different industries, they have attracted a growing number of customers because what they offer is a trustworthy service. No, rather they offer fewer surprises, and whenever there may be disillusionment, they sort out the problem quickly, and usually far above and beyond the customers’ expectations. Surprise and delight are the table stakes of today’s world of customer service.
Coming back to the title of this post, as you can see there is a lot to consider before using technology to analyse all the data you have. And probably it’s a lot more than you even know about at present, at least from my experience!
You can’t go wrong if you start with the customer and identify what you need to know and understand about them, in order to go beyond their expectations.
Make a list of all the things you want to know and then see if you have the information to answer them. In many cases you do, it just hasn’t been analysed in a way that makes the solution obvious. That’s when you should review and eventually update your platform and systems, not before.
Doing this any earlier will be like buying a fancy new hammer to crack a nut! What you need to understand is the best way to crack the nut; often times your current hammer is fine for cracking if you use it correctly.
If you’re drowning in data and thirsting for actionable insights, then we should talk. Click the button below and I’ll give you some ideas on how to crack your own nut!
By now, every CEO knows that a stronger customer focus is the answer to many of their business challenges. Why therefore do so many companies still struggle to adopt a customer-first strategy and culture?
Read on for my own thoughts and perspectives on what should be a top company objective which results in proven business success.
I provide answers to the seven main reasons why companies fail to adopt a customer first strategy; which one are you struggling with today?
1. The CEO has stated it as a company objective but has not detailed what nor how the organisation will change
While it is essential that a customer-first strategy has a board-level sponsor, it is important that every employee understands their role in making it happen. It should not be treated as just another project but as a long-term company top 3 objective.
When this happens, every division is obliged to see how they will be impacted and what part they will play in meeting it. This is one area where the CEO can’t set it and forget it. He/she needs to be regularly informed of progress and then ask “awkward” questions to ensure that everyone is truly embracing it. Without company-wide support, it will never succeed.
In August of last year, the Business Roundtable, which is an association of over 180 CEOs leading US companies, agreed to put people before profits. They specifically said they would be:
Delivering value to our customers.
Investing in our employees.
Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers.
Supporting the communities in which we work.
With many organisations now struggling with the impact of covid-19, it will be interesting to see whether they will have all moved forward on these objectives one year later. For more details on this announcement I suggest you read the Forbes article.
2. The organisation has not fully embraced the strategy
As mentioned above, everyone has a role to play in satisfying and delighting the customer. It is not the job of marketing, sales or market research alone to understand their needs. It is vital that each employee thinks customer first and ensures that every action and decision they make is customer centric.
One easy way to do this is to ask this question at the end of every meeting:
“what would our customers think of the decision we just made?”
If there is something they wouldn’t like or you know that you yourself wouldn’t approve of, then it needs to be reconsidered.
I would also suggest reading the recent post “7 Ways to Deliver Awesome Customer Service.” It includes seven recommendations so that everyone in an organisation can treat the customer with the respect and great service they deserve.
3. The project is treated just like any other
As with every well-defined objective, it is important that there is a responsible leader supported by a well-rounded and experienced team to lead the customer-first adoption. They will be responsible for ensuring that every department identifies and makes progress in the desired direction. They will also be able to adapt and adjust the plans as challenges arise in its execution.
However, unlike most other projects, adopting a customer first strategy will not have an end date! It should have a timeline to identify milestones, of course. But as the customer will continue to change, the actions needed will need constant adaptation. I like to say that “customer-centricity is a journey, not a destination.”
The initiative must have an executive sponsor and a passionate and charismatic leader, to excite and drive the whole organisation towards a more customer-centric approach to business.
Once the board has endorsed the initiative, the every-day leadership should be handled by someone who exemplifies customer-centricity and has a passion for customer delight.
In the most customer-centric organisations, this person is a CCO (Chief Customer Officer) or CXO (Chief Experience Officer) who sits on the executive board alongside the CEO, CFO and CMO.
According to this article in Forbes, the responsibilities of a CCO are to:
Bring The Customer To Life
Reach Outside The Organization
Involve The Front Lines
Embrace The Data
As you can see, these are actions that demand specific capabilities that complement rather than replace those of the heads of sales, marketing and PR. That is why a customer-first strategy needs a separate functional head. Trying to integrate these into the responsibilities of these other leaders is unlikely to meet with much success.
Some of the best CCOs / CXOs come with a background in customer service or market research. This is because both professions prioritise the need to not only know but also understand the customer.
Another Forbes article highlights some of the dangers of appointing a CCO or CXO. These include thinking that the job is then done, or that the person remains just a figurehead without any power to change company structure nor culture. It certainly makes interesting reading if you too are contemplating recruiting a customer representative and will help you to avoid many errors.
5. No-one understands how to move the initiative forward.
When you don’t know where you’re going, most people are afraid to take the first step. But that’s the only one you need to know. It’s easier to course-correct when you are moving than when you’re standing still. As already mentioned, customer centricity is a journey, not a destination.
That’s why many organisations now work with a business catalyst to help them take those all important first few steps. Once the project is up and running, occasional sessions are then sufficient to keep the internal excitement for the customer growing.
If you are nervous about “going it alone” then let’s discuss your first moves. Just contact me for an informal chat.
6. Everyone in the organisation is unclear about their role in satisfying and delighting the customer.
It is well-known that companies such as Amazon and Zappos have new employees enjoy direct contact with the customer from their very first days’ working in the company. However, this is something that should also be encouraged on an ongoing basis as well.
Ideally, every employee should get the chance to watch, listen and interact with customers regularly. The best organisations have such connections on every employee’s annual objectives, specifying such exchanges on a monthly basis as a minimum.
If you would like to start making regular contact with your customers in person, rather than through your care centers, then I would highly recommend you read “Five Rules of Customer Observation for Greater Success.”This article will help you to avoid the mistakes many make when observing the customer for the first time. It is also a useful reminder for those who have been connecting for a long time and may have some bad habits they need to correct.
7. They think it costs too much
While this may be the perception, in reality, it costs a lot more NOT to adopt a customer-first strategy. It makes both business sense AND customer sense.
There has been so much research done on the impact of adopting a customer- first strategy that there is no doubt that it provides a positive ROI (return on investment):
Walker found that 86% of buyers would pay more for a better experience.
Genesys showed that improving the experience for customers is the key to increasing retention, satisfaction and sales.
Bain & Companyresearch shows that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by between 25% and 95%.
These numbers should be sufficient to convince every CEO that a customer-first strategy is worth investing in. In fact, it is an essential strategy every CEO would be wise to adopt, no matter what industry they are in.
So what are you or your CEO waiting for? Did I miss a different problem you are currently facing? What other challenges have you faced or are now facing in adopting a customer-first strategy? Please let me know by adding your comments below.
If you would like to know what support we can provide in helping you to adopt a customer first strategy, check out our website then contact us here:
I’ve been involved in hundreds of successful project management initiatives over my career. I’ve been the leader, sponsor or team member, which means that each time I had different responsibilities.
What they all had in common was the desire to get the project approved quickly and easily, with the right resources of people, time and money.
There are many reasons why projects fail and I’ve experienced many of them over my career! The one project that stands out in my memory is unfortunately not my best, but one that demonstrates everything that can go wrong! It happened just after I got a new boss. That in itself is not always easy, but our working relationship was made more difficult when he gave me his pet project to run.
My team had the necessary skills to see the project through, but it was not the most adapted to their experience nor preferences. As if that wasn’t bad enough, my new boss obliged us to work with his preferred supplier without running an RFP. (request for proposal)
I didn’t have a very good opinion of the supplier, as not only were they far more expensive than most of the other agencies, but in addition they always seemed to mess things up! It was much later that I learned that the supplier had a particular relationship with my boss, who was receiving a share of every project paid.
The day of the presentation arrives. The supplier has ordered champagne and a huge cake decorated with the names of his company and ours. He is anticipating a successful outcome that we will celebrate together. However, there was no celebration.
You see, his company made a basic mistake in their calculations. The same one in fact as they had made the year before! My boss didn’t tell me about it and the supplier clearly forgot about the previous year’s incident.
Could the project have been a success? Of course it could. If we had followed the seven-step roadmap I am going to share with you now.
Why projects fail
But before sharing how to succeed I want to discuss why projects fail.
According to research undertaken by Forrester, 70% of projects fail! Even the highly rated IBM consultants fail 60% of the time. Only 2.5% of companies successfully complete all their projects! So why do so few succeed and so many fail?
Another piece of research, this time from Workamajig, shows that more than a third of IT projects fail due to changes in objectives or inaccurate gathering of requirements. More than a quarter fail because of an inadequate vision, or risk assessment, poor communications, budget estimates or other lack of resources. All of these should be covered in the primary planning phase of a project, which clearly shows poor change management.
There are many reasons why projects fail; I like to summarise them as the 3Ps:
Planning, or to be more precise, a lack thereof. We all know the infamous quote
“Failing to plan is planning to fail”
And yet we continue to jump into action before really knowing what our actions should involve. Time spent planning is time well spent.
Think about playing chess. Beginners contemplate on their next move, but champions think about their next three to five moves. The same should apply to project planning. Considering what might go wrong before it happens, means we are prepared for alternative actions and thus our project is not delayed while we search for a solution.
Another problem with planning is accepting shorter, usually unrealistic deadlines. Sometimes we are asked to add other elements to the project and when these requests come from senior management, we feel compelled to accept.
But there is a better way. Accept the new deadlines only with increased resources. If timing is cut, then we need extra people and budget in most cases to complete the project. Ask for them before agreeing to shorter deadlines. As another infamous quote says
“Under promise and over deliver”
A third challenge in planning follows on directly from unrealistic deadlines and it is scope creep. As with the previous example, we again should ask for increased resources. An even better solution is to note the additional requests and then suggest that they form a separate project or are addressed once the first project is completed.
The second P of project failure is people. People are the cause of many management challenges not just in project teams! But issues do seem to be more critical in keeping a project advancing as planned when there are issues.
I believe that project teams are usually made up of people chosen by the project leader and are often used for various projects with different objectives. A better way to form a project team is to choose members based on the needed skills. This clearly means that teams will be different for each project.
The next challenge is to get everyone to work together. The leader must clearly valorise each member so that everyone knows the expertise of each and why they are there. Problems can sometimes arise when more than one member has the same skill set and disputes arise. While disagreements are not necessarily a bad thing, it does help if there is one person who is the lead expert on each topic. This way they can have the final say on an issue, as otherwise it falls to the leader to decide, which makes the team feel less valued.
The third challenge with people is communicating effectively. Not only does the team need to exchange ideas and work well together, they must also communicate with those outside the team, including the many stakeholders. This can become a delicate issue at the best of times, but becomes critical when the project is not going well.
Communications can be particularly challenging with a virtual team. Members often don’t know what others are doing, so there is a lot of waste in both expertise and experience.
Monthly meetings for local members plus regular calls with remote members, grouped by time Zones, is a minimum. These connections are particularly valued by smaller, emerging markets, which most people in larger organisations ignore and never consult.
The first process problem is isolation. Working in isolation, whether for the team leader or the team as a whole, will usually result in wasted effort. This is particularly true for multi-departmental or multi-country projects.
The second area involves data gathering. Often the information you get is in different formats when coming from different sources. You may also find similar information coming from multiple sources and you have to make the difficult decision as to which is the most reliable.
We all gather information that fits our precise needs, which can explain some of the differences. Again a review and comparison will usually highlight the best data for your project’s objectives.
When I first started consulting almost a decade ago, a leading CPG company asked me to help their marketing team get board approval to create a global consumer database. This was ten years ago, so they were certainly ahead of most businesses at that time.
Their thinking was dominated by their project. Mine wasn’t. In conducting an audit of current internal processes and gathering global suggestions, I discovered three other projects already in progress that would impact or be impacted by our project.
In addition, one was actually reworking all the company’s product definitions and SKU names & groupings. We could have done our project in isolation and repeated the same exercise!
Integration of the two projects made ours better and more important. It also freed resources for one part of our project, which made it easier for the board to give their approval.
The third aspect to help prevent process failures is to ensure learnings are recorded. These are invaluable, not only for the current, but even more important for future projects.
In my opening example, we could have avoided the disaster if the supplier had recorded the error they had made the previous year. They didn’t. And my boss didn’t warn me and my team, so we were not looking out for it.
The 7-Step Roadmap
Here is the recommended project process to use. Note that it is a circle not a line, as learnings will be fed into future projects, as already mentioned. Projects also should never be treated in isolation.
One of the most well known quotes about planning is this one:
Failing to plan is planning to fail
We all know we should plan first, but we are also all very keen, especially at the beginning of a project, to start getting into the actions.
One of the most useful suggestions about starting a project comes from none other than Albert Einstein. He is quoted as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend
Fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.
Now I’m not suggesting that we spend almost all our allotted time on defining the objectives, but I know we could all benefit from spending more time doing so. How long do you spend before jumping to action?
#2. STAKEHOLDER ANALYSIS
We usually need an executive sponsor for our projects, but that doesn’t mean that other managers should not be informed about the project. Their opinions can help define the project early on and they are more likely to support you when involved. Their input may even improve the quality of the project and help you to acquire more resources.
Building support early and often, can ensure that any risks are anticipated and planned for. Understanding your stakeholders also means you are more likely to predict their reactions as the project develops.
Not all stakeholders are of equal importance. You therefore need to identify which ones are the most important for your project and plan your communications accordingly.
The simple matrix analysis below is an effective way of identifying whom to inform, how often and with what information.
The position that you allocate to a stakeholder on the grid shows you the actions you need to take with them:
High power, high interest: fully engage them and make your greatest efforts to satisfy them.
High power, less interest: keep them satisfied, but not so much that you overwhelm them with information so that they become bored with your messages.
Low power, high interest: adequately inform them. As they are interested, talk to them to ensure that there are no major issues arising. They can also be very helpful with finding and sharing information about your project with other departments.
Low power, less interest: monitor but don’t irritate them with excessive communication.
Who would you put in the top right-hand corner for your own projects? Do they vary by project? Of course they do, so always run an analysis for each new project you run.
One analysis I ran for a project I led, helped me to identify the best sponsor for it. I found that one regional president was new in the position and was keen to make his mark. It was therefore easy for me to convince him to support my project and he in turn found a market to beta test the system before rolling it out worldwide. Talk about a win-win!
#3 & 4 GETTING THE RIGHT TEAM & PARTNERS
I have put these two steps together as there are a number of similarities. It’s about getting the right people to support you with your project.
Internally, you need to hire for skills. Many project teams don’t work because the leader chooses team members based upon their relationships with them. While this may make for a fun project, it may not lead to success. There may be an overlap of skills, or some may be lacking. Therefore always choose skills first and people second.
For external partners, you can be tempted by a similar bias. Therefore you go for the big consultancies that your board knows. Some executives may even oblige you to work with certain agencies, as was the case in my example at the beginning.
While big consultancies may impress by their professional pitch given by one of their partners, it is unlikely that that particular expert will have anything more than a cursory involvement in your project. So don’t be impressed by their slick presentation, alone.
Sometimes (often) it makes more sense to hire a smaller, boutique agency that has the precise skills you need. You are more likely to get the involvement of the people you meet during the pitch, and small usually also means agile, creative, and a more personalised service. Keep that in mind.
As a part of your pre-project planning, I suggest you find the last 5-10 projects that failed in your organisation, ideally in your own department. Then find out why they failed and match those reasons to your project, both similarities and differences.
For each, identify what you will do differently to achieve a successful project management. You can also check on social media for comments and questions that are relevant, especially in Facebook groups and on Quora.
#6 UNCOVER & INTEGRATE PROJECTS
Undoubtedly, there are other projects planned or running at the same time as yours, in your organisation. You therefore need to find them and see whether integration makes sense.
As in the example mentioned earlier, if there is a need in your company, someone is probably working on a solution or about to start. Take advantage of working together and pool resources as needed. Another easy win-win.
#7 GATHER LEARNINGS
You should record learnings the whole way through the project, from start to finish. So many teams sit down at the end of a project and try to remember what went well and what went badly. If you do this you will miss so much!
At the end of the project, gather all the learnings that have been recorded and have the team discuss and note the most useful of them and why. That way the risks and opportunities will be more quickly identified and can be easily input into the next project you run.
The title of this article refers to getting approval for your project. If you follow this roadmap, not only will you succeed in your project management, but you will also be seen to do so as well. It will make future projects all that much easier to get approved and you might even get yourself a promotion in recognition of your great management and organisational skills!
This 7-step process is a virtuous circle and it starts and ends with planning. My suggestion is therefore to plan, plan, plan – and then plan some more!
If you would like some help in running your own projects or in better understanding this process, I'm here to help.
As a customer first strategist (hopefully just like you), I spend a lot of my time searching how to better measure customer centricity for my clients. I also do a lot of analyses on what customers really want today. I’m always trying to understand exactly the solutions customers need, desire and dream of having.
My regular searches include customer service, customer satisfaction, customer care and similar topic areas. Google is my best friend! However, I recently came across some surprising facts, which prompted this post. I believe they show a serious problem in the business of looking after our customers today. Read the article and then let me know whether or not you agree with my analysis.
Wikipedia, another online friend of mine, doesn’t have a definition of customer centricity! If you look up the term, you get redirected to customer satisfaction! Try itfor yourself and see.
“Creating a positive consumer experience at the point of sale and post-sale.”
It then goes on to say
“A customer-centric approach can add value to a company by enabling it to differentiate itself from competitors who do not offer the same experience.”
Now although I find the definition limited, since it refers only to sales and post-sale activities, I do like the fact that it mentions three important elements of customer centricity:
a positive customer experience
adds value to a company
This clearly identifies three huge benefits of becoming (more) customer centric:
A positive customer experience has been shown to increase both loyalty and advocacy. (>>Tweet this<<) As we all know, it costs five times more to acquire a new customer, as it does to keep a current one. Therefore loyalty is an incredibly valuable benefit for a brand.
Adding value to a company also increases the ROI of its marketing investments. This is something that marketing is challenged to prove today, with the risk of seeing their budgets cut. Luckily, what’s good for the customer is good for business. You can see many more facts and statistics about this in Forrester’s report “The Business Impact of Customer Experience.”
The third benefit is just as important to the growth of a business. Enabling differentiation in this complex world is invaluable in standing out from the competition. (>>Tweet this<<) In so many industries product performance and services are almost identical, so how can you stand out? By your customer care, that’s how and knowing what your customers really want . It has been shown that customers are willing to pay more for excellent customer service. You can read a summary of this and more in the summary report of the American Express research.
I would also add that what customers really want today is a seamless experience from pre- to post- purchase, as well as from on to offline. That’s how you deliver satisfaction and build loyalty.
Find out how good you are at customer centricity. Take the quiz now.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CUSTOMER SATISFACTION AND UNDERSTANDING
There is no denying that customer centricity is important. However some companies are (too?) slow to adopt best practices in this area, which concerns me for a number of reasons:
It is now proven that it is important for the business, so what is stopping companies from quickly adopting a more customer centric approach? The longer they wait, the more they risk being beaten by a more customer friendly competitor. It’s no longer (just) about product performance.
Customers are complaining – a lot – about the way they are being treated. Why are companies not accepting these criticisms as the gifts they are? Acting promptly before the issue becomes a social media viral discussion is essential today.
Customer service is confused with customer satisfaction. Companies are happy when their customers say they are satisfied, but they should be looking not just to satisfy them but to delight them too!
As mentioned before, the research that prompted this post was a google keyword investigation of terms related to customers. Having seen the strong positive trend for the word customer, I then wanted to understand what it was about customers that was of interest. I found that both customer service and customer care showed almost identical positive trends.
However, when I looked at customer satisfaction and customer understanding the trends were flat and worse, minimal. (You can see the trend graph below with service in green, care in blue, satisfaction in red and understanding in yellow)
These trends suggest to me that companies search how to improve their customer service and care, but not about how to understand their customers or increase their satisfaction!
How can this be? Surely an interest in customer service should come from an increased understanding of how to deliver customer satisfaction? Apparently not.
And this is when I realised that perhaps businesses are more interested in the process than the real benefit of customer centricity. That is a serious flaw in their thinking in my opinion. What do you think?
To confirm my hypothesis, I looked into customer satisfaction levels and their trends. After all, many more companies are interested in customer service these days. So you would think it should have a positive impact on customer satisfaction.
According to the latest report from The Institute of Customer Service on customer satisfaction across Europe, retail, insurance and banking are the three best performing industries.
This was a surprise to me because they used to be the most heavily criticised. However this suggests that they have taken action, albeit because they had little choice, but most other industries continue to ignore what their customers really want. You can see the Infographic overview above; click on it to see the full-sized original.
I then went back to Google to find ways which were suggested for increasing customer satisfaction. I found more than two million articles on how to do it, but very few on the results. Again, extremely worrying.
According to the US ACSI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) August 2019 report, customer satisfaction is once again on the decline in the USA.
As mentioned in their press release accompanying the Q2 2019 results "With few exceptions, the rate of growth in consumer spending – which accounts for almost 70% of GDP – has declined since 2016. ACSI is still below its high watermark from 2017, yet GDP growth has, by and large, increased over the same time periods."
“This is untenable in the long run,” said Claes Fornell, ACSI Founder and Chairman. “It’s also untenable for customer satisfaction to weaken and for consumer spending to strengthen in the long run. But that’s what happened in the second quarter of 2019.”
The UK is showing a similar negative trend. The UKCSI is currently 77.1 (out of 100), 0.8 points lower than a year ago. This is the fourth consecutive, though small, drop in customer satisfaction since July 2017, when the index score was 78.2. This has no doubt also been negatively impacted by the Brexit vote and ongoing struggle to negotiate terms with the EU.
THE KEY TAKEAWAYS
So what does a business need to do to deliver what their customers really want today and increase their level of satisfaction? There are seven facts that become apparent from this analysis:
Businesses should always provide a positive customer experience and do whatever it takes to satisfy, but ideally delight.
Companies need to go beyond the mere process of customer centricity, to truly put their customers at the heart of the organisation.
Customer centricity adds demonstrated value to a company; it should be a no-brainer.
Customer centric improvements are happening too slowly in most industries, especially when customers are becoming increasingly demanding.
Providing customer service doesn’t guarantee customer satisfaction.
A positive customer experience increases loyalty and advocacy.
Excellent customer service enables differentiation and even higher prices.
In summary, people want businesses to listen and understand them. When a customer takes the time to contact a company because they are unhappy, they expect a satisfactory outcome as a minimum. Those organisations who go beyond, to deliver delight, will see their reputation improve, as well as an increase in their customers’ loyalty and advocacy.
Customers also want companies to be open and transparent. They want answers to their questions and criticisms. They have a right to know the source of ingredients, the ingredients themselves, their country of origin, the charities the company supports, or the organisation’s policies on waste, water and sustainability. What customers really want today is to have their questions answered (almost) immediately, especially on social media. They expect things that go wrong to be put right – quickly, with an equally rapid explanation and apology.
So how are you doing? Are you living up to your customers’ expectations? Are you delivering what your customers really want? How have you made progress in this area in the past year or so? Please share your success stories below.
You can no longer wait! You’re getting left behind by your competitors who are taking action today! If you need help in catalysing your organisation in customer centricity and aligning your business to what your customers really want, C3Centricity provides 1-Day training on many relevant topics.
One of the most frequent questions I get asked by my clients is how they can improve their innovation.
Whether they are large or small, global or local, they all want to their new products and services to be more successful. And the answer I give them to this question every single time is simple; start with the customer!
Many companies create great new products and services – from their perspective at least – but they fail miserably! They then ask me if I can help them to improve their innovations and identify why this happened. Of course, I do help them, but I also suggest that next time it would be better if they called me before they started innovating! In a failure situation, it is almost always due to an outdated innovation process in which the customer has not been involved.
I know it can be difficult to innovate in this new age of technology, but it remains vital for growth. And Switzerland remains one of the most innovative countries in the world. In both the GII (WIPO Global Innovation Index and Bloomberg IndexSwitzerland appears in the top five. I think this is why I regularly get invited to run workshops on the topic around the world.
China, excluding Hong Kong, joined the top 20 most innovative countries in the WIPO global innovation index for the first time in 2018. This is because they no longer rely on cost-effective manufacturing alone. They also applied for more patents than the next two countries, the United States and Japan, combined! This clearly shows that China is improving ideation as well as their innovation process. But they know they must do even more. To become a truly competitive nation, they have to better understand their target customers, especially their growing middle and higher-income residents, who continue to prefer primarily imported Western brands.
Let me share with you a few of the ideas that I spoke about during my recent visit there. They may also deliver more successful innovation for your organisation too.
Innovation is essential
Most companies innovate from an internal technical and skills-based foundation. It doesn’t usually work very well, if at all. In fact, according to Nielsen, IRI, Fortune and many others, it is estimated that between 85% and 95% of new consumer products in the US fail. In Europe, it’s just as bad, with only 25% of new consumer products being still available on shelf just twelve months after launch! And less than half that number by the end of the second year.
With such disastrous results, you might wonder why companies continue to innovate. Well there are three main reasons why they do:
It keeps brands fresh. Brands which innovate have something new to share with current and potential clients. We have come to expect it. What excites today, is normal tomorrow and then just boring after that. We have gotten accustomed to regular updates and constant new choices.
It encourages switching. If brands and options remain the same, people would only switch if they became dissatisfied and the cost of switching was low. Since product performances are so similar in many categories today, new variants and offers suggest differentiation. The brand appears more vibrant and people like that.
It revives brands through excitement and buzz. In today’s connected world, this is vital. People learn about brands as much from friends and family as through advertising. And they trust the former more than the latter, even if some of these “friends” are virtual ones they’ve never met. According to Nielsen’s report ” Global Trust in Advertising” more than eight-in-10 global respondents (83%) say they trust the recommendations of friends and family, and two-thirds (66%) others’ opinions posted online.
Renovate your innovation process
It still surprises me that companies continue to use the same innovation process as they've always done, when their failure rate remains so high. Today's digital environment needs a whole new approach.
The old process often looks something like the diagram on the right. Is that what yours looks like? In fact, is your process a funnel? If so, then you're facing at least two problems:
1. That it is a funnel. This process is linear, with a beginning and an end. It assumes that there is only one “winner” from all the ideation and brainstorming. And it also supposes that only one concept developed from that “winning” idea will succeed.
But what if all your ideas are great? You would be throwing away all but one of them! Or suppose that they are all “losers” and you launch the least “awful” amongst them? There must be a better way, no?
Even IDEO’s iterative process still assumes “winners”, because they quickly move from brainstorming to prototyping and testing with customers. At least they do suggest co-creating with customers, which is a positive element of their process and it is great fun to do – from my own experiences. But as I said, there is a better way.
2. That it doesn’t include the customer. How can you have any chance of innovating for your customers if you don’t include them? You are relying on your own perspective to make choices. Are you the typical consumer for whom you are innovating? Probably not. So why are you taking decisions based on your own opinions and those of your colleagues? They're pretty irrelevant if you think about it!
The second diagram on the right is the type of NPD process that I encourage my clients to use. It is, of course, always adapted to their own specific needs and based upon their current process to speed adoption and change.
The major difference from most current innovation processes that my clients have shared with me, is that it is a virtuous circle. It starts and ends with opportunity identification, in other words with the customer and insight. This, of course, means that we must know and understand our customers deeply.
Know your target audience intimately
We all think we know our customers, don't we? But in most cases this is not strictly true. At least, we don't know them as deeply as we should or could. One of the quickest roads to improving ideation and innovation is to know for whom you are innovating.
The first thing I ask my clients to complete, and regular readers will know it well, is the 4W™ Template of the “who”, “what”, where” and most importantly of all, the “why” of their target audience. Often times they struggle with the last “W”. If you want to try it for yourself, check out our detailed post on it “How well do you know your customers?”
Even with this template completed, you still have to go further. Optimal understanding comes from regular connection. Our customers are changing - fast - so we need to keep our fingers on the pulse of the market. Yesterday’s information is not much use to manage today’s brands or innovate for tomorrow.
During my talk at Shanghai’s ECUST University, someone asked me how we can be better prepared for the future. I love the question, as it enables me to speak about another of my passions, that of scenario planning.
Change happens, and especially rapidly in fast developing markets such as China. My recommendation to the student was to not rely on trends alone. They are uncompetitive. To gain an advantage over the competition, you need to develop trends into plausible future scenarios. If you are interested in learning more, then do check out our post “10 Steps & 5 Success Factors to Ensure your Business is Ready for Anything“.
Knowing why your customers do what they do, buy what they buy and consume what they consume, and then watching and listening to them to understand even better, will put you in the best possible position for improving ideation and innovation. But there’s still more you can do.
Increase your external partnerships
As mentioned above, many companies still rely on their own technology and skills to innovate. However, while technologycan certainly help deliver improved benefits, it is usually not sufficient. In many areas, companies need to collaborate with others who are more specialised in certain areas.
Joint ventures and partnerships are also useful for developing new products and services more quickly. You don’t need to build the needed skills internally and you can rely on the immediate support of external experts. Whether you team up with another corporation or a university is up to you, as long as you recognise your need for additional support. If you rely totally on your internal knowledge for improving ideation and innovation, you are unlikely to find those breakthrough ideas most companies are searching for.
Procter & Gamble and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries announced the creation of a joint venture in consumer healthcare in 2011. The newly named PGT Healthcare partnership with president Tom Finn has since negotiated tens of JV’s, partnerships and strategic alliances.
Expand your business model
Another external lever from which more and more companies are benefiting today is a change in their business model. Take the food industry. It is moving from basic nutrition into health and wellness, and could become a direct competitor to the pharmaceutical industry as it develops more nutraceuticals.
Pharma, on the other hand, is moving from sickness to wellness, from treatments to prevention.
Or how about Google moving into cars, solar panels and most recently travel with its Trips App? Through the analysis of their customers’ searches, Google can identify those of us who are looking to travel, those interested in buying a new car or in using taxi services. Google knows more about us today than we know ourselves! And that is both exciting and frightening.
Harness emotional benefits
Companies which succeed at innovation know that it is the emotional benefits of their product or service that matters, often more so than the functional ones.
Apple used to be a great innovator. In the past few years, I feel they have been relying too much on their technical expertise. The launches of their iPhone 7, 8 and X and the new Mac Book laptops were all less successful than their previous launches. While none are real flops, they failed to ignite excitement in their potential customers.
There have been numerous posts on why Apple is failing at innovating today. One article in the HBR by Steve Blank stated that both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates
“… suggested execution executives as their successors. They confused world-class execution with the passion for product and customers, and market insight. Yet history has shown us that these two talents are not the same. For long-term survival in markets that change rapidly, one is far more important than the other.”
“Microsoft is now officially more innovative than Apple”
based upon Tweets of the events. But Microsoft too failed when Bill Gates handed the company leadership over to Steve Ballmer. For 14 years Ballmer successfully ran the business from a financial perspective. He tripled sales and doubled profits. But he didn’t set the company up for long-term survival. In early 2014, Satya Nadella took over and made some radical changes which focused the company on mobile and the cloud (Azure). This freed Microsoft to become more innovative again and the result is already showing.
Some managersthink that insight is just another word for market research. They’re wrong, but perhaps you too see it in this way?
Market research is a great source of information, but for insight, you have to integrate multiple sources of information. It is rare for a single project to provide a deep insight. This comes from truly understanding the customer and that takes time. It takes data and information, turned into knowledge and then understanding to develop real insight.
The full development process, such as the example given on the right, takes time and people, ideally with differing perspectives. It takes a detailed understanding of the target audience, their needs and desires so that you can resonate emotionally with them.
Many organisations work with humantruths to help in identifying a concept that will resonate emotionally. These are usually based on basic human needs, which cut across cultures. This makes them particularly useful for regional and global brands.
During my different talks, I share many examples and case studies, but one which my audiences usually find particularly fascinating is the insight both Unilever’s Omo and Nestle’s Nido have used. The insight is based on the human truth that “All parents want their children to grow up happy and healthy”. The insight they then developed, which is as equally relevant for washing powder as it is for infant formula is “I want my child to experience everything life has to offer, even if it means getting dirty”. What is particularly interesting in this example is that both companies have been able to use the same human truth and insight but make it relevant for each of their categories.
My recommendation, therefore, if you are struggling to develop insight, is to analyse your competitors or the brands targeting a similar audience. If you can identify on what human truth and insight their message is based, you may be able to use it too.
These are just a few of the many ideas which I shared with enthusiastic audiences wherever I speak about innovation around the world. It is clear that both entrepreneurs and corporate executives in China are particularly keen to improve their innovation. They are also thirsty for support in further improving their ideation. For this reason, I believe they will continue to top the nations in patent applications for many years to come.
Therefore, it is vital that we supposed "developed" nations support our entrepreneurs and creative executives to stay in the race. Unless we do so, we could see China dominate new products and services in the future, as they have dominated manufacturing in the past.
What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts on the race for innovation.
Everyone is talking about customer first strategies and why they are important. However walking the talk is a different matter!
An interesting article on NewMR by Ray Poynter prompted this post. He spoke about the differences between customer focus and customer centricity and the often times confusion between the two terms. That is why I tend to speak about customer first rather than customer centricity these days.
In its simplest form a customer first strategy is about thinking customer first in everything you do. Yes I know it sounds easy, but it really isn’t. And it doesn’t come naturally, at least to start with. I believe that’s because it involves a culture change to move the organisation in this direction. But I can assure you it’s worth it; its value is now well proven.
If you would like to see some exciting statistics about the value of making your customers the heart of your business, then CMO.com has a great article. It’s called “15 Mind-Blowing Stats About Customer Centricity” and many of the research results reported are still valid today, so it’s definitely worth a read.
What Are Not Customer First Strategies
I have seen a customer first strategy defined as
“a strategy by which businesses create their products, content, and marketing campaigns so that they serve their customers first, and their organization second.”
I don’t agree! If you don’t think about your organisation then it will likely fail! That said, I am also a little sensitive to the comments of Sir Richard Branson, who says
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
This may be true for an airline, where the client is primarily basing their opinion on the service on board and the “niceness” of the crew. After all, every airline will get you from A to B.
However for many industries, customers are enjoying (or not!) your product or service without your employees being present. They will remain loyal (or not!) to your brand, based upon their own personal experiences, at least in most cases.
A customer first strategy is therefore not about only thinking about the customer. It is about understanding how best to serve them in such a way as to delight them, while keeping your employees and shareholders happy. This is relatively easy to do because when the business is going well, all stakeholders are happy.
What Customer First Strategies Are
Econsultancy asked what effective leadership in the digital age is. Several key leadership qualities were found, including being ruthlessly customer-centric, data-driven, innovative, collaborative and agile. I am thrilled to see customer centricity coming first by a long margin.
So the leaders have got the message, but what are they doing about it? Not a lot in many cases. And why? From my experience it is because they just don’t know where to start or what to do. (If that’s your situation, try our Customer Centricity Mini C3C Evaluator™ – for free! It will immediately show you your biggest opportunities.)
Executing a customer first strategy doesn’t happen without a clear understanding of what needs to change. This is why I decided to take the four other qualities mentioned and see how they influence the adoption of such a culture within an organisation.
Being Data Driven
We are all aware that when we visit a website, buy something online, or post on social media, we are being tracked. Information is being gathered about us and our actions which can then be used to follow our behaviours, show relevant advertisements or even communicate directly with us.
But automated data gathering doesn't only happen online. Many organisations store our information when we contact their customer service center, enter a promotion, sign up for a club or gift card, or apply for free samples.
While the GDPR in Europe has increased the security of this data and our permission for companies to use it, data driven marketing is not all bad news.
OK, so I'm not talking about the 2002 Minority Report. I'm not speaking about how the hero is bombarded with advertising messages in the street and in the shopping mall, as the clip below shows.
No. While it is unlikely that we would appreciate such invasive messaging, people rarely complain about the suggestions proposed of further articles to purchase when they visit Amazon and similar online stores. This is because they provide a real service and we therefore happily give our details to these websites.
Data driven marketing and communications will need to carefully balance the support they provide to customers, with respect for their desire for privacy at certain times. The companies that succeed will be those that understand this and connect at the right times. Those that don't, risk being banned from all future contact.
But good as the above list is, it needs a fourth resolution in my opinion; that of using the collected data for the benefit of the customer. As the data comes from them I believe all organisations have a duty to use it to return our customers' trust in us when they shared it. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments below.
The post includes the ten reasons your innovations are failing:
Meeting company quotas
Lack of customer understanding
Lack of category understanding
Not living up to your promises
Not being sufficiently differentiated
Being too different
Pricing yourself out of the market
Being too far ahead of the customer:
If you think that any of these reasons applies to your own organisation, then you must read this post. It contains answers to solve each of the issues. Invaluable!
Despite moves to flat organisational structures, open-offices and social areas in work today, silos seem to be as strong as ever! And yet silos cost businesses a fortune in wasted effort and investments. Suppliers are unlikely to tell you when you have already bought a report. I found this was the case for one of my clients, that had bought the same report an amazing 26 times! They wasted millions just because their organisation was siloed.
Departments hold onto information they have gathered like treasure and consider it to be for their personal advantage only. This results in multiple projects being run on the same topic, sometimes even in parallel! I found three similar projects being run by an FMCG client, that the department that hired me was unaware of. By working collaboratively, they were able to have more resources, both in terms of budget and personnel! You can imagine what that did to the completion of all the projects. They were finished in record time and well under budget! One more happy customer!
If you're not sure your information resources are being used effectively and efficiently, then we should talk.
Collaboration is the only way to decrease this waste and hopefully marketing automation and open data storage will help resolve at least a large part of it. However I have found in working with clients that it is the culture change that makes the biggest impact. After all, what is an employee's benefit in working with and helping other departments? The executive board must encourage collaboration and be seen to walk their talk, for the whole company to follow.
Have you ever heard the phrase "it's not in my objectives" when asking for support? If so, then why not suggest that collaboration be included in everyone's objectives? Change will happen - fast!
Following on from the need for innovation, today's businesses must be agile and flexible. With technology changing the way we live our lives, companies must be both ready for change and prepared to benefit when there is something relevant happening.
Some of the best examples of Agile Marketing:
Being agile can take many forms. The examples below show that it can be online, offline, or outdoor. Brands that are agile are where their customers are; that's what matters.
Tweets when the lights went out at the SuperBowl in 2013:
Unofficial ads during the 2012 London Olympics:
The ongoing struggles between major brands:
Audi vs BMW
Coke vs Pepsi
(Thanks to CAVE House for this great video collection)
Of course these examples could only be developed because the brand owners were ready to take advantage of what was happening in their customers' lives. They therefore had to know them deeply in order for their communications to be relevant and resonate with them.
Reasons Companies Fail their Customer First Strategy Adoption
6. Everyone in the organisation is not clear about their role in satisfying and delighting the customer.
7. They think it costs too much
Which of these seven reasons is (are) the main reason(s) for your slow move to a customer-first strategy adoption? Is it something different? Let me know in the comments; I'm sure every reader would love to exchange their own experiences with you.
If you would like to know which area of a customer first strategy offers you the most opportunities for improvement, why not complete our mini C3C Evaluator™ tool? It's FREE! And in just 12 questions you will get a clear indication of what to prioritise. Then let's talk.
Consultants get contacted for all sorts of – admittedly sometimes strange – requests for support from their clients.
However, when I get several people asking for help in the same area, I know something important is happening in the marketplace. This is exactly what happened to me last month. They asked me share my secrets to Business Growth.
Most marketers will soon be leaving on their vacation and are realising just how little time they will have left to meet their annual objectives when they return. Their brands have not performed as well as they had hoped this year and they are looking for a solution – fast!
No less than two of my current clients and four new companies have asked me for support in growing their businesses in just the past month! In particular, they have all said that one or more of their brands is stable – to be polite – and that they want to reverse the trend. Is this your situation too? If so, then I have a useful 7-step process that will bring rapid, if not instant change.
How to Recover a Declining Brand
OK, let’s get straight to the point with the most painful of situations first, that of a declining brand. A few years ago I wrote a popular post about using brand image metrics to understand what is happening with a brand and how to identify the best actions to take.
There are many analyses I use when working with my clients. Let me know if you need help in getting more value from your brand image metrics; I’d love to help.
Changes in your Brand image are just one of the things that you should look at when you are trying to understand why your business is flat, or even worse, declining. It’s one of the best kept secrets to brand growth!
Let’s now look at some of the others.
The Typical MBA Five Steps to Brand Building
Most MBA students are taught a five-step process for brand building, at least in theory anyway. They are:
Describe: This is done through a product’s logo as well as its description on packs and other communications’ material. A successful brand will describe what it is through a consistent look, feel, tone, colours, symbols and messaging. This then builds to its brand equity which forms in the minds of customers both current and potential.
Position: A brand needs to differentiate itself from its competition with some unique value. This can be done through its packaging, colour, aroma, distribution or another element that can set it apart. Using them to position the brand will provide customers with a reason to believe and to buy.
Promote: Promotion can take numerous forms and channels, such as video, social media, TVCs (Television & Cinema), print ads or online advertising. It can include straightforward advertising and promotions, but also customer reviews, retail offers, websites etc. All of these will increase the brand’s awareness, hopefully spontaneous recall, as well as improved perception.
Personalise: Several books have been written about people “loving” brands. While I think this is a bit of a stretch, building strong loyalty and a solid fan base is important. With so much choice available today, personalisation and individualisation have become essential characteristics in many categories. They make people feel closer to the brand through increased resonance and a perception of importance. These are two of the essential ingredients that build fans / followers.
Evaluate: This is in fact both the last and first step to successful brand building. It is important that a company keeps on monitoring and reviewing the performance of its products, services and brands. Hence evaluation & review of a brand is an essential element of brand building.
While these five steps aren’t wrong, I believe that we can all do a whole lot better. As I said above, this is the theory, but I imagine that you are an expert or at least a professional, who already understands just how much effort goes into brand building. There are far more than these five simple steps!
When I realised that there is a lot missing from this standard list, I decided to expand it, but not too much, so it remains manageable. However, my clients get a far more detailed process, as I am sure you can imagine. (Contact me to learn more)
Did you notice that the MBA list is all about the product or service, and that there is nothing mentioned about the customer or consumer? Big mistake!
So here is my process for brand building, a shortened version of the one I use when working with my clients.
It succeeds whether your brand is a product or service, new or established, local or global. Take a look and let me know what you think. Is there something important I have forgotten that you do? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll send you a free copy of my book “Secrets to Brand Building.”
My 7 Secrets to Business Growth
1. Gather as much information as you can about the brand
You already have far more information than you realise! Start by gathering as much information as you can find and bring it all together.
In addition to brand image and equity measurements, you need trend information on shares, distribution, stock levels, customer penetration and profiles. Look for changes in the trends and identify where and when they happened. The why will come later.
This first analysis is the equivalent to an autopsy after death – but hopefully you are reacting long before your brand is on life-support!
2. Identify the category in which you are playing.
This is the category from the customers’ perspective, not the industry definition your business association or retail audit supplier uses. Talk to customers if you can, or watch and listen to discussions on social media.
These exchanges will often mention comparable brands, suggestions for switching etc. All this will provide a better indication of the category than your industry knowledge sources ever will.
3. Understand your customers and talk to them – a lot!
I already mentioned speaking with your customers to understand the category you are in. But I want you to make a habit of speaking to your customers – both current and potential – on a weekly, and ideally daily basis.
For a simple start, set up Google alerts for your brand, category and customer groups, so you are following what is happening on the web. If you haven’t already done this, stop reading and do that NOW! It’s that important.
If you are a regular follower of this blog, then you will know that we promote – and our clients heavily use – C3Centricity’s 4W™ Template to store everything we know about our customers. You can download a free workbook including the template HERE.
Here are a few examples; the first two are interesting in that two brands in different categories have used the exact same insight to come up with their own Big Ideas :
Persil. Insight - "I want my children to experience everything in life, even if they get dirty.” Big Idea - Dirt is Good.
Nido. Insight - "I want my children to experience everything in life, even if they get dirty.” Big Idea - Let them grow, let them go.
Mastercard. Insight - “Life isn’t about what I buy, but about the relationships I have with the people I care about, and the special moments that I can share with them.” Big Idea - Mastercard helps you deliver priceless experiences.
Jillz. Insight - "I want to drink alcohol on a night out, but I don’t like beer, and wine is too variable in quality." Big Idea - A fresh drink from the tap for elegant women.
Philadelphia soft cheese. Insight - "Food is delicious, but I don’t want to get fat (Butter vs Cream Cheese) Big Idea: Indulge your desire with less calories.
Hopefully these examples have inspired you to review the insight and big idea for your own brand. If you think you have a great example why not share it below?
6. Promote the brand where and when your customers are
This is the step that seems to be difficult for so many brands. They think that by advertising on digital media they will get their message across. But there are (at least) two things wrong with this approach.
Firstly, are your target customers actually online and if so, where? Pinterest may be perfect for a fashion or cosmetic brand but not for many other industries. The graph below show the usage by demographics for the US market. Perhaps you should take a look at your own statistics to check that social media and particularly the current channels you are using, are optimal for your brand?
7. Measure your success
Peter Drucker was so right when he said:
“What gets measured gets managed.”
So you clearly have to measure what you have been doing, so you understand what is working and what is not. But what metrics should you choose?
The data you should be following will help you to assess whether or not you are meeting the objectives for your brands. Therefore start by looking at what you were planning to improve and then choose the appropriate metrics to follow the changes you made.
So you've gone through all seven steps and your brand is showing signs of stabilising if not actually declining. Great! So what's next?
Well you start by prioritising the actions you need to take to correct the weaknesses you have found. Define the strategies and tactics you will need, and put your action plan into effect.
Then? Well, you start at step 1 and go through the process all over again! You see, brand building is a never ending, virtuous circle. That's why I'm so passionate about it, you too?
If you have specific questions relating to any of the seven steps, or if some other area of brand building is challenging you at the moment, then check out our website for inspiration and then contact me here:
Every industry strives to improve their customers’ experience with their products and services. Adopting a customer first strategy is therefore in many company objectives. Unfortunately it rarely goes beyond the theory in most organisations, so I decided to help out with these six suggestions.
Hospitality is perhaps one of the most visible industries where customer satisfaction, or lack of, is quickly shared with the world. It is true that without satisfaction, customers will not return to a hotel or restaurant. And they will almost certainly share their (bad) experiences with anyone who will listen.
Hospitality is also one of the industries that receives the most comments online, thanks to TripAdvisor and other booking sites. There is no hiding from their clients for hospitality! While I empathise, it’s not all bad news. This is because it also means that great service will also be more quickly seen online. Therefore you can make changes and see the results almost immediately, or at least far quicker than in most other businesses.
However, despite this, I believe that the hospitality industry has a lot it can learn from consumer packaged goods (CPG). In fact most other industries could benefit from taking a look at some of CPG’s best-in-class processes.
Both the hospitality and CPG industries have their customers at their heart. They are both founded on pleasing and hopefully delighting their clientele in the quality of the products and services they offer. However, as the world changes, customer demands do too and companies need to stay current if not ahead of these requirements in order to ensure continued growth.
#1. From ROI / ROR to ROE
There has been a lot of talk recently on moving from a return on investment to a return on relationships. Whilst I agree with the importance of relationships, I believe that what we should be talking about is engagement. Be honest, other than the popular book that started talking about brand love, who wants to have a relationship with a brand?!
While the hospitality industry is based on serving and satisfying its guests, in today’s connected world, it also needs to consider people who are currently strangers – but who could potentially become clients.
These might be the friends of current guests, which for example the Rosewood Mayakoba resort in Mexico tries to attract.
This wonderful hotel encourages its guests to photograph their experiences during their stay at the resort and then to share them with their friends on Facebook. This not only provides free publicity for the hotel, but also enables it to start engaging these potential clients, since they probably have similar lifestyles to their current guests.
User generated content (UGC) works well because customers trust each other a lot more than they do brands.Research from Forbes shows that 81% of consumers’ purchase decisions are influenced by their friends’ social media posts.
Having additional control in their lives today means that customers are re-evaluating what they are offered. They have higher expectations and are more discerning in their choices. They expect recognition at every touchpoint, even if in reality their peers influence their decisions more than does traditional marketing. This is important to keep in mind as you build your customer first strategy.
The internet enables people to compare offers, so they are less interested in bundled propositions, preferring to decide what is best value for them personally for each element. Several brands have understood this and now offer their customers the possibility to define their own, personal bundle of options. Liberty Mutual is one such example of this.
According to research by Walker, 86% of consumers would be willing to pay more for a better experience. So don’t get fixated on price; find ways to add value that consumers may appreciate far more than its actual cost to you.
Most CPG companies have targets for innovation and renovation; sometimes it can be as much as 30% or more of annual revenue. They also have mid-term innovation pipelines which can include partnerships in joint ventures with what were previously mere competitors. These have mutual benefits as each partner can concentrate on their individual skills, which enables each partner to then develop better new products and services.
Consider building partnerships and joint-ventures into your own customer first strategy. They will enable you to satisfy and delight your customers far more quickly than you could do when working alone.
For hospitality, innovation can no longer be purely physical or rational; we need to consider more emotional and relational ways to satisfy. The Rosewood Mayakoba resort, already mentioned above, is one good example of this; the Art Series Hotels are another. Check out the latter’s recent ad to understand better how they excel at understanding their guests: Art Series Overstay Checkout, or why not review the pictures posted on MayaKoba’s Facebook page?
One of the reasons that I believe we need to work on building engagement in all industries, and not just in hospitality, is because customer demands are constantly evolving. What satisfied them yesterday, can bore or even disappoint today.
To acquire and retain our customers, we need to be constantly upgrading our products and services, so that they will be surprised and delighted. This means that loyalty is much less long-term than in the past, and lifetime value is now measured in months or a few years, rather than in decades.
Ensure you build loyalty actions into your customer first strategy, not just for attracting new customers. Remember it costs far more to get new customers than to keep and grow your current ones. So don’t ignore them by considering that they don’t need further efforts once won. Loyalty doesn’t last for ever!
#6. Dialogue and Exchange, Don’t Just Communicate
In today’s connected world, customers want a say in not only what they consume, but also where, when and how they are marketed to. They want a say in what they buy and expect a rapid resolution to any queries or complaints.
According to a recent Edison Research, 20% expect a company to answer to their social media posts within 15 minutes, 42% within the hour! That means 24/7 monitoring for all organisations if we are not to disappoint our most engaged customers.
These are just six of the many ideas I shared during a presentation I gave to the faculty of a world- renowned hospitality school. If you are interested in seeing the full talk, I am happy to share it. Just email me with your details and what your biggest business challenge is currently in adopting a customer first strategy.
Are you struggling to improve your own customer centricity? Whatever people-facing industry you are in, we would welcome the chance to catalyse your efforts. Check out our website for more information about our services and training courses, then contact us here.
Just like most entrepreneurs and business people, I go to my fair share of conferences. I believe that marketers can benefit from being regularly challenged by new thinking and ideas.
One that stays in my memory for many reasons, was an event I attended in San Jose, California. Some say California is the centre of internet marketing; the San Francisco area for technology and San Diego for marketing. I tend to agree after having recently attended events in both cities.
The conference that changed many of my views on modern marketing was one about how business people, not just marketers, can break through our self-limiting behaviours. It is this idea which prompted today’s post. How we marketers can relinquish our well-established thoughts and actions to make our businesses grow more profitably. If this is of interest to you too, then read on.
HEART-CENTERED VERSUS CUSTOMER-CENTRIC
The conference I attended in San Jose was a great opportunity for me to meet many other people from around the world. People who want to make their businesses more heart-centered. You know that I am a champion of customer centricity. I love to support companies that want to put their customers at the heart of their businesses.
So you might be wondering what the difference is between a customer-centric and a heart-centered business. After the conference, I would say that in my opinion, not much. I believe it is difficult to think customer first without it also involving the heart; at least, it should.
As we try to put our customers at the centre of our organisations, it is through a concern to satisfy and delight them. A heart-centred business would probably go even further to ensure that what they do also benefits non-customers, or, at least, doesn’t harm them.
Creating shared value has become a strong commitment of many of the leading global players in the consumer goods market. Reliance Jio, Merck and Bank of America lead the way according to the Fortune “Change the World” List.
If the topic inspires you then you might also be interested in reading an article on “Innovation and Creating Shared Value”, which I was invited to contribute to one of the first issues of the Journal of Creating Value. I will also be speaking at the 2nd Global Conference on Creating Value in New York later this year. So let me know if you too will be attending and we can meet up.
CUSTOMER FIRST EXAMPLES
But back to defining the types of business. Which is yours? Heart-centered or “just” customer-centric? Or are you not even there yet?
Do you think customer first but forget about those who are not yet your customers? That’s a dangerous thing to do as you may be limiting your brand’s potential. Here are a few current habits that some companies have, which show how customer centric they are – or not:
Asking credit card details for a “free” offer. This information would only be of use to charge the client. It is a “trick” often employed by companies that are not customer centric. Those that are would only ask for such information once the customer is committed to purchasing the offer.
Requiring full details on a contact form when the customer just wants to ask a question or download something. This information rarely provides value to the customer and is a real turn-off for many. Customer-centric businesses avoid asking more information than they need for immediate action. For them, building a strong relationship with their customer is more important; the additional details can be gathered as the relationship develops.
Offering helpful suggestions of other products or services that may be of interest when a customer buys something. Yes, this does benefit the company too if the customer buys additional offers, but a win-win service offer can be customer-centric too. These recommendations use a technique called affinity analysis (sometimes called basket analysis) and although Amazon wasn’t the first to use it, they are by far the most well-known marketers to do so.
Providing positive experiences the customer hasn’t paid for and doesn’t expect. This can be upgraded products or shipping, samples or complementary products or services included with their purchase. This benefits the customer by adding an element of positive emotional connection to the business. It also benefits the business as it can lead to a better company image, increased sales and greater loyalty.
During my US trip, I caught up with a few of C3Centricity’s major partners in California. One of them, SciFutures, in Burbank, gave me my own experience of the future in a hands-on way, which was awesome!
During my last visit a few years earlier, they let my try out the Oculus Rift VR glasses. While it was interesting, the stilted imagery did not enable me to fully embrace the new world I was watching. It was of a roller coaster they had warned would make me sick – which of course it didn’t! Not only did I not fully engage with the scenes shown, I was underwhelmed by the potential of using the experience for marketers.
Fast forward to just a few years later and I was blown away by the HTC Vive andAmazon Echo / Alexa experiences they gave me. (I am speaking about several years ago now) The HTC glasses enabled me to integrate into a world of endless possibilities. They invited me to become an artist. And although I am not very creative, this tool enabled me to create incredible 3D images which I could view from every angle.
The Amazon Echo / Alexa unit, which is the first step towards a smarter home that I would certainly like to make, sat quietly on the shelf until an order was issued. “She” was an always-on assistant that I couldn’t wait to own. (I still don’t have one and yet me less “techie” brother does!)
She could estimate the drive time to my next appointment – which is vital when battling the impossibly heavy traffic in Los Angeles – or play a specific song or add an item to my shopping list. This promised a vocal, hands-off experience I wanted.
But my visit wasn’t just to try out the latest gadgets, although I admit they were fun experiences. We also discussed SciFutures’ work with major multinationals. They were developing and more importantly, showing, the possible future developments of the home, the financial sector and multiple other industries. Their unique demonstration of the future remain ahead of all the other trend-following, scenario planning agencies, even today!
I am always living in / dreaming about the future, so you can imagine how exciting my discussions with them were. (If you are in need of some new perspectives on your own industry, in order to be better prepared in this fast-changing world, then let me know. We can start creating an inspiring and exciting future scenario for your business)
SELF-LIMITING THOUGHTS AND BEHAVIOURS
At the beginning of this article, I said that I had been inspired by an event to review the self-limiting thoughts and behaviours that slow our progress and that of our businesses. I therefore, want to end with a list of them, which I developed during the conference and in the days following it. I would love it if you would add your own ideas in the comments below.
Beliefs are created out of our own, personal experiences and we rarely realise that some of them are not truths. Tony Robbins said that “Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy. Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives.” While reviewing the following list, I suggest we dwell on our own thoughts and behaviours and make 2019 the year we make changes that will empower us. Both we and our businesses will flourish if we do.
The word “can’t” is far too often used these days, when in fact we most likely mean “won’t make the time” or “aren’t interested“. We should be more honest with both ourselves and our co-workers. Explaining our reasons for our behaviour or lack of enthusiasm is valuable information for future exchanges and learning. “Honesty is the best policy,” said Benjamin Franklin more than three hundred years ago and yet we have still not learned the lesson!
The word “should” often precedes the use of the word “can’t”. For example “I should do that but I can’t find the energy”. Again we need to be honest in admitting the real reasons behind both why we “should” do something and why we won’t. This will also lead to a better self-awareness and understanding.
We love to give rather than to receive. We love to provide support and help others, but hate asking for it ourselves. This is a crazy situation that most of us find ourselves in more often than we would like to admit. We like others to be indebted to us, as it gives us a (false) feeling of power. Keep this in mind and endeavour to make your life one of balance; to give and receive.
Shakespeare said it best in his play “As you like it”, Act II, Scene VII: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players”What are you playing at? Relationships are built on trust and authenticity, both in the personal and professional circles. Are you or your brand pretending to be someone (thing) you are not, or to know something you don’t? If so, the stress of being “found out” will take its toll eventually, one way or the other. Being our authentic selves is the only way to exp and, grow and flourish. The same is true for brands.
“Procrastination is the thief of time”is a mid-18th century proverb which means that if you delay doing something, it will almost certainly take longer to complete later on. The best solutions to procrastination include making lists, breaking down large or unattractive tasks into smaller, more achievable steps, and making the work time-limited. Making progress, however small, is better than none at all.
Often one of the reasons for procrastination is perfectionism. We set such impossibly high standards that we know we’ll not meet, even before trying – so we don’t try. Life is for learning and as I said previously, any progress is better than no progress. Imperfection is human; embrace your humanness and learn from your failures. Edison is quoted as saying “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work”.So ask yourself: “Are you learning to fail or failing to learn?” Hopefully, it’s the former!
These are just a few of the many self-limiting thoughts and behaviours that many of us, including myself, have. They make our lives more difficult than they need to be. I was motivated by the conference I attended. I hope that my sharing these ideas has inspired you too to change. But without the need for the travel and resource investments I myself made!
My final comment on self-limiting thoughts and behavioursis a quote from that conference; “Fear is the only thing that gets smaller as we run towards it.” Marketers, are you ready to run towards your own fears and succeed in this awesomely changing world of possibilities?
How hard is it to write a marketing plan? After all, every marketer writes one every year, so how difficult can it be, right?
Well, writing a marketing plan isn’t hard at all, but writing a winning plan is very difficult. And time consuming. And getting it approved by your executive board is perhaps the most challenging part of all.
Management are renowned in most organisations for “innocently” posing questions when passing marketers in the corridor or while socialising at a company event. Answer the CEO’s questions to their satisfaction and you will stand out from the crowd. Provide an incomplete or worse still no answer, and they might wonder if it isn’t time to restructure the marketing group.
So here are 8 actionable tips on how to write a winning marketing plan, so you can answer any question your CEO or boss asks you. The simple rule is to NEVER say you don’t know, but also to never drown them in a long-winded answer. Neither will win you brownie points. Make sure you have an answer like those proposed below and your name might just be on the next list of promotions.
1. WHO ARE OUR BRAND’S CUSTOMERS?
There is far more information needed than just age and gender, to answer this question. Prepare a short description (often called a persona or avatar) of a typical user, in the same way as you would describe a friend. See “13 Things your Boss Expects you to Know about your Customers” for further details on what you should already know about your customer.
Once you’ve checked out the above article, why not also download our 4W™ template? It will help you put everything in one place so it is always handy.
GOOD ANSWER: Our customers are middle-aged women, whose children are in their late teens or early twenties. She shops in local supermarkets and gets advice from friends on Facebook, about the best brands to buy and what’s on offer. She’s been buying our brand for over two years because it satisfies her children’s hunger when they get in from playing sports. That makes them happy and she then feels proud of being a good Mum.
2. HOW MUCH ARE OUR CUSTOMERS WORTH TO US?
Besides having an average lifetime value in your head, you should also be able to provide information about your customers’ perceived value of your brand. This information will come from certain attributes in your brand image study, such as “worth the price”, “more valuable than other brands” or “is worth paying more for.” The summary results of your brand image study should always be included in your winning marketing plan.
Just make sure that when you quote such statistics, that you compare them to the competition. Rather than saying “56% of category users think we offer great value for money”, say “more than a half of category users think we provide better value than the competition.” Your boss will always ask for more detailed information if needed.
GOOD ANSWERS: On average each customer spends about XXX (Dollars, Euros, Renminbi, Rupee, Real …) each year on our brand, which is about YYY over ten years (lifetime value is rarely calculated further out than this). Our current average price in-store is ZZZ, but 70% of our customers thinks we’re actually worth more than that.
3. WHAT RETURN ON OUR MARKETING BUDGET ARE WE GETTING?
Whilst ROI is not the best measure of marketing’s impact (see this Forbes article for more on that), you still need to answer the question. Your response to this could get very complex if you go into too much detail, so keep it simple.
Say what your total budget is, how much you spend on advertising and promotions and what impact that has had on sales, in total. I know it takes a lot more than these two actions to impact sales, but as I said, keep it simple.
GOOD ANSWER: Our total budget is AAA of which BBB goes on communications and promotions. With our current sales growth of SSS, that works out at approximately TT%.
4. HOW MUCH WILL WE SELL; WHAT MARKET SHARE ARE WE EXPECTING THIS YEAR?
Your boss will almost certainly remember your brand’s market share from your marketing plan. So when he asks this question he is probably looking for more than just a number.
You could of course just give him that number, but why not use the attention you’ve got by adding something impressive to the story? Comments about how your brand is growing compared to category growth or your main competitors, puts the numbers immediately into perspective. It also helps the boss to better understand the numbers.
GOOD ANSWER: We’re expecting a RR% growth this year to UUU unit sales. This will be the highest rate in the category, so our share will increase by PP points to MM% market share. These will be the best results we have achieved in over ten years – or some such comment to add value to the numbers.
5. WHAT ARE OUR INNOVATION PLANS FOR THE BRAND?
You could answer this with a long list of all the new SKUs you will launch, but again use your time wisely by adding some understanding too. Speak about the objectives behind the launches and any new theme or direction the brand is taking.
For instance, are you moving to more low fat, organic, natural, or sustainable sources? Sharing the objectives behind your plans for the brand will show the solid foundation you have for your launches and the decisions you have made.
GOOD ANSWER: We will be launching CC new variants in our new organic range, which we expect to add MM% points to our total market share. We will also be eliminating FF units that are not delivering on expectations and contain too much sugar for today’s customer preferences.
6. WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT?
Questions around sustainability and sourcing tend to be raised in corporations which already have targets. If this is the case in your own company, then measurements are almost certainly already being taken and shown in your marketing plan. Therefore you just need to reply with the latest numbers.
But you can again use this exchange with top management to add how your customers feel about the question and all the efforts being made by the company – you do have that information too don’t you?
However if this is a new initiative for your business, then you will want to take the opportunity to show how you and your brand are playing their part in supporting this important company initiative.
7. HOW’S THE COMPETITION DOING?
The answer to this question could cover a lot of topics: sales, market share, new launches, advertising, promotions or pricing. After all, when you write your marketing plan you will add a lot of information about your brand and also its main competitors – or at least I hope so!
Therefore respond with a simple summary of a few current metrics of your brand in comparison to two or three of your major competitors. The manager will then clarify if he was thinking of a specific topic and you can then answer with a little more precision.
Make use of this question to share any particularly tough market conditions you are facing of which your boss / CEO may not be intimately aware. This is a great opportunity to pre warn them should your brand be struggling to meet the objectives laid out in the agreed marketing plan.
8. HOW’S OUR DISTRIBUTION DOING THESE DAYS?
A simple summary of outlets in which we have gained or lost distribution is enough here, but why not add some detail about successful placement improvements too? That latest shelf redesign that has increased sales, or the fact that you have just been named category captain in a retail chain, is definitely news worth sharing.
If on the other hand, you are having difficult discussions with an important chain or outlet group, then that too deserves a mention. Perhaps your boss has some useful contacts or ideas to help. Marketers are nervous about sharing their challenges, but pre warning them of market situations that are negatively impacting your brand are definitely worth mentioning before the situation become serious.
So there you have them. Eight of the most common questions top management asks of marketers. As you can see, the answers I’ve suggested are short and simple.
Especially when the question is posed outside the formal marketing plan presentation, the executive is probably looking not only for the information requested, but also to check that you have an excellent understanding of your brand. He wants to be assured that his business is in good hands. Prove it to him and also show your respect of his time, by giving short, precise answers whenever possible.
Do you frequently get asked other questions not mentioned here? Then add them in the comments below. Also, if you have a better way of responding to any of the above questions, I’d love to read those too.