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On a recent trip I discovered that Virgin Atlantic aircrew behave like they’re between parties, parties I’m not on the guest list for. To be fair, old dags like me with four kids in tow are made to feel about as welcome as a recently discovered STI.
After three painful flights and a comedy of errors it struck me though, maybe all that cooler than thou jet-set party people bullshit is actually as God himself intended (Sir Richard that is).
My theory emerged when I spotted a peculiar magazine selection in the rack. Wallpaper and Style Street were propped at a jaunty angle, albeit they remained so for the entire 14 hour flight. Hardly surprising they didn’t find a reader I thought given the Virgin customers around me were less likely to want to read them than the Virgin staff. Yet those magazines were carefully positioned to enhance the Virgin Atlantic lifestyle and most likely described in nauseating marketing speak in some operations manual back at Party Town, aka Virgin HQ. I suspect somewhere in the depths of the Virgin Marketing Strategy is a view that there are enough <insert B-list celebrity here> wannabees to build them an airline that makes them feel like they’ve cracked the code of cool.
But here’s the rub. The party’s exclusive and customers are there to fill out the numbers. Virgin have recruited staff who look like the customers they wish they had, i.e. the low disposable income high spending b-grade party-set, and have missed the unfortunate side effect, those people aren’t interested in much beyond themselves – and it shows. The smallest request is met with a gnash of veneers, and eyebrows are ever so slightly raised (I think) at the suggestion of a problem.
What I don’t get, though, it why Virgin Atlantic ads suggest they are something that they are not? Am I to believe from the TVC below that the airline who suggested you may just get into the Mile High Club on one of their planes is trying to be something different? Because it isn’t obvious yet. And until the service rhetoric has become service reality I’d dial back the messaging slightly.
All in all I’d say the biggest disservice Virgin Atlantic has done, to me and to other Virgin virgins, is to set the expectation too high. They have allowed their marketing message to get ahead of the organisation’s ability to execute which has led to a jarring customer experience. I have no intention of flying Virgin Atlantic again, or any of the Virgin branded airlines for that matter. Qantas just invited me to a BBQ.
ABI Research are forecasting a significant growth in Internet Enabled cars, with 50m vehicles sold by 2017 with native Internet connectivity.
In car connectivity is already broadly available with smartphone-dependent products like HondaLink available in most markets today. However like any new technology, the real breakthrough comes when new applications are developed by a broader ecosystem, which, as far as we can tell, is yet to happen.
It’s quite possible that 30 – 40% of new cars sold in Australia will be Internet Enabled with 5 years, yet few business have connected cars in their 3 year plan.
So we all want our time online to be a more private affair, but find it impossible to wade through the policies and figure out what’s what? Further, even if you had the time to read them, would anyone but a Privacy Specialist understand them, and worse, be willing to forgo the benefits brought by Facebook and Google in an effort to maintain some sort of online anonymity? I suspect not in each case.
It’s hard to see how to solve this issue.
Over time I worry that the role of government will be to reign in on the issue if left unsolved, which would be a bad outcome for all.
It’s rare that a great product would win without the support of great service, so why then are the two so quick to grow apart?
The problem, I think, is success.
Scale and its associated economies support the development of a product but rarely do they support the development of the accompanying services. There are exceptions, of course, but not many; McDonalds is one, Apple another, Sadly I’m at a loss to think of a third.
It’s worth noting of course that Apple and McDonalds are are notable exceptions to the rule, albeit for vastly different reasons. McDonalds is a very, very large franchisor, and the “product” being sold does not come in a bun, the product is the Franchise. The Franchisee buys a proven recipe for fast food and efficient service. If McDonalds didn’t have control of the entire McD’s ecosystem through a tightly wound Franchise Agreement it would be impossible to maintain its brand of high-margin consistency that allows it to continue selling to franchisees at a premium.
Apple, on the other hand, is all about brand, and that brand extends through the product supply chain to the lifestyle, which includes the process of purchasing and ownership. Prior to Apple seizing control of its supply chain the service part was delivered by 3rd parties, now it is a powerful pillar in the house of Apple.
When a typical business grows, investment is poured into improvements in the production process, reducing the cost of goods and improving margins. The same can’t be said for service, great service at scale is costly, and returns to scale are minimal. In addition, training great service to new staff takes time, so the gap between product uptake and service delivery can grow rapidly if the growth was sudden and unforseen.
Improved margins are seductive, investments in service are not, and so the conflict begins.
As a business owner, you can get ahead. At a minimum there should be a record kept of a consistent service KPI such as Net Promoter that can serve as an early indicator of customer sentiment taking a turn for the worst. Where growth is happening at the expense of service the growth should be arrested until the issue is identified and resolved, hard as it may be to do so.
Positioning your entire business as a product is smart, have a McDonalds-like operating manual with detailed descriptions of service procedures and quality standards, or emulate Apple by asserting service as a key part of your brand, then live it with every touch-point!
To favour growth at the expense of service is a short term win, the positive sentiment that propelled growth in the first place is already evaporating, allow that to continue and chances are your brand will never recover.
Group Buying helped good businesses access revenues that had previously eluded them, improving utilisation, buoying their P&L and promising a sustainable new revenue stream from this exciting new consumer channel.
But now that the sector has waned and desperate Group Buying businesses have become fixated on stack ‘em high sell ‘em low product chuff – those once buoyed businesses are left feeling a little queasy.
Just one of the problems they face stems from prepayment, one of the headline benefits touted by most group buying companies (including me).
Although quick access to cash is manna from heaven for most business owners, prepayment has left behind a tequila-like side effect.
The problem is this. A top priority for all online businesses should be around Funnel Conversion, i.e. the ability for the business to convert leads into dollars, however in a world of prepayment, conversion becomes somewhat unimportant. In fact, if breakage (unused vouchers) is a profitable exercise for the merchant, higher conversion may actually mean lower short term profits.
Now that Group Buying is providing an ever declining proportion of revenues, many online businesses that signed up to breakeven or lossmaking campaigns in order to grow their subscriber base, now find they are unable to monetize that base due to poor site performance, especially in the area of conversion.
Faced with lower than expected revenues, these companies often head back to Group Buying to find that like-for-like offers work only half as well as they did before. Now the business is in a pickle, the drug is half as effective, risk its brand by doing twice as much? Surely you know your drug dealer is never your friend?
The key is to get the fundamentals of your businesses working right before looking to Group Buying or any type of Marketing for that matter. Ensure that the purchase funnel is converting 60% or more of the people who hit “Buy Now”, that your Subscription Channel is effective, and your email strategy is delivering appropriate Open, Click and Purchase rates.
When cloaked by the shiny veneer of Group Buying dollars your site performance will look a whole lot better than it really is. Time to sober up, shake off that hangover and see if your bedfellow looks as good as you remember.
I met with Business Spectator’s Alan Kohler and recorded an interview for Qantas inflight Radio in June. I was flattered to be invited to the show, the interview is now available below.
A link to the file is here.
Alan was particularly interested in a topic I have spoken about on a number of occasions, the slow but steady adoption of the internet by all but the most tech-resistant and the impact that shift is having on traditional commerce.
Now that over 3/4 of the Australian population have a connection to the web, businesses of all types are finding that their typical customer is spending an increasing amount of time online and can be reached there quite cheaply for Brand building as well as ecommerce.
Two other significant factors beyond the amount of people online are – the nature of connectivity, i.e. fast connection speeds are no longer the preserve of early adopters – and that almost all internet users are willing to shop online, with only 5% of internet users showing concern about online security.
The shift towards fast access speeds has been so rapid that in 5 short years the issue of access for all has all but disappeared. Mobile internet use has also accelerated with many online businesses signalling that 10% or more of page impressions are from mobile devices and mobile transactions are catching up fast.
Where the online activities of the older demographics were once limited to banking and email, this is no longer the case. Over 20% of the discount shopping audience is 60+ suggesting that older folks enjoy the process of shopping online even if they don’t have to.
I think it’s fair to say that not being online in 2012 is akin to not having a mobile phone, at some point it looks a bit weird!
Meanwhile, as the Internet population has swelled to include your parents and most their friends, technology has evolved that enables Advertisers to single out their target customer and provide a customised offer on the fly – further extending the economic advantage of online commerce.
For the first ten years of the web the economic engine that powered its growth was display advertising (And subscription Porn but that’s another post!), publishers funded their growth by making money from page impressions – a refit of the existing TV and Magazine advertising model. In 2000 Google started selling ads in a new way – through search keywords which provided advertisers with a way to talk to customers based on what they were looking for, rather than what they had already found.
Now the model is shifting again, more people and more data means that publishers are now making an increasing portion of revenues from who you are, rather than just your location on the web. publishers can connect advertisers with their target Market with reasonable precision using browser tags. No longer are marketers confused about which half of their dollars are wasted, in the new world of the Internet, they spend half as much and almost none is wasted.
The rapid shift towards a more personal web has occurred in the past couple of years and the pace of change is accelerating. It was only 5 years ago that Facebook emerged as a public service, touching a Billion or so lives since.
The amount of change we see in the next 5 years will be as dramatic as the last 5, with an even greater emphasis on devices, mobility, personalisation and online commerce, bring on 2017!
As a design study the Courier was a tremendous success back in 2010, but as a PR exercise it was something far more sinister.
I heard when I was visiting Microsoft HQ in Redmond that Microsoft had made the Courier concept public to demonstrate what could be built on the Windows platform and had provided the build specs to at least one OEM, however the Courier quickly turned from an innovative design exercise into an unfortunate metaphor for their inability to compete with Apple.
It made no real sense to me at the time that Microsoft was actually going to build the Courier, however with the announcement of their Surface Tablet, I clearly don’t know shit.
Regardless that Microsoft obsesses about competing with Apple (And Google for that matter) the fact is Microsoft doesn’t compete head to head with Apple, their OEM partners do, such as DELL, Sony and HP. Those same OEMs are are on the Android bandwaggon as a fashonable and low cost alternative to Windows. Faced with flagging consumer relevance and an uncomfortable 3-way with Google, Microsoft clearly had two options, try to woo the channel and win them back from Google, or go head to head, Google style!
Google led the way in Partner-shafting when they formed the Open Handset Alliance to build Andriod powered phones whilst building its own Nexus device to compete with it! But then, Google always seem to struggle with the notion of boundaries. Microsoft, on the other hand, seemed to take a Partner-first approach.
Microsoft is in a sticky spot for sure. I mentioned before that Microsoft could hold its breath for a long time, meaning that it could afford to make short term sacrifices for the long term good, but those old lungs are not what they used to be, which, combined with an astonishing run for Apple, has clearly led to new thinking in Redmond. I can’t see how this is winning.
The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science released a study showing the relationship between Facebook fan pages brand engagement – concluding that Brands should lower their expectations of Fan Page performance.
Facebook Fan Pages include Facebook’s own PTAT (People Talking About This) metric, and that metric was the basis for the study. PTAT as stated is somewhat misleading though given the act of Liking a Brand is included in PTAT.
Once the researchers had removed the impact of the initial Like, they found that only 0.5% of Fans actually engaged with the brand via Facebook on a weekly basis*
In isolation, this seems like an extraordinarily low number, and should cause the majority of Brands investing time and money growing their fan base to rethink. In fact, only 10% of the brands sampled reached 1% engagement, and this was consistent across all categories and included a number of “Passion Brands”.
The engagement value of 0.5% weekly engagement should be used as the baseline when evaluating the return of investment in building a Facebook Fan page, chances are the size of a Brand’s Facebook Fan Page does more for the ego of the Brand stewards than it does for the bottom line!
*Data reproduced from Admap with permission.
While pondering the implications of the Contextual Ads in Gmail I put myself in the position of an unsuspecting small business owner, and was amazed to learn just how focused Google was on introducing my customers to my competitors!
The Google ad platform does an incredible job of identifying an email’s context and finding the highest paying, or most clickable ad to match that context. In a setting like Gmail that means digitally reading the email from the Subject Line to the Body of the email to the Sender’s Signature, using that collected data to identify the email’s context and then finding the most suitable set of advertisers to display when the Gmail-using recipient is reading the email.
Here’s an example, check out the ads on the right (Also note that clicking on “More about…” will open a page with multiple Landscaping ads):
Gmail’s advertising engine is devastatingly effective here having served ads that are not only relevant to the subject of the email, but also to the geography of the recipient, making the ads a very potent way for those advertisers to “poach” the sender’s customers. But where does that leave poor Grassy Bass Landscaping? By sending a quote to a potential customer I have inadvertently surfaced a number of competitors, hardly seems fair! One way to minimise the impact of Google’s poaching prowess is to avoid building context through the subject line or body of the email, right now it doesn’t look like attachments are read so use the attachment to describe the work instead. That’s not ideal, but it may just avoid Gmail surfacing your most aggressive competitors right next to your mail.
Any small business that thinks Gmail is just another harmless, free webmail product should think again, it’s your competitors’ dream ticket to finding your customers after you have done all the hard work, adopt it as your own email provider at your peril.
UPDATE : In the Virtual Revolution, broadcast in the UK on the 15th February, the presenter raises these same concerns about Google’s approach to Privacy and Advertising Everywhere, some interesting perspectives here – Gmail is discussed at 1:44sec. [Note that this link will be broken if this video has not been authorised by the publisher]
In a previous post I said that "Pricing alone will never lead to a long term strategic advantage, only service quality and inspiration can" – something similar to a quote today from CEO of Masters, the challenger hardware-retail brand from Woolworths.
Don Stallings commented: "more than half the people shopping for whitegoods at Masters hardware stores use smartphones to check competitors’ prices… to get those sales over the line in a traditional store, customer service and the personal touch had to be of the highest quality. [at] Masters [we have] spent as much on training staff to deliver customer service as on the rest of the business"
Meanwhile, across town at Myer, Bernie Brooks laments that "[the] customers’ propensity to purchase is not improving" so they are "pinning hopes on their midyear stocktake sale"
Myer + Myer One Loyalty club have the bones of a very defensible Retail strategy when Multichannel is fully embraced; where Lifetime Value, upsell and cross sell are key and are driven by what is already known about each customer segment, customer cohort or even, individual customer. But each retail touchpoint has to be aligned to the vision of "lifetime customer value is king", something that may be easier to achieve when the business is built from the ground up with no technical or cultural legacy, sadly Mr Brooks doesn’t have that luxury.
"Discount heavily and I will love you right now, inspire me with insights and ideas and great service and I will love you for ever"
I still have a soft spot for the Bellevue Behemoth, I enjoy a Windows Phone 7 after all! Yet I can’t hide my disappointment with their new G+/Pinterest competitor So.cl having logged in for the first time today.
There was a time only a few years back when a Consumer Preview or Beta could be rough-as-guts bad – and early adopters would still evangelise the intent even though they had to cut the execution some slack!
However I think the world has moved on. Looking at innovation through a Lean Startup lens it feels appropriate to cut features in favour of capability when time to market is important. Yet what Microsoft have done with So.cl is enabled 100% of the product features at the expense of capability, in fact, I get errors at pretty much every turn!
In such a competitive market, when trial, adoption and subsequent user engagement/feedback is so critical, I think Microsoft are about the blow the advocacy available from that first wave of geek-adopters as a result of their surprisingly poor execution, a potentially fatal blow for a Network-effects dependent platform.
As an innovator the formula to success seems straightforward, annoy fewer customers than you delight and your advocacy will grow.
Sadly, Microsoft are engaging on a very dangerous battlefield with So.cl, I imagine their their enemies are moving in for the kill already. Another Wave anyone?
Group Think is a very effective mechanic used in Group Buying that is perfectly suited for use elsewhere, other than where exclusivity is important of course!
By publishing the number of items that have been sold, consumers are comforted at the prospect of being part of a crowd and are more willing to buy, assured that many others have thought long and hard before deciding to make the purchase negating the need for protracted consideration!
The effectiveness of this this mechanic will peter out when availability concerns emerge, but until that point the strategy is sound.
Where access to specific purchase data is problematic, manually updating the Offer to state “more than 1,000 sold to date” works well…
As well as “number sold”, “people who bought X, bought Y” is an example of Group Think. Again these can be manually programmed where automation is not an option.
Google commands tens of millions of dollars each year (probably hundreds) through knowingly selling brand terms through AdWords (such as “cudo” for our business). Yet, users are increasingly using Google for everyday web navigation, so they knew where they wanted to go, they just wanted Google to help them get there.
This is a lot like punching a restaurant’s address into your satnav, but being taken to the highest bidding restaurant instead!
And as businesses grow their sophistication in SEO and they establish their listing at the top of the Organic pile for free. Allowing competitors to purchase a business’s brand term means the target business also has to buy their own
brand term else there is a fair chance an unsuspecting user will click on the competitor’s link, commanding unnecessary dollars from at least two businesses! This has lead to a Mexican Standoff between Group Buying sites, including the seven or so competitors currently spending their dollars on the term “Cudo” today.
In itself this is not necessarily evil of Google, it is opportunistic though.
However, once a business has been granted a trade mark they can then protect their brand from being bought on Google by law, yet Google seems to be oddly slow at applying any kind of block to AdWords, milking yet more dollars from a potentially struggling business over the 3 to 6 months it takes to limit the term in AdWords (Google may not block the term altogether!).
Why is it so hard to protect my mark on the world’s most sophisticated Search platform? Yahoo! and Bing seem to behave much less like a Corrupt SatNav with a clear policy on Trade Marks.
At Cudo we are spending over $50k each month buying our brand term on Google, that’s one expensive Mexican Standoff!
See below for an excerpt from a Trademark Case Study, found here
“Trademark Case Study
A Google Adwords client, who is a leader in the very competitive Network Marketing field, recently noticed a surge of infringements against their trademark which was being used in competitor ad copy on the Google Network. Competition within the Network Marketing industry is extremely competitive and aggressive. The client became aware that their competitors were bidding on their trademarked search terms. This caused the cost to secure top positions for their ads to skyrocket from an initial $2.00 per click to $15.00 per click. Monthly expenditures increased from $1,200 to nearly $30,000. The estimated budget increased to $500,000+ for the year. Control of the top ad space in Google was their primary objective in order to dominate the ad-space for their branded trademarked term.
Given the level of aggression by the competitors and the extortionate cost been borne by the client, there was only one solution and that was to stop all advertisers from bidding on the terms. Is it right that a business owner has to spend $500,000+ to buy their own branded name – a name that has already cost them millions of dollars to build? This is $500,000+ the trademark owner has to spend because of a policy that disavows elementary business ethics. Yahoo and MSN have recognized the injustice of such a slippery-slope policy and have taken steps to change it. We filed trademark infringements with all three search egnines. Yahoo and MSN results were clear within days.”
Gartner describes the adoption of Technology (where there has been clear market Hype) using the Hype Cycle diagram. The same diagram can be usefully adapted to describe the current challenges facing the Group Buying industry given it was built on a platform of extraordinary hype and has since suffered its own decline. Also, much like how the Technology Hype Cycle describes the organic adoption of the technology over time once the Hype has dissipated and the useful nature of the innovation emerges, Collective Buying does add real value to Merchants and Consumers, and beyond the hype and the noise of Group Buying, that value add still exists – which then begs an interesting question, what is required to ensure an enduring future for Group Buying?
The key phases of the Gartner Hype Cycle are on the left of the table, an equivalent stage in the Group Buying evolution is on the right:
I believe that to get through the Trough of Disillusionment and onto the Slope of Enlightenment, the players in the industry need to follow the 4 tenets of Effective Group Buying:
Stock limitations can be a condition, i.e. we really only have 200 available in our warehouse, however setting a stock limit can be a very effective tactic to drive up sales, this is the Scarcity Game Mechanic. To set an appropriate limit, forecast the likely sell through of a particular item, then set a stock limit that is 10 – 15% higher than that forecast, the Scarcity Game Mechanic if played right will ensure the limit is reached and your forecast is exceeded.
To illicit the right response, the shopper has to feel some sense of urgency due to the stress that comes from missing out, clearly this is less effective in the early phase of the sale but that’s ok given the forecast amount would have been reached on its own. Having a genuine countdown display is key, either literal or abstract, regardless though it has to be genuine, once the limit is reached the item is “Sold Out”, it’s tempting to find and release more stock however once this occurs, the scarcity mechanism will be discredited for good. Promoting the Stock Limit though display advertising or EDM is also good, however the level of promotion provided has to be proportionate to the Stock available. Lastly, if a Consumer comes to the site after the limit has been reached, this is a great time to reinforce the “don’t miss out next time, be first to know with our SMS program” or similar engagement/re-targeting program.
I spoke at iStrategy some time back in Melbourne and was blown away by the level of engagement from the Audience via Twitter, by far the most hash-tagged tweets I have ever seen. My iPad twitter ap was alive the entire time I was speaking with real time commentary about my presentation, can’t beat good-honest real-time feedback!
Only, it wasn’t.
I felt the entire time that Twitter and particularly the use of a hash-tag had lost its mojo. Previous when I have been speaking there has been a real balance to the Twitter feedback, some great, some not so great, and some just plain old brutal. But not this time. In fact, I don’t think there was a single tweet that could be euphemised as “brutally honest”. I suspect the medium is just too prolific.
In a conference of the size of iStrategy, which numbered around 300 delegates, there’s nowhere to hide and worse still there is a very good chance that the speaker you have just appraised will know what was said and by whom. And no one wants a possible confrontation!
As a speaker at the conference I wanted that brutal feedback, and I was looking for it real time to make adjustments to my session. But it didn’t come. I’d appreciate any suggestion that my talk was perfect, however I saw some sessions that were quite poor yet no negative tweets emerged!
I think we need to bring some anonymity back to twitter, at least find some other way to harvest the ugliest of commentary. Or accept that feedback is a gift, good, bad or ugly!
I spoke at a great business breakfast recently about the impact of social on commerce in Australia and was struck by how traditional businesses can find sound reasoning not to engage in social conversation.
The key objection I heard was around Risk, which is interesting given how big business currently thinks about the notion of Risk.
Risk Management is defined as the identification, assessment and prioritization of risks, coupled with coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor and control the probability and/or impact of unfortunate events.
Commercial exposure from unfortunate events is inevitable, and in a world of Twitter and Facebook the pace of at which that Risk manifests is astonishing. The viral nature of Social therefore undermines the traditional view of Risk mitigation and damage control – so the first thing big business has to do is acknowledge that the world has already changed, they just haven’t caught up yet.
We know that people have an inherent desire to share, regardless of the sentiment. If a business has no means to monitor/control the conversation, that’s where the risk exists. And establishing a social platforms early is the only answer.
If your customers are worried, give them a platform to share their concerns, make them feel like they are heard, while you monitor and moderate the conversation. Take some control of the discussion. If they are angry, frustrated or even delighted, give them a platform to engage and share.
There is no reason why the conversation platform you provide can’t operate with strict rules of engagement and therefore the existing risk framework. Sure there are NEW RISKS attached to social engagement, but they exist already, start mitigating these new risks before the unfortunate event you fear most.
Five key truths about Social engagement:
•Your customers will find very effective ways to broadcast “feedback” about you online whether you like it or not
•Monitor and moderate the conversation, but never astrosurf
•Social brings New Risk to business, get used to it!
•It’s prudent to provide a platform BEFORE the event you fear the most happens
The issue I describe here around the inevitability of social engagement is told well by the history of a UK Cable company NTL (now Virgin) and its relationship with a consumer lobby group nthellworld in 2000, worth a read.
It is common for consumers to react negatively to a deep discount where they don’t understand the reason for the sale. Often customers will assume there is a hidden catch, something they can’t see that others can, reasons they will look foolish and regret the purchase – in each case they will walk away from a discount rather than risk being exposed… to prevent these barriers emerging is it critical that consumers are provided with a sound rationale for the sale. This is a fundamental principle behind Group Buying, providing sound explanations for the discount, i.e. group discount, time limited offer, discount in exchange for promotion etc.
Consumers are a savvy bunch, without a clear explanation for the discount, the customer will assume there is a catch and walk away.
The second mechanism employed in Group Buying to illicit maximum discounts from Merchants (and ensure impulse behaviour from consumers) is by making the offer “Fleeting”, i.e. limiting the time an offer is available in order to drive customer action through our basic fear of missing out!
“Fleeting” is a critical function of Group Buying and Flash Sale sites and is incredibly effective at driving action. Fleeting is also used to great effect in the real world through “stock take sale”, “this weekend only” and “closing down sale”.
By time-limiting offers and proving game mechanics to generate excitement and drive action a lift in sales is guaranteed.
Much like the other tactics covered here, though, the use of a timer has to be genuine, like the Rug Store with its perpetual “closing down” sale, savvy consumers will quickly see through a fake deadline.