The value of an engaged employee.

The value of an engaged employee.

We all talk about the necessity of ‘engaging employees,’ but rarely truly achieve it, or see it in others. However, when  we do see it, we just know in our guts that we are looking at the way we would always like it to be.

Yesterday I spent 90 minutes in a suburban McDonalds store killing time between appointments, reading the daily rag, drinking an excruciating coffee, and fiddling with the language in a client report. All this time I watched a young bloke in the store make everyone he came into contact with feel special, even great.

He was just a casual employee, whose job it is to clean the tables and mop the floor. He did this, but he also did much, much, more. He opened the door as people were coming towards it, he high-fived the little kids, he helped a lady fold a stroller after extracting her baby, he joked and pranced, and he did all this with a huge smile on his face.

Every single person he interacted with smiled back, and had a word, he threw some light on everyone’s day.

As the store manager delivered a meal to the person at the table next door, I observed to him that this young bloke was worth much more than they were paying him, to which the manager responded, ‘We give him as many shifts as he wants, and we love having him here’

Despite the excruciating coffee, and other sometimes annoying human traits on display from time to time at Maccas, I know I will be back at this one, and hoping to see this young bloke loving his work, and making the day of others again.




The marketing flip, with pike & twist.

The marketing flip, with pike & twist.

The marketing degree of difficulty has exploded, making getting a good score  exponentially more difficult.

There used to be a few TV and radio stations, newspapers and magazines by which to reach potential customers, and supply them with the information you thought they needed to buy your stuff.  It was mass marketing, with little to no ability to customise, personalise, or engage.

The name of the game was scale.

Scale of capital to control the means of communication and mass produce products for sale

Scale of financial resources  to afford the advertising costs demanded by the communication owners

Scale of markets, mass consumers

Scale of intermediaries like supermarket chains, and suppliers of capital and equipment.

Scale had all the power.

In 15 years, less than half my working life, marketing has flipped.

Individuals now have all the power

Marketing has to be personalised, one on one, or it will be ignored

Media channels are now virtually infinite, and the cost can be modest to free

Brands are only as good as the last delivery of value to the individual

However, the objective remains the same, just as with the fancy dive. It is to go through the surface with as little splash and disturbance as possible, a good old fashioned, well executed and relatively simple swan dive can achieve that objective as well as the fancy risky, and hugely complicated combinations of tricks.

Next time you are contemplating a complicated marketing dive with a pike and twist, consider the benefits of simplicity.


Will Amazons venture into book stores rewrite history?

Will Amazons venture into book stores rewrite history?

I love books, thousands of them infest my home, and I have spent years of my life browsing. I may be one of the last “heavy consumers’ of books, and particularly coming towards Christmas, my local Dymocks and Berkelouw’s which have so far survived, welcome me with open arms.

There is a physical tactility to a book that you cannot get on a ‘device’, no matter how great the design, which has the potential to generate an emotional attachment.

Perhaps it is just me?

As a result of this I am on the Dymocks mailing list. Every month or so, I get an email outlining the deals on the best sellers, books of interest, and new releases.

Now, I do not mind the odd romance, or light ‘love and discovery’ adventure, I have probably read 2 or three in my time, but they are not my normal fare.

Nowhere near my normal fare.

Despite a couple of emails, and even a phone call to them indicating my absolute lack of interest in their hit list, and observing they have access to a significant amount of purchase data should they choose to use it, I still get this crap filling my inbox.

Meanwhile Amazon is opening book stores, bricks and mortar book stores.

Unthinkable a few years ago that having disrupted and almost destroyed book stores, they then venture into them.

Shades of the Washington Post turnaround under Jeff Bezos

They will be doing all the stuff in bricks and mortar stores that Dymocks, and all the other retailers now disappeared had the opportunity to do, but lacked the foresight and understanding of their customers to be able to do, despite having 15 years head start.

Book stores have a place, long live real books, and the stores that sell them, I guess they will be branded ‘Amazon’, and Jeff will keep laughing.




Is it schizophrenia or just something in the cactus?

Is it schizophrenia or just something in the cactus?

For years consumer markets have been relentlessly commoditised by retailers who hold the power over the distribution, and who not unreasonably, have sought ways to divert the proprietary margins available from manufacturers pockets into their own. Short term thinking, but that seems to be the world we live in.

Largely retailers have won the game, and branded FMCG products are now becoming an increasing rarity, and mostly where they survive, it is on the back of trade deals and residual strength of brands built by smart and visionary marketing in yesteryear. In liquor there are still many brands, but unbeknownst to most consumers, many of them are just housebrands infused with the wine industry hyperbole that seems to be expected.

The impact on category innovation is yet to be really seen, but I suspect it will stumble further, as by my observation of the shelves, it has done over the past few years.

There however, is the schizophrenia.

Every now and again, a product emerges that runs against the trend.

Consumers are increasingly concerned with the integrity of the supply chains that deliver products to their mouths, so on the fringes there are some very expensive products, usually in alternative distribution that use long lists of adjectives to describe their products: organic, hand- made, all natural, crafted, you have seen them all. Occasionally they are genuinely ‘new’ products, but mostly they are better quality, low volume versions of the commodities available on supermarket shelves.Sometimes they work, and consumers pay a significant premium for  the story that supports the claims, but generally the promise given by the adjectives is taken on trust by consumers.

Technology will increasingly have a role in this as magic like Blockchain emerges that can both guarantee the integrity of products supply chain, and make it absolutely transparent. Suddenly the hyperbole can be subjected to rational scrutiny.

In 2013 George Clooney and a few of his mates wanted their own brand of tequila. Why not, they can afford whatever they want, (but why Tequila??) anyway, the brand they chose and subsequently built,  ‘Casamigos’ has just been bought by Diageo for $US1 billion, around 1.3 Billion Aussie. Not bad in four years!

I do not drink tequila, and the term ‘Super Premium Tequila’  seems to me to be an absolute oxymoron, although perhaps I am unduly influenced by one very bad night involving a bottle of the stuff and a lemon tree while at University.

For $1.3 billion I could be persuaded to give tequila a second chance. Is this growth and purchase of such a highly personalised brand another signpost that consumers are demanding a whole set of new experiences from the items they buy, or is it just something in the cactus?






Will great marketing always powered by humans?

Will great marketing always powered by humans?

Great marketing has a strong visual component, even the great long form ads from the days before TV. Always has been, always will be.

Sometimes that ‘visual’ are the pictures that you form in your mind as a result of hearing something, which is why radio was, and still should be, a great communication medium, sometimes it is a great photo, video, or piece of printed material that speaks to just you.

Creativity and design are a huge part of this mix.


All  the tools around are convincing us that we can design stuff ourselves, just as we all seem to believe that we are photographers, just because we have a great little camera in our pockets all the time, or writers, because we can easily publish our scribblings on a multitude of channels.

Owning a saw does not make you a carpenter.

Part of the problem is that most so-called marketers know so very little about marketing any more. They do know about the tools, the algorithms, and sometimes bits of the martech stack, but little about the human reactions, relationships and intimacies that make for effective communication, the sort that does not bludgeon you into doing something, but those that deliver a message that resonates as if it was a personally addressed letter.

Remember those?

As an aside, I bought a book of stamps for  the first time in a long while last week.. a buck a stamp. I was shocked, and my first reaction was  ‘no wonder we are all going digital’  but my second was, ‘what an opportunity to be different, and get an almost 100% open rate, for just a dollar!’

The tech bunnies, headed by top bunny Facebook are doubling down on video, recognising the power. They are right to be doing this for commercial reasons, they are the advertising platforms of the 21st century, although the demise of TV particularly is grossly overstated, as old mate Bob Hoffman loves to point out. However, the users of the platform are being grossly manipulated in order to be a more marketable commodity that the platforms can sell to advertisers. Most of the users are largely blissfully unaware of their algorithmically manipulated experience, and I am increasingly uncomfortable about the ‘brand morality’ of this sad fact.

They are just eyeballs being wholesaled by the platforms for profit. At least with a TV you can grab the remote and change the channel, or go make a cup of tea.

I wonder if in the long term they will not look back as see that  they have broken the moral component of the foundations of a brand.

Facebook particularly is aggressively using their huge base to be continually testing, adding features, and renovating older ones in order to maximise ad revenue. It is pretty easy to be taken in by the often published numbers,  but sometimes a dose of reality would be useful, as highlighted in February’s MUmBRELLA article.

Bob Hoffman was right again.


This Social Media Examiner podcast has Mari Smith outlining what Facebook is doing,  and is worth the 40 minutes, and a scan of the show notes and links .

Back to where I started.

As marketers, we have a responsibility to both those who pay us, and those who listen to and act on what we suggest to them. We need to consider the foundation skills of our craft,  to react in a human way, to reflect the wisdom and experience coming from the humanity around us, rather than taking that feedback and running it through a bunch of algorithms to get the most clinical outcome.

As AI augmented AI, and machine learning continue to make inroads, they will consume the repetitive tasks in every job, but are a very long way from replacing the emotion and humanity that turns a slab of copy into a compelling call to action.

In answer to the question posed in the headline, Yes!

In time, mediocre, mass marketing may be executed by algorithms, but in a highly personalised world, that will not be good enough.

Image credit: Once again, Hugh McLeod at the Gaping void.


In defence of United Airlines employees

In defence of United Airlines employees

United is the butt of everyone’s jokes and derision, including mine, but it maybe useful to consider how  they got there.

Carlos Munoz was awarded the communicator of the year  in March, a few weeks before the unfortunate Dr Dao booked a seat to go and see a patient in Louisville. This now seems to be the ultimate irony, and I suspect the communicator of the year award now has its own PR problem.

However, in hindsight, a real brain-fart seems almost inevitable , with several recent similar events, and even further back, Dave Carroll‘s guitar signalling a truly broken culture.

When you think about it, the actions on flight 3411 were driven by the rigid, unthinking application of a set of rules.  The culture of an airline is one based on checklists, inviolable rules, and strict adherence to those rules. When you are flying, and want the plane to stay up, it seems that it may be a good idea to have whole sets of rules that ensure that it does so.

Perhaps the challenge at United may not have been about the stupidity and arrogance of staff, after all they are people, who have the same concerns and pressures, loves and joys that the rest of us have, but about the culture of rules that drive behaviour, and do not allow any room for doubt. Mix that with a few insensitive individuals and you have the toxic mix demonstrated so visibly on flight 3411

When there is a rule, follow it, without question, creativity or deviation.

That explains away the actions, sort of.

So the challenge is how to have a rule based culture that ensures that the job gets done the right way, every time, co-existing with one that  enables individual initiative and sensitivity to the situation.

This is not a unique challenge.

Almost every business  I work with is a medium sized manufacturer, they require rules to operate safely and efficiently, and the less explicit, transparent and flexible the rules are, the greater the CUS (cock up score) that exists.

One of the tenets of the TPS is ‘respect for people’ and never has the value of this as a foundation of culture been more on display that at United, over a long period.

Respect for People is a double sided coin. On one side there is the necessity for stable, repeatable and optimised processes, and the other on personal initiative and situational sensitivity, challenging to reflect in a set of detailed rules.  At the intersection is respect for people, their intelligence, initiative, desire to do the job as best they can, and go home safely.

At the time of posting, United CEO and chief PR guru Munoz has come out with a couple of further statements. The first outlines changes to improve customer experience as a result of the ‘incident’. This,  in contrast to the blame shifting and destructive crap put out after the incident is not a bad effort, but it reflects no more than a reasonable expectation of someone paying for a seat on a plane. At least it is clear, and Munoz at last took responsibility for the treatment of Dr Dao. The second simply announces that Dr Dao and United have reached an ‘amicable resolution’ of the incident, without any details. My guess is that the next time Dr Dao needs to fly anywhere, he can just call up his private plane, no need to  bother with those uncomfortable commercial flights any more.

As a final thought, the only one in an organisation who can really change a prevailing culture is the person at the top. I guess United needs a new one, as both a symbol that they are committed to change, and to get the process going in deeds rather than just a bunch of belated words following the crappola sandwich first served up.