Is being ‘sticky’ the key to success.

Is being ‘sticky’ the key to success.

Those flogging business coaching to the owners of medium sized businesses seem to focus on one of the oldest sales techniques in the book, the ‘Before &  After’ pitch.

Describe the current situation, and make it as down and dirty as possible, then describe the new world, the joy of the state achieved by the application of their great coaching/technology/process, whatever it is they are selling.

No mention of the challenge in the middle, abracadabra, all is well, just $109/month, less than the cost of coffee and a roll every day and you are on your way to the ‘laptop lifestyle’.

Tangled up in the bullshit, never articulated, at least  to my hearing is a very valid notion, that of ‘Critical Mass’.

The critical mass in a nuclear reaction is the point at which the process becomes self- sustaining. It may take only a nanosecond, but there is that critical point, below which the process is not self-sustaining, and past which, it is.

At what point does a cloud, which is just an accumulation of moisture, suddenly change from being a cloud to dropping rain?

For small business owners, the point of critical mass, from where the business is self-sustaining, is usually that point from where they can take time out of the business, and enjoy the financial rewards of success.  The road to that point will be different in every case, and most in my experience never actually consider what the elements of critical mass may be in their particular business, and how they might influence them.

I think it might be about how ‘sticky’ you can become.

‘Sticky’ is not a term often seen in any form of business writing, it is more usual in kids books, but how is this for a definition:

‘Stickiness’ in business is the function of: Share of Wallet  X Propensity of customers to advocate for you.

The stickier you are, the more likely you will be to have your customers buy from you everything you can reasonably provide, and then go one step further and tell their friends, peers, and wider networks.

If you are  not sticky enough, you will be sub self-sustaining, but pass that sticky test, and the business will sustain itself, with some ongoing tweaking, which is different from the 80 hour weeks most small  business owners put in, to make a living, but often  not have a life.


Cartoon credit: Hugh McLeod and




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.