The single most common question I ask myself

The single most common question I ask myself

How do I demonstrate value?

As a senior marketing bloke in a large business, being heard around the board table was always a problem, as it is hard to quantify the impact of what you do. Try as hard as possible, there are still holes in the case, as the reality is that you are setting out to tell the future.

‘Do this, and that will happen’

While marketers are no longer seen as the corporate equivalent of ‘Zelda the fortune teller’ it remains hard to compete for scarce resources with those who are able to table hard data, and are able to quantify the holes in your logic, should they choose to do so.

While pointing out that one is in the past and cannot be changed, while the other is in the future, and therefore is able to be shaped by sensible and informed investment, there remains the uncertainty of the future. Success depends on the confidence that a management has in the ability of the marketer to assemble facts and suppositions into a credible projection of outcomes, in line with the risk profile of the corporation

It is even harder in consulting to small businesses. Every dollar spent on marketing with the promise of better outcomes in the future is a dollar out of the owners pocket. They have all been stung by the purveyors of various forms of marketing snake oil before, so are a wary and appropriately cynical lot.

I have concluded that the answer is a bit like motherhood, the value off which is only visible over a long period, but is then indisputable.

Photo credit Ali Alhosen via Flikr

Every change has unwelcome side-affects

Every change has unwelcome side-affects

Change has side-affects, like any medicine. Usually those side-affects are not palatable, and sometimes the medicine does not work.

However, not taking the medicine never works as a cure.

I am 65, so have had a few friends ‘pop off’ from various ailments over the years.  In particular I remember two because of their amazingly different responses to the very similar conditions that eventually beat them.

Colin was diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer, and did undergo some pretty mild palliative treatment, but essentially accepted his fate with grace, and went quietly.

Kevin did not go quietly. He fought the disease with everything he had, going from a big, robust, outgoing, exuberant character, to a tiny defiant shell with a huge smile on his face. He accommodated the numerous and challenging side effects of the aggressive treatments he was receiving as a human guinea pig in several clinical trials with a brand of black humour that made visiting him a joy. I saw him a few days before the end, which I think we both knew was close.  He was consoling me over his coming demise, (unbelievable) reflecting  on his gratitude for the life he had been given, and hoping that his role in the trials would help others.

Much of what I do involves commercial medicine that is not always easy to take, there are side-affects, which are often very unwelcome to some, but there is little about the medicine that is experimental.  Taken in the right doses at the right time, and most often the patient will survive and thrive. However, it usually gets worse before it gets better in the early stages of treatment, which is where many give up and go quietly.

No silver bullets, no gain without pain, and several other such cliches all apply, but the real trick is not to give in too early, and not to accept the seemingly obvious as the inevitable.


3 foundations that will enable Amazon to disrupt supermarkets.

3 foundations that will enable Amazon to disrupt supermarkets.

Shopping is a physical and sensory experience, humans evolved doing some sort of physical ‘shopping’ even if for most of our history, the similarity of that activity to a trip to the supermarket has been fleeting. Much as we might hate the queues at the checkout, difficult parking, reducing range as the retail gorillas replace our habitual brands with their own house-branded, and increasingly ‘Bandit branded’  (retailer owned ‘brands’ masquerading as proprietary) Sku’s, there is still an emotional and social element to the experience.

It applies even more in more specialist retailers, the more specialist, the greater the degree of sensory engagement necessary.

This is all breaking down, and quickly, as even high fashion, and highly personalised fashion like Shoes Of Prey, which can designed and bought on line.

So what can we expect from Amazon that would justify $US13.6 billion for Whole Foods?

 Virtual supermarket.

Virtual and Augmented Reality is coming at us like a train. Just as shoes of Prey allows you to design your own shoes, Warby Parker  has become a billion dollar company in 6 years by helping you to choose your glasses on line,   Amazon (surprise surprise) is playing with Prime Wardrobe , and Ikea is experimenting with a virtual furniture app.  it seems a short step to using Virtual reality from your couch to ‘walk’ through, select, place and order and schedule delivery from a grocery ‘store’.

Almost a year ago my second son bought a VR set for a few hundred dollars, and when I fiddled with it, thought I had seen the future of market research. Even so recently my imagination did not take me that next small step to an actual ordering and delivery management system, but why not?

Crowd sourced logistics.

The biggest stumbling block to digital grocery growth has been the logistics, both timing and cost. Fresh and frozen produce where timing and cold chain integrity is paramount, requires a different set of logistic standards to shelf stable commodity categories. Shoppers are very price sensitive across homogenised commodity categories of temperature agnostic products, and it does not matter much if they remain on the front step for a while, diametrically opposed on both counts to produce.

Timing of delivery has been particularly problematic in multiple income homes, and building delivery certainty creates considerable cost.

Both have been solved by the sort of technology Uber uses. Pretty simple to have a crowd sourced delivery service where the vehicles just have a refrigerated unit in the boot hooked into a power source in the car, combined with the delivery scheduling Uber has amply demonstrated works.

 Payment security.

Payment security while it should be a problem, as the level of fraud increases rapidly in Australia, from 16.2cents/$1,000 in 2013 to 24.5 cents/$1,000 in 2015, (according to the Australian Payments Clearing association), it seems not to be for most of us. However, It will be very soon. Blockchain technology will remove much of the risk, and in the early stages of development, seems to be ‘fraud-proof’. Amazon has been experimenting extensively with Blockchain , collaborating with many large financial and digital innovators to better facilitate and secure web based financial transactions.

It seems to me that these are the three building blocks Amazon needs to make a huge dent in the traditional supermarket business, struggling to identify the sustainable sources of growth and profitability. Whole Foods is only the stalking horse, as there is a lot of expertise in procuring quality fresh produce in predictable volumes, and Whole Foods is already an expert in this. Amazon will add the Whole Foods expertise onto what they are doing already, and bingo, another disruption coming your way.



Why Operational improvement and change initiatives usually fail.

Why Operational improvement and change initiatives usually fail.

How do you make short term operational and process improvements ‘stick’ for the long term?

Most change initiatives fail to deliver on their early promise. You get some short term improvement, some changes made, but the effectiveness of the process dwindles with time.

I often see failed improvement initiatives, usually labelled ‘Lean” or ‘6 Sigma’ by those involved, that leave a pile of paper, some awareness and knowledge, and from time to time some useful results, but nothing like the promises of the expensive consultants as they signed you up.

Why is that?

Nobody goes into a change process expecting it to fail

In my observation, the single most common reason these initiatives fail is because they ignore one of the basic tenets of Lean: respect for people.

Lean gets a start because management sees problems they have failed to solve, or do not know how to solve. So they bring in some Lean consultants who reach into the tool box and come out with some of the common tools, go through an education process, implement, and get some quick and sometimes impressive wins, and victory is declared. After that declaration, the focus moves elsewhere,  and the process slowly deteriorates.

Why is that?

Everyone was so committed, excited at the early results, the consultants were paid a shedload, so it should have worked.

In 30 years of doing this stuff, there is always one dominant reason they fail.

The initiative is top down, not bottom up.

Those at the top see problems manifest in the P&L. Their motivations are financial, operational and strategic. They talk about alignment, and people being the most valuable asset, then ignore them.

By contrast, building initiative from the bottom, asking those doing the work how to improve it, then giving them the tools to improve, and rewarding them with acknowledgement as well as a more secure job and maybe a pay rise, is where the action is.

However, for managers, they are trained to see their job as managing. Having some stuff bubbling up from the factory that has not gone through the formal approval processes and subjected to the discipline of  the accountants mandatory NPV  and ROI analysis is uncomfortable and challenging to their authority as managers.

This is where the distinction between managers and leaders comes in.

Managers, usually unwittingly, kill off the grass roots enthusiasm to make their workplace safer, more interesting, and more productive because it makes them uncomfortable, less in control.  By imposing rules, they interrupt the productive flow evident in successful initiatives. By contrast,  leaders encourage and promote the ambiguity that sometimes results, and works with it.

Which are you, Manager or Leader?



How to choose your marketing and sales automation software

How to choose your marketing and sales automation software

One of the common questions I field is which tools are the best to automate sales and marketing processes.

The right answer is that there is  no right answer.

There are just so many tools out there that may do a really good job for you, some need to be stitched together with others, but there are a few that offer all singing, all dancing solutions.

The latter are usually not appropriate for the needs or IT resources of small and medium enterprises, who typically lack the knowledge  and resources to do a complicated implementation.

While it may seem wasteful, my advice to SME’s is to take small steps, be wary, find ways to work around the shortcomings, and stitch things together, then when big enough take a bigger step and integrate in a larger package.

It does not always work, but experimenting as you go along is usually a very good idea.

However, here are some generic steps that can be taken that should be done at the beginning of the process, no matter what, and how, you are going to implement.

  • Define outcomes. Define the outcomes you want from the software in the context of your strategy. Automation tool implementation without reference to the strategic principals and goals will be a painful experience.
  • Integration. Consider how the software will integrate into the rest of your business. Most implementations I see these days are automating sales and marketing in one way or another, which usually need to be integrated into the existing financial and operational software that has typically already been deployed. You need to clearly understand where the holes between the applications hide, and have considered the manner in which they are to be filled. Excel seems to be the ‘filler’ of choice in most circumstances I come across.
  • Build wide buy in. It is essential that you get the buy in for the functional users, by seeking their input to the tool choice, project planning, training, and implementation. This offers the opportunity to ensure that their current and anticipated requirements are met as far as possible, and that their concerns are able to be aired, if not completely addressed.
  • Fit. Ask yourself how well the new software and existing processes fit together, and how familiar the new processes will feel. Most software is not fully utilised, and this is often a result of legacy systems being useful and familiar. You need to determine how to address these issues of what I call ‘legacy elasticity’.This may seem very similar to the challenges of integration, but they are different, as there is always resistance to change, and  the better the fit to the existing, the easier the evolution will be. Integration implies that both parts of the equation can be altered to achieve a different outcome, whereas fit matches existing parts together.
  • Map your processes. My normal practise is to have someone outside the business map all the current processes, then run that map over the process map that will be implemented in the software. My objective is twofold: remove the inconsistencies and silly bits from the current, and find a process that matches what is left as closely as possible, then implement the software without change. Changing the code in the software package seems easy, but always ends up in tears as unintended consequences rear their ugly heads.
  • Do we go to the cloud? The argument about ‘cloud or not to cloud’ has been had. Go to the cloud. The compromises can be managed, the cost will continue to beat the costs of on premises, but the real value is in the automatic patching and upgrades that occur.
  • Due diligence. As you are doing your due diligence, make sure you ask deep questions, and hold control over the agenda. Software sales people are very good indeed, and will sway the most recalcitrant and reluctant buyer with a vision of the new life you will have purely as a result of their software. Just assume it is all bullshit, that there are a number of options that will meet your requirements, and be clear about what you need, not just in terms of the functionality, but the training costs, ongoing maintenance, upgrades, any internal hardware expenses, and features that may not be included in the base package.

Making a software vendor decision is challenging, but the truly challenging bit, the implementation and leveraging of the software is yet to come. Make sure that the whole project is planned in great detail, and that the vendor is locked into the outcomes.

Do all that, and you might get away with it, and when you do so the productivity gains will be huge.

Image credit: Scott Brinker of Chief Martech. The landscape details 5,381 digital martech automation tools as of the end of April 2017. There will be more by now. I recommend you dig around in the Chief Martech blog for ideas, information and insight.


Amazon, Whole Foods and the future of supermarkets in Australia

Amazon, Whole Foods and the future of supermarkets in Australia

Amazon would not have paid $13.8 Billion for Whole foods without a plan. The purchase came as a surprise to most, but it should not have, they have been evolving into bricks and mortar for some time, with books, Amazon Go, The Washington Post,  and a few other dabbles.

Most commentators look at Amazon as a digital retailer, but when you think about it, they are not: they are a Platform that manages supply chains. Those supply chains just happen to end with consumers, rather than a B2B transaction.

Looking at the purchase of Whole Foods through the lens of a supermarket retailer will lead you to wrong conclusions, as you will be looking for the efficiencies that can be squeezed out of the existing model, with a few wrinkles added in.

Wrong lens, wrong model.

Amazon will reinvent the Whole Foods supply chains, and extend them straight to consumers, probably using Blockchain technology. Wal-mart is experimenting with Blockchain in their Pork and Mango supply chains, and I would be astonished if the work Amazon has been doing developing Blockchain technology in finance markets leveraging Amazon web services in collaboration with IBM was not applied very quickly to Whole Foods.

Amazons success (I predict) with Whole Foods  will be enabled by their efficient systems, great technology, engaged workforce and all the other stuff parroted around, but the real reason is far more strategic.

In the ‘old world,’  whether it referred to supermarkets, newspapers, personal transport, or accommodation, success came with the control of supply, which required capital to be in the game. In the digital world, success comes from the control of demand.

Amazon has demonstrated its mastery of demand management, and has demonstrated that this mastery can be leveraged backwards into the physical world, as they deliver a huge range of goods from their warehouses.

The mission statement on Amazons site states:  “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”  No mention I can see of digital, or technology, just customers!

By any measure, Bricks and mortar is on the slide, but on-line sales still amounts to a small proportion of retail. Just what the percentage is depends on whose numbers, and what they classify as retail, but it is less than 10%, 8.3% according to this study but will be more based on the huge number of filings for bankruptcy current in the US. According to this 2017 Nielsen study, online sales of FMCG accounts for 8% of dollars.



The split sales between on line and in store is very wide across different categories, but the growth of 80% in digital while off a modest base, is a statistic that should scare the pants off Coles, Woolworths, and other ‘traditional supermarkets around the world. Sainsburys in the UK has suffered in the share price stakes as their profitability has slipped, while they seem to have done a pretty good job with home delivery, and digital generally. Amazon could buy them from cash flow. Just a thought!


What will the digital/bricks & mortar split be in 20 years?

Will the current 90/10 reverse itself?

Perhaps not, but 50/50 would not seem to be outrageous when you think of the developments in Virtual reality emerging, where you will be able to visit your supermarket from the convenience of your couch at home.

The future is in personalisation, we all seem to accept that. However, the existing supermarket business model is intent on homogenising the experience in the pursuit of low costs.

Do you see a paradox emerging in this? Retailers are doing exactly what consumers do not want, at least outside commodity categories, as is evident in the foregoing graph.

I think  the era of big box retail is coming to an end, and in its place will be experiential retail. Alibaba, the Chinese version of the combination of Amazon and Ebay has stayed away from owning anything beyond the platform that enables connection and sales, but that is also changing. There are now 13 Hema supermarkets around Shanghai, delivering a step towards experiential retail, and using technology to drive then enable the transactions.

If I was running Coles, I would be experimenting with ‘MasterChef’  sections in some stores. Have a chef, cooking the fresh produce in  the stores, simple recipes that shoppers can see in use, and certainly purchase pre packed bundles that have all  the ingredients along with prep notes. Similarly in the Coles owned Bunnings I would have workshops teaching ‘do it yourselfers’ how to use the tools and materials, running classes that use them to make something. Customers  can then buy the tools, blueprints and product packs to make a work bench, toys for the kids, or whatever they wish. In Bunnings currently, if you want to be stocked, you need to have merchandisers that fill the shelves. The next logical stage is to have branded sub stores, where there is only branded product on sale, and with an ‘advisor’ paid by the supplier, on hand.

A shop within a shop if you like, which is not a new idea, department stores have had fashion brands running sections in their stores for years. Experiential retail.

The supermarkets are going in the opposite direction, commoditising everything in the name of efficiency.

The industry has consolidated and consolidated, fewer brands, retail options, and producers. Perhaps there is a tipping point, and we are just passing it.

The consumer is increasingly looking for natural, local, assured provenance, and  environmentally sustainable product, all mixed in with a new shape of ‘value’ less dominated by price than has been in the past. Communicating and delivering these attributes are the foundations of branding, and the delivery of ‘value’ to a purchaser.

Woolworths will live to regret the closure of Thomas Dux. It started so well. Their in store  ‘Foodies’ were a hit in the stores I visited, but the weight of the Woolworths machine drowned them. Bring it back I say, it may be your saviour, or try and buy Harris Farm again before Amazon come in and offer the Harris family enough to retire in gilded luxury to Monaco.

I like Ray Kurzweil’s observation that ‘The future comes very slowly, then all at once’.

This is classically the emergence of AI and combined with the Gartner Hype cycle makes a compelling case. Gartner’s 2016 Hype cycle has several technologies that relate to and are integral to the development of all the AI and VR stuff being hyped. Amazon has the grunt to bring all this to the table and disrupt the comfortable supermarket duopoly that exists in Australasia.

If nothing else, it will be fascinating to watch


Header photo credit: Eli Christman via Flikr.