March 31, 2007

Good For Goodness Sake

I was at a networking event in Dublin earlier in the week where specialists from The Referral Institute offered tips on how to make more of your network.

The early part of the day was presented by Mike Macedonio, best-selling author of the book Truth or Delusion. One of the networking myths Mike sought to defrock was the traditional 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you' (which he suggested should read more along the lines of 'Do unto others as they would have you do unto them').

I was reminded again of how poorly a christian education prepares us for the world of marketing where the good man often goes unrewarded whilst the charlatan prospers. Don't for a moment think I'm suggesting that we cast off our morals when we don our marketing hats but we are likely to be disappointed if we see virtue being its own reward in the way the old maxims suggest.

Just as Macedonio suggests, the marketplace usually demands much more from us and I think that, whilst we may start with doing things well, we must move beyond plain goodness if we are to succeed commercially.

March 24, 2007

Let The Games Begin?

I read an interesting piece in Fast Company magazine recently on the Wisdom of Gamers, which suggests that a new type of intelligence or facility is emerging in the generation that plays electronic games as readily as it does street and field games. This confirms what I've seen in my own children and the ease with which they move around virtual worlds in contrast with my own painstaking progress (which has me wondering if I am coming too late to this place and whether this new intelligence is simply beyond me).

Over the last little while, I've heard too that educational planners are looking to draw on the different way that gamers build understanding and acquire skills to add to the more traditional classroom-type learning in our schools.

This raises some important questions for brands. How will the new learners make sense of what we have to offer? What are the building blocks of meaning in this new world?

Whilst I believe that our audiences are unlikely to completely abandon the ways in which they learn about their world for the new game-led intelligence, it's clear that brand story will have to adapt to the new click-and-go thinking that is challenging the more traditional stick-and-ball learning that we did as youngsters.

Hold on to your thinking-caps! We're in for quite a ride.

March 19, 2007

Watered Down Starbucks?

I've been following the intriguing exchanges between Starbucks' partners and fans following the release through Starbucks Gossip of an internal memo reportedly issued by the brand's founder Howard Schultz.

Schultz argues that many of the decisions he and his colleagues took in order to drive the ferocious growth of the brand have resulted in "the commoditization of the Starbucks experience". This confirms my own rather uncompromising take on how brands work. I don't believe that great brands necessarily make things easier for us as brand-owners. Instead, they insist that we take difficult decisions that support our relationship with our customers.

You could argue that as a brand-owner, Schultz can do what he likes with his brand (although many of his partners seem to disagree) but it's even more refreshing than the finest Mocha Frappuccino to hear him admit that some of those short-term decisions may have hurt the brand over the long haul. Too often, brand-owners hope that, like Dorian Gray, they can make choices that damage the brand and somehow live happily ever after.

March 10, 2007

Jumping On The Brandwagon

I've just come from watching the rugby on TV and am disappointed with the tenuous link which Ulster Bank are trying to establish with the game through their current series of ads. They're quite funny in their own way - they have various people roaring, celebrating or heaving rugby-style in everyday situations in order to be part of the action - but they say nothing that connects the brand in any way that really matters with a game that's becoming more popular by the week. And that's surely the point of such an association?

You can contrast this with the elegant series of ads from Bulmers / Magners that likens activities in the orchard (the home-ground of the brand) to familiar gestures on the field of play: for example, tamping down the earth at the base of a young sapling in the manner of a place-kicker teeing up for a kick at goal.

What a pity! Tapping into the story being told through one success by linking it with your own story is a powerful way to forge a connection with your customer and this strikes me as a wasted opportunity by the bank.

March 04, 2007

Slow Train A-Coming

I've been travelling a great deal by train over the last few months and, during a recent trip to Limerick, managed to briefly mislay my return ticket. When I arrived at the station to report my loss, I was told that I needed to buy a replacement single ticket (at close to the price of my original return). I was also told that I could apply for a refund if my original ticket re-surfaced later.

Sure enough, it turned out that a business colleague had mistakenly taken my ticket as well as his own (don't ask, it's a long story!), and I made enquiries about a refund. That's when the fun began: Had I had the original ticket endorsed? No, it sat unused inside my colleague's pocket whilst he made the return trip on his own ticket. Ah sir, you should have had it endorsed. But no-one said anything to me about having it endorsed. Anyway, I can provide receipts for both my original and replacement tickets. Ah yes, but you might have bought a second ticket for someone else etc etc.

Things went on in this vein for quite a while longer. My appeal didn't quite fall on deaf ears but they were certainly hard of hearing. I was invited to submit a written application and it turns out I might get a refund if my application happens to fall the right way up on someone's desk.

The rail company are kicking up quite a fuss in public about the great progress they are making in rebuilding the railway. But before making tracks for public recognition, they might begin by showing a little faith in their own customers; surely the first stop in any brand-building exercise?