Tag Archives: customer

Rain, art, customer service, a new camera and a bit of exploring

It was a rainy Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago.  I was in my two bed flat, with off-road parking which is walking distance to my work (please check my post on that experience !) thinking what to do.

I had finished all my chores about the place and was on my own for a change, it was a chance to explore, try new things, go on an adventure !

Well, not quite, I decided to go and explore a new, to me at least art gallery, in Walsall – which frankly is pretty predictable, art is one of my passions and so it’s nice to post about that rather than marketing for a change. I admit at this point that whilst I think I ‘live on the edge’ it may be that the edge is quite broad !

I was really surprised how close it was to Lichfield and by the time I arrived it had even stopped raining.  So far so good … I was exploring new territories, Livingstone like (ok humour me), I have only ever been to Walsall once before to watch Derby County (the finest team in European Football) play a second leg, away, Freight Rover trophy match in the depths of a very snowy winter some number of years ago, so this was indeed an adventure… albeit guided by Sat Nav, and a map, and a smartphone … risk averse you might say!

The New Art Gallery Walsall is lovely, just at the end of the canal and the shopping centre… quite a modernist surprise.


I was especially keen to see the current Richard Long Prints exhibition.  I have been an admirer of his gentle, landscape based art for some time, I find it very peaceful and calming.  It combines the landscape, words, photography and interventions quite exquisitely.

His website is a wonderfully still place that I visit quite often … check it out here.

The current print exhibition is lovely with some older prints I had not seen before and a wonderful, full wall, in situ original piece that I loved;


I took a sneaky snap – I hope Richard does not mind – I only took one and only for this blog post.

The exhibition was wonderful and I will post more about the permanent collection when I explore it in more detail over time.

The absolute delight of the exhibition was however almost bettered by the customer service I received, the front of house team were a delight, universally, and I spoke to three or four people about art, the rain and working in the gallery.  One interesting connection was that everyone I spoke to loved the textural changes in the building, rich hard wooden floors, smooth painted concrete and then beautiful exposed concrete beams and floors showing the ribs and bones of the building.  I find art gallery staff generally pleasant, but some are overly vociferous, some have their heads in books, but at this gallery they were as keen to chat about art as I was. I really enjoyed their company.


After a coffee I set out to explore, armed with my new camera (a Fuji film x100s) – I treated myself a few weeks ago … It reminds me of an old rangefinder in many ways and I clearly need to practice more to get the best out of it.  I will keep today’s efforts between me and Photoshop I think, but I really enjoyed playing.  The enclosed are snaps from my iPhone, tweaked in Snapseed – I loved the graffiti around the gallery, an art form I often come back to.

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All in all I would recommend a visit to the gallery, and please say hello to the team, you will be rewarded with a pleasant conversation and a real enthusiasm for art.  Take your camera with you too, and hope for a day with better weather than when I went !

12 May 2014

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2 bed flat, off road parking and walk to work please!


2 bed flat, off road parking and walk to work – this was my brief to local estate agents in Lichfield recently. Home is in Norwich now, but work is in Lichfield during the week. 

I think that’s makes it fairly clear what I am looking for, let me know if you disagree, but I am fairly confident that is a clear brief.

I work with data every day and I try and make sure that at a simple level I am talking to customers about things they are interested in, sadly that has not been my experience of buying the flat. The service had been ‘patchy’ at best as well.

Now I used to be a surveyor and work in an Estate agents, so I know it can be a tough job but I have been completely amazed by the lack of attention to the following simple tenet: that you are likely to get a better response from people if you talk to them about things they want to know about and do so in a friendly helpful manner. 

My story starts when I actually walked around the estate agents in town – a bit old school I know – but I enjoy thumbing through sales particulars, usually in a pub with a pint of lovely lager beer and a sandwich and a big map. I’ve moved a lot more than the average person over the years, I guess, so it’s become a bit of a ritual.  

But I hadn’t moved for 8 years and the world has changed – a lot – it would seem !

Mortgages – this seems to be the priority – getting you in front of a mortgage broker ASAP before someone else does.  This is not just to organise a mortgage it’s also prioritising your insurance needs as well. And they don’t mind at all if you buy from someone else of course, the service is independent of the actual flat buying I was reassured on many occasions. 
Legal services – this is a clear second priority it would seem, why? Well again it’s a fee earner for the estate agent that actually does not rely on you buying from them. 
Tyre kickers – evidence I was a credible buyer with the necessary means to buy a flat was a clear priority – this is a poor feeling, buying a new home should be exciting  and not a drudge to prove who you are and how much money you have in your account – yes, I get that I will need to do that, but up front, almost before appointments are made? It weakend, in many ways what for me, is still a 121 experience. 
Data collection – I was surprised by the level of this, in part due to the tyre kicking problem I realise, but the detail was significant. Which makes the details of the wrong type of houses in the wrong location sent to me, even more irritating. Kirstie & Phil are strangers to Lichfield I suspect !
The internet – I have been, on occasion, heard to repeat the phrase, I live in the cloud, and I tweet, I Facebook, I link in and I write 2 blogs.  So clearly I like the internet but the lack of personal interest vs the referral to the excellent Right Move app and website belies the desire to organise my mortgage, insurance and legal services for me.  Nor does it build an all important trusted relationship. 
Social media – I am glad you have Twitter and Facebook pages, but that’s not helping me greatly to be honest, unless you can highlight for me the two bed flat that has off road parking  and is walking distance to work !

So all in all I am a little disappointed, as it happens I did find one good estate agent – and luckily they listened and they had a 2 bed flat with off street parking that is a 10 minute walk to my office. 

But …
– to the estate agents that sent me details of 4 bed properties over my budget 
– to the single estate agent that said just log on to our website every week
– to the estate agent that still just sends me a list of everything they advertise each week
– and to the estate agent that keeps inviting me to show home openings the other side of Birmingham … 

I implore you to follow some simple guiding notes from one of your potential customers;

– listen to my needs, I will accept that errors will occur every now and again but please try and get it right
– explain in greater detail why you need to collect so much personal data – and then reassure me how you will use it, because if you get the type of property wrong I will suspect you will get other things wrong too
– remember how exciting buying a house is … please … It’s a ‘biggy‘ and being pushed off to the web is no way to deliver a service that is so important to the buyer, and, you know what? when I sell the flat in the future I will remember you !
– keep in touch proactively – email is fine but I had no proactive contact from most estate agents at all – again when I want to sell my home I will remember that too
– don’t just prioritise your fee earning – think about this as a move of a home not buying and selling a house, and to quote my favourite film (Roadhouse) “be nice”.

The poor use of so much rich data has really surprised me in the last few months, I like to think the firm I used to work for would have had a better stab at the relationship with its potential clients. I know when I was negotiating a sale I tried to develop a relationship first … that way I stood a chance of getting a purchase this time and a sale and possible purchase the next time round and that meant more money in my pocket and that of the company. Very simple CRM. 

As the market is seeming to pick up the success stories will come from the companies that develop relationships I feel, rather than those directing you to self service. I don’t mind that when buying beans, but a 2 bed flat, with off street parking that is walking distance to my office is a different matter altogether!

28 January 2014

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Pay Day Loans: A lesson in naming strategies


Payday loans are clearly big business.  The APRs they charge are, in my opinion, outrageous and whilst you can argue the point that they are lending to people who cannot use mainstream banks and whose only other option would be the even less palatable money lending that exists outside of the law and regulators view,  I would contend that they are exploiting a group of society that is limited in its ability to change the model through its own actions.

The Government and regulators seem to be acting, slowly, and I see a real positive action in the growth of  credit unions – great institutions & a wonderful model of co-operativism.  The OFT investigation and referral to the competition commission has led to a reduction in companies already, and you have to believe that those who have ceased trading were the least well placed to survive an investigation, because the model itself looks profitable for the companies. You even have to admire the Church of England and its intent; using Churches for social good and allowing Credit Unions to use them is a great idea.  It’s a shame about the £75k (tiny !) VC investment in Wonga getting the greater publicity.

But this post is really about how the payday loan companies have cleverly built their brands by use of some very clever naming strategies that they then follow through in the brand experience, advertising and customer journey.  All designed to make you feel happy and that this is somehow not really a big deal.

Think about it … you usually borrow money from venerable institutions like Lloyds, Barclays, Nat West and so on.  There are a few outliers like Tesco Bank, Virgin Money and M&S Bank – but in the main these are serious brands with serious names and a lengthy heritage in banking/money.

But this is not the case with the Payday loan companies.  Check out the list below;

  • Wonga = slang for money
  • Payday Pig = plays on piggy bank
  • Moneybox = plays on piggy bank
  • Cash Cow Now = plays on well known phrase implies easy
  • Cash Lady = gender specific and unthreatening – uses Celebrity endorsement … not A list !
  • Sunny = happy light feeling
  • Peachy = happy light feeling – “everything is just peachy”
  • Pedro = happy singing mexican imagery
  • Uncle Buck = family friendly associations
  • QuickQuid = slang and presents low value implicitly by use of quid
  • WizzCash = majors on speed
  • BeeLoans = friendly imagery
  • Moola = slang for money

Example imagery below:




This is clever marketing designed to mitigate the awfulness of knowing the APR is running into thousands of percent.  These names as they appear are often tertiary brands and as you click through you find yourself at a differently named website.  It is a confusing marketplace – with low entry costs and a proliferation of brands using ‘names’ to target different sectors.

Wonga for example is using older characters perhaps to demystify and appear less threatening but also to appeal to an older demographic.  Cash lady, clearly identifies with a gender specifically.  Clever segmentation strategies that are more sophisticated than you first think.

cash lady

The websites and collateral are all bright primary colours, simple and easy to read – perhaps based on an insight that the audience is less sophisticated.

The imagery is typically friendly, illustration of sunny uplands, rounded fonts and simple forms and actually there is very little traditional loan imagery, no money symbols in evidence, just lots of sliders and dials that you can interact with.

You have to admire the way these companies have presented themselves as friendly, professional and appealing with warm cuddly advertising.  Cartoons and illustrations  are happy and welcoming and resonate with an unsophisticated target.  But they, like the naming strategies they have employed, are a distraction designed to move the eye away from the APR and the reason that the target audience has to use them.

I might not like them, but their advertising and marketing is well positioned and well executed.

I do hope that the Competition commission do something swiftly to address what I see as a blight on our society, but the cleverness of their advertising will stay with me for a long time I think

10 Aug 2013


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PWM (or the Problem with Marketers) …

The title gives it away.  The main problem with marketers is lingo bingo, the TLA (Three Letter Acronym), the tendency to speak only in a jargon driven language that other marketers speak.


I have recently changed jobs, I am loving my new job, but the TLAs are all different, after 8 years with my last brand this is a challenge.

It stands out starkly when you move job, as frankly even I don’t understand some of the jargon and I have been a Marketer for nearly 30 years.  It’s a new language I need to learn.

TLAs were supposed to be a means of making life easier, but I think as a habit it just gets in the way of allowing Marketers to shine, it can appear foolish in the extreme – I was once asked when discussing ATL (above the line) advertising and BTL (below the line) advertising, by an exasperated Finance colleague to just “either tell me where the bloody line is, or better still speak plain English”.  Sound advice.

TLAs were supposed to make life easier, they were developed as mnemonics to assist learning initially.  The idea being, in biological sciences, that they would make learning easier.  The irony of that objective is not lost on me.

They can assist in marketing only conversations, but there is a clear risk with new starters in a business that a TLA in one company can mean something different in another.  I also think they can belittle.  It is hard to be honest and say “what on earth do you mean?” unless you are either confident or senior.

The IT industry really took to their use and so it’s no surprise that the worst offenders in marketing are the on-line boys and girls.  They just proliferate each year and it makes it inordinately difficult to break out of that world.  Currently the worst offender for me is SMM – Social Media Monitoring.  It really doesn’t need to be abbreviated – it’s a task that is basic and will be universally understood if you say it out loud.  If you say I am about to engage in some SMM – people will either mis hear you and think it’s a S&M party or just plainly have no clue.  If they ask you what it stands for they may be expecting grandiose IT developments, revolutionary techniques, a ground breaking IT solution … but monitoring? Really?

So, given that I have in the past been very very guilty of the extensive use of MTLA (Marketing Three Letter Acronyms), which is in fact an ETLA (extended Three Letter Acronym) can I change?  I am reminded of the book of memories that my last team gave me (thank you so much if any of you are reading this .. I love it !) when I left that I once ran a Lingo Bingo session in one of the quarterly huddles – I won !!   I did it to poke fun at Marketers, done gently it does give you permission to use our secret language, but I think I’m going to try to reduce my use of it.

Marketing should be about great communication and we strive to do that for our customers and members, so why should I knowingly make that less of an objective within my business.

I will let you know how it goes.  In the meantime, an observation, in Manchester, Barclay’s Bank have a concept branch which has reduced branch collateral (ok … leaflets for customers).  They are brilliantly written in plain English – even the small print.  I aspire to that level of simple communication.

Check out how they label their ATM (Automated Teller machines) BTW (by the way) and why not let me know you favourite, ridiculous or otherwise, TLA.

Barclays Hole in the Wall .. An ATM if you want a TLA !

Barclay’s Hole in the Wall .. An ATM if you want a TLA !

My long-term pet hate is CSR – a hugely important social change, a movement in fact (Corporate Social Responsibility) that is belittled by its abbreviation in my view.

Now … over to you !


18 May 2013

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Big Data in Edinburgh


Big Data – a lot of print and web space has been taken up by this topic recently.  I will post my views in more detail over what I think it means and how I think it should be leveraged by Marketers, but here is a great example of a sensible use of data, harnessed alongside customer service.

I like Marriott Hotels.  I have a bank of good memories from weekends away in Marriott Hotels around the UK.

I stayed at the Edinburgh Marriott last Friday night.


It was a simple over night stop at a hotel I have used regularly over the last few years.  It is a nice hotel, good gym and pool, nice bar and like most hotels of this type has a reasonable turnover of staff.  I don’t expect them to remember me – I stay there, maybe 4 or 5 nights a year.

But Friday was interesting.  Greeted by a trainee and one of the permanent team, I had to wait a while – The Newport Gwent Dragons were staying there (RUFC – they lost to Edinburgh on the night) but I digress…

After giving my name, the receptionists clearly used data to make my experience of check-in personal and engaging;

  1. They knew I was a Marriott rewards customer and confirmed that my logged preferences had been accommodated in the room they were assigning me too
  2. They knew I had stayed with them before, “but just in case you need a reminder of where anything is please just ask any of the team” – nice and engaging phrasing
  3. They knew when I had last stayed – “well at least the weather should be better than when you were here in December Mr Hemingway”

Really simple stuff, but excellent service empowered by good, ACTIONABLE, data.  The added value for me is feeling engaged and welcomed by that hotel and the brand.

I would hope its’s policy, but it might just be great thoughtful customer service, either way … guess where I will be staying when I go back to Edinburgh in August for the Festival


12 May 2013




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Documenting your new marketing strategy

Marketing business sales

Over the last few weeks my posts have concentrated on the steps I like to follow in building a marketing strategy. I identified 7 steps initially – the Customer Review.

Once you have completed the Customer Review you need to document your strategy. Remember my guide is not there to be adhered too slavishly. You will have your own processes and procedures and formats to follow, but below is a suggested approach to sharing the outcomes of your customer thinking;

What you should have now is a series of outputs that you can turn from thinking into action. By working through the 7 steps you should have:

  • Engaged your team
  • Identified the key strategic challenges faced by your business
  • Organised your thoughts logically and given yourself some answers to the critical questions posed
  • Identified the areas where you and your business can ‘win’.

What you now need to do is to collate your thoughts and create a coherent plan that can be communicated ‘up the line’.

I suggest this is summarised as follows:

Current State Assessment

  • Current market defined; Customer needs and wants
  • Marketplace trends, alongside clearly articulated segments/sectors of attractiveness to your business
  • Sales, retention, profit KPIs of your current business in the your current market context (and by sector of your marketplace wherever possible)
  • Your current market position in terms of shares and other KPIs
  • The importance of market segments to you
  • Your overall value engineering picture and price position vs costs

Target State Assessment

  • Your desired financial position: costs to target, value of business forecast and your price position
  • Your target customers defined as deeply as you can
  • How the target state fits with your overall long term business strategy
  • How the brand essence articulates and supports your strategy (or in rare cases; conflicts)

Way-finding Guide (for your Exec Team/Board)

  • Say how you plan to move from current state to target state
  • The customer focus / tactics you will employ
  • Articulate coherently the customer proposition or offer – what will drive take-up/use etc
  • Identify what needs to change across your business to allow the strategy to succeed

The Plan

  • Show a short summary of all of your conclusions from the 7 steps
  • Show your objectives – qualitative and quantitative
  • Show how you will measure success or failure – what are your tolerances?
  • Show the strategies you will employ alongside tactics employed at a granular level
  • Show your financial assessments and paint a payback picture over 3 years


  • Finally, using Step 7 show how the 3 year strategy is affected by / influences your 5 year strategy – short and sharp – but it lends huge credibility to your thinking.

So the only thing left to do is to agree the media and creative communications strategies and plans to bring this to life. I will, perhaps, share my thoughts on those activities in due course, but at this stage the important thing is to remember to do the following before you go for a congratulatory drink of tea/lovely lager beer/champagne/fruit juice*

*- please chose one or more !

  1. Ask for agreement to the strategy
  2. Draw up your Internal communication plan of the strategy
  3. Start your formal stakeholder engagement around the business, your strategy team can help you, as not everyone will have been fully engaged, end to end, on your journey so you need to tell them the story to get their buy-in. Focus first of all on the Pagans – get them on board and the rest are ‘cheap dates’.
  4. One thing I think that aids this stage is to drive out a mission statement or descriptor for your strategy. This should not disconnect to your wider long term vision for the business, but may describe a stage in achieving it … for example- after a ‘Foundation’ plan to stabilise a business you may enter a ‘growth phase’ – describing that in a simple engaging way for colleagues, which will be a great boon when determining communications strategies in due course.

I hope you have found this series of posts informative – I need to thank my influences again, Davidson, Fisk, McDonald, Kotler (“The Prof”) and all of the teams I have worked with to date. Thank you.

And remember – if in doubt during this process … use a boxy chart – they can be used to explain everything in my view/experience (I’m only half joking by the way !).

08 May 2013

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Marketing Futurology

The final stages of the Customer Review are vitally important and we have just one more to go before we start stitching things together.  If you remember, the first stage in developing a marketing strategy is thinking – which I call the Customer Review – and then we move into delivery.  We are now at the final step, 7 – Future proofing of the Customer Review.

  1. Customer insight ✓
  2. The marketplace ✓
  3. Critique the current strategy ✓
  4. Identify and critique your enemies ✓
  5. Critique your current/planned offer in detail: Product / Service / Channel ✓
  6. Pricing Review ✓
  7. Futurology
Futurist Cinema - Scarborough

Futurist Cinema – Scarborough – nice building !

(7) Futurology

This step is the final step in customer thinking and is in fact a sense check of the customer research and trends exhibited in your marketplace currently.  It requires you to think qualitatively and quantitatively.  It requires you to think forward 3+ years;


  • To give you confidence that your 1 to 3 year strategy is not going to hamper your next strategic step that takes you out to 5 years.
  • To make sure you are future proofing where you can.
  • To make sure you are labeling no regrets strategies and tactics clearly as ‘no regrets’ if you pursue tactics that contradict your 5 year view of trends and market/customer developments.


  • The first step is to review your products and channels for innovation in the marketplace.  You should have this information in your Marketplace attractiveness research that informed your early matrix.
  • A useful tip to pick up trends is to use some of the trend-spotting websites and email alerts.
  • Review the industry reports and the Annual Report and Accounts of your competitors/enemies and use logarithmic trend-lines on sales growth etc to forecast out.
  • Your IT department can be tasked with keeping you up to date on technology trends – ask them for a monthly or quarterly report.
  • Do the same with your media planners, creative agencies, email dispatchers and so on.
  • Utilise the delights of your Industry bodies, ISBA, DMA, IDM, etc as well  as your trade press and marketing press.
  • Using these free channels greatly reduces your costs and makes this futurology task as simple as mapping the trends.  But don’t be afraid to pay – I find eBenchmarkers historic assessment of web channel usage really helpful in informing my expectations of web and telephony 5+ years out as Insurance looks more and more like a digital channel, for example.

My sense is that the universe you need to map is helpfully covered by your PESTLE from the very early steps of the Customer Review – just don’t overlay the SWOT in this step – this is about drawing a picture.

I worked for a CEO who used a very simple tool that was an email from himself in the future to his current Exec team today:  He liked to use either a press release or a piece on the company on BBC.co.uk.  This works well and is a nice idea to engage the team.  Ask all of them to do this in isolation, and then to discuss why they have led on (usually) different things.

Finally don’t forget the Office for National Statistics if you are in the UK – a mine of census and other useful information.

The final step in this process is then to torture test the pictures you have drawn vs your emerging strategies i.e. does your channel pricing strategy look acceptable if you are seeking to retain customers for 4 to 6 years, but now can reasonably expect that channel to be radically more expensive and less used in 3 to 5 years time? Do you need different strategies and tactics to actively manage those customers you are recruiting now?

The hard part is making sure you have persona’s or pictures of how your customers will interact with you in 5 years time.  You might need to practice this, but Ad agencies are great at it, so use your retained agencies to help


  • You will have a clear view of future trends at a more granular and industry specific level than just, say, “we have an aging population”.  Which is helpful only if you have strategies to exploit or manage it.
  • You will have a list of some activities/strategies that when assessing for costs & effectiveness you know must be no regrets or not at all.
  • You will be able to demonstrate a longer term vision with customers, and with your members, or owners, or indeed shareholders.

Looking forward like this is enjoyable, try and use this as an opportunity to have a bit of fun with the team … I recently started a presentation with a view of what the makers of Space 1999 thought 1999 would look like when they created the show 20 years earlier – spectacularly wrong – but funny nonetheless.

That ends the Customer Review section … getting to the bones of your strategy.  You now have to make a coherent story from these parts to make your strategy come to life.

More of that next week though.  As ever if you have any comments or builds please post them.


02 May 2013

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Pricing Review: Step 6 in developing a marketing strategy

The final stages of the Customer Review are really important and we have just two to go before we start stitching things together.  If you remember, the first stage in developing a marketing strategy is thinking – which I call the customer review – and then we move into delivery.  We are now up to step 6 – Pricing review.

  1. Customer insight ✓
  2. The marketplace ✓
  3. Critique the current strategy ✓
  4. Identify and critique your enemies ✓
  5. Critique your current/planned offer in detail: Product / Service / Channel ✓
  6. Pricing Review
  7. Futurology

(6) The Pricing Review


My comments here can only be generic, but I will try to use examples, and forgive my inherent focus on Financial Services, it is what I know best.  There are clear and significant differences between actuarial pricing strategies and pricing an add-on service that is for related goods say.  The principles, process and purpose remain valid cross industry I believe.


  • To bring together your current pricing strategies and establish your position or powerbase in your chosen markets
  • To place you in context of customer and market expectations and reality


  • You will need to review your Boston matrices to remind yourself of the market and product attractiveness scores
  • You will need your value engineering that we completed in the last step
  • You will then need a clear and concise view of competitors.  You can use the Good Better Best tool and apply that to price if you like.  I find that helpful if using comparative advertising.  On that topic I was at an interesting DMA seminar last week on the improved ability we have as marketers to complete comparative advertising.  An area of legal flux that offers greater opportunities for exploitation than it once did. But only IF your target customers respond to comparative advertising or if one of your enemies is targeting you.
  • Establish answers to the following for the following three timeframes: 1) Now, 2) Go to in 12 months, and 3) desired position in 1-3 years i.e. where do you want to be in the pack?  Use a simple checklist for each of your offers:-
  • Best Market price – designed to drive SoM and place you as ‘new’ or as pack leader or innovative or indeed acquisitive territory.  Hero prices may be a tactic you employ here and of course you can, if your customers think it reasonable, come and go in this quartile e.g. by use of Sale pricing strategies
  • Best to Middle market pricing – compromising the profit of each sale, potentially, for higher than average growth in SoM.  Like best market pricing it may not be sustainable long-term unless you have a cost advantage vs the market – see Value Engineering in step 5
  • Mid Market – where the noise is in the field, you may want to have several competitive offers available rather than be a pack leader with a hero product.  This position is the mainstream and is usually a hard-fought battleground where leaders of the pack will emerge and others will fall back. This mid market price position usually drives long-term sustainable profit, but constraining growth potentially.  You may go here for cash cows to test elasticity of pricing – use your Boston Matrix from earlier
  • Worst in Market Quartile – you may have cost issues or exposure issues that drive this strategy or it may be that you have few strong competitors and no enemies attacking you.  Equally a new product or innovation as well as being keenly priced could be placed here if it truly is unique.
  • I would resist establishing too hard and fast a set of rules for competitive position vs your enemies.  I worked on a brand once that had a stated price position of being ‘the cheapest’ vs a basket of enemies.  The result – we had to move price and therefore profitability irrespective of our cost and performance if one of the enemies moved – not a great strategy I would suggest.
    • But do think about building in new year/summer sales, seasonality lifts in demand, making a new market in a new time period as options to allow you a pricing advantage or to beat your enemies.  One tool I have used in the past is to look at where companies over indexed on one product line e.g. ISAa at a specific time and used a great price in a different product line whilst their attention was diverted.  Your business intelligence of the strategy and performance of your competitors is invaluable here.  I love the HSBC New year sales … very good controlled marketing.
  • In pricing terms the value engineering and financial assessment we did in the last step is crucial but overlaying it with that of your competition is equally important … Try and look at what shifts they make and what their overall matrix of price positions look like – are they the same as yours?
  • Be clear what you can afford to charge/pay and know what your price elasticity is in each of your target customer groups and/or products.  This is critical.
  • Don’t neglect the new customer/existing customer balance either – in elasticity terms most consumers now ‘get’ the idea of an introductory discount, but too high a level of price shock at renewal (especially if there is an annual renewal or maturity) will drive churn and push costs up even higher.  In Insurance this allows the Aggregators to win – especially where prices are easily compared.
  • Finally write down and communicate the lead times it takes to make changes in prices for each offer – this could drive your responsiveness to changes by your enemies and could, at worst, mean you compromise your desired price position.

This process step is short – you have done most of the work earlier, but wide-ranging and it’s absolutely vital that Finance are engaged throughout to help you model your outcomes.

You need strategies for new sales, renewals, add-ons, cross sales and up sell and down sell levels for your customers.  Plus you need to be clear in what part of your Boston matrix is your brand and price offer credible.

  • You may also wish to determine how much first line flexibility in prices you want to give your sales force.  I would contend that unless you have good CRM systems or segmentation this is challenging as you may be discounting to customers whose lifetime profit is low and ignoring those in the opposite position
  • Don’t ignore transfer pricing either – if your organisation cross charges for goods and services, make sure they do not constrain you


I appreciate the above process is quite qualitative, but that is only because as a step this is using the outputs from earlier stages and asking you to write down your strategy with pay-offs in the following areas:

  • You will know the price elasticity of your customers
  • You will have a price strategy / actual price that you can then research how best to present to customers
  • This will then inform how you discount your prices and where you do so e.g. front line responsibility
  • It will also, off the back of your value engineering, have identified internal areas to target i.e. low value high cost impacts on your price position
  • You will price according to market attractiveness and in the context of your enemies and your own offer strength

Pricing is a difficult and wide-ranging topic that covers not just core price but also discounts, offers and so on.  In this field more than any other identify your RACI early in the process to define who is doing what.  Your P&L owners will be the ultimate owners and they must have the final say.  This is unlikely to be marketing, so be relentless in trying to get a good deal you can communicate to customers, but acknowledge that in some cases your business costs and performance may constrain you .

I hope you enjoyed this post and found it a prompt for how you may look at pricing differently.

Futurology is the final step in the Customer Review … see you next week !


25 April 2013

Price Image : Copyright (C) F. J. Cahill & Son Ltd., 2013

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Developing a successful marketing strategy : the marketplace

Last week I started to share my thoughts on developing a marketing strategy.

For me it starts with thinking, and then moves into delivery.


I started with the Customer Review.  I covered the first and arguably most important topic in my last blog – Customer insight.  Now I will move on to assessing your marketplace;

Customer Review

The building of the concrete foundations in 7 stages;

  1. Customer insight ✓
  2. The marketplace 
  3. Critique the current strategy
  4. Identify and critique your enemies
  5. Critique your current/planned offer in detail: Product / Service / Channel
  6. Pricing Review
  7. Futurology

2. Analysing the marketplace(s) you are in


  • To really understand the big picture, the significant changes affecting your target customers and the wider market
  • To understand if the same market is being addressed differently elsewhere
  • To understand the macro economic environment and then drill down
  • To understand the impact of technology, media changes, new channels, legislation and consumer trends
  • To place your offer in context of the ‘marketplace for the offer’ as well as the wider marketplace that consumers will experience


  • My start point is always a qualitative marketplace audit.  In this model the macro view should focus on the general economic situation, taxes, new media, new distribution channels, new technology, legislative change and so on.  Then get tighter and try to bring to life any channel shifts that affect you and your competitors equally e.g. the recent EU Gender Directive in Insurance.  This is the market-wide ring. Then finally assess the direct impact for your business alone – short term and long term – but just you.
Marketplace audit visual

Marketplace audit visual

  • This leads nicely into the next step …
  • … a PESTLE  and overlay a SWOT into it to drive some conclusions out
PESTLE with a SWOT overlay

PESTLE with a SWOT overlay

  • It is important to identify the key market trends – are there elements to the market that you like and some you don’t?  A Boston Matrix still works for me

Boston Matrix – Wikipedia

  • I also like the GE/McKinsey model – which gives you an “invest or not read”.  Do you actually have any opportunity left in your market?

GE/Mckinsey Model – just replace Industry with Market

  • NB: both of these tools are quite old, but I have used both in anger and find them helpful, simple ways to assess opportunities.  They are a staple of marketing training … don’t forget them !
  • Map past sales and attrition over a number of years to show seasonality – and overlay any market trends you can get to see if your brand behaves differently.  I indexed sales to a rolling three month average in the past to try and eliminate spikes of spend – but mapping your sales to your spend, then to market spend is essential in giving a view of your activity in your marketplace context.  You will know how best to visualise this
  • Examine competitors strategies (more of that later, but here) look at ATL vs BTL strategies and the impact on their market share
  • In short try and use these tools to drive out critical views on your brand in the market.  I did an exercise last week which may be a tool I use in the future:  Ask yourself what would convince someone to buy my brand?  Then reverse brainstorm it and ask yourself why would they not.
  • Look to other countries for inspiration too – the internet is your best friend here, it used to be expensive to commission that research, now it is just a click away – for lists of like companies, ask your trade bodies for their counterparts in the countries you want to look at, they should save you some time
  • Market prices should be assessed quickly at this stage.  If prices are falling and squeezing margins then look deeper into why that is happening and assess if it is you, a sector of the market or the whole market.  Can you buck the trend, realistically?
  • Market sustainability assessments need to be made at this stage.  What has fallen out of favour with customers vs what lines have been stopped.  A good example of a market shift here has been the flight to fixed term savings accounts from variable rate ones – a factor that would have been picked up in the PESTLE – as a consequence of record low base rate in the UK.
  • Finally do a sense check of why new entrants have entered the market – what did they say in their press releases and then reverse this and look at why companies have consolidated or left the market or exited product lines in your market


  • A view on emerging trends you can exploit/or should be wary of that mean something to consumers – remember to view this with your brand eyes and the eyes of your customers
  • Prioritised views of attractive market sectors and what you need to succeed in them with a preliminary view of which market segments may be growing and at what times of the year to begin the journey of focusing your marketing investment
  • A start point for your risk assessment of the strategy you will recommend

I hope you continue to find my thoughts useful … let me know what you think as always, leave me a comment or two.  I am pleased with the number of boxy charts I have managed to weave into this blog too – sorry, it often happens !

Part 3 on critiquing your existing strategy to follow next week


28 March 2013

PS – Happy Easter !

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Chess and marketing strategy


I am acutely aware this blog is going to start off sounding  a little pompous … but here goes anyway.  I have set myself a personal objective of improving my chess skills.  My computer keeps beating me.  I have, at least, figured out how to prolong the games, but in reality I am no more offensively successful than I was a year or so ago.  This is frustrating, so I have retreated to test and learn (I am a direct marketer after all) and doing a bit of research to improve my strategies.

I was surprised to see in my research a lot of similar quotes to those I see in relation to marketing strategy – Sun Tzu & Eisenhower featuring strongly.  So with progress on chess being difficult, I wandered off down a more comfortable road of looking at marketing strategy.  Everything I started to read was very clearly rooted in the learnings of the past and is for the most part grounded in the same strategy development I learned early on in my marketing career.

It strikes me that it have become a little unfashionable in business to devote enough time to do some of the old school strategic planning, perhaps assuming that the new media opportunities, the new generations of x and y, mobile devices etc mean the old skills and approach are no longer meaningful, or that we have too little time to do the detail.

I think that is a mistake.

A  strategy is not ‘in year’ it has to have a longer relevance.

Marketing strategy and planning still needs, in my view, to reflect two distinctly different phases : Thinking and then Action.  

My use of “Offensive” earlier was intentional – my thoughts on developing marketing strategy are influenced by Davidson’s Offensive Marketing and is guided in delivery by MacDonald’s Marketing plans (you can tell I am the age I am !) and more recently has been inspired by Peter Fisk and his work on customer propositions.  I will use my blog over the next few weeks to share my own views on how this works for me.


My starting point is always a belief that you need to look inside and outside and do some detailed thinking about what your strategy should be before leaping into delivery.

I will call this thinking stage the Customer Review.  But even before that step I believe you have to be clear what your overall business vision or long-term objective is.   If that is unclear then the development of marketing strategies that are effective is going to be down to luck not judgement.  Let’s assume we have that clear vision expressed, or even better that Marketing have been asked to develop it based on Customer Insight already !

Customer Review

This is the grunt work. The building of the concrete foundations in 7 stages;

  1. Customer insight
  2. The marketplace
  3. Critique the current strategy
  4. Identify and critique your enemies
  5. Critique your current/planned offer in detail: Product / Service / Channel
  6. Pricing Review
  7. Futurology
  1. Establish Customer Insight


  • To understand who the customer is in the market you are in
  • To understand their needs, wants, desires and dissatisfactions
  • To understand their scale and how this shows in segments
  • To understand growth and decline in the marketplace by segment
  • To understand what drives purchase, retention, apathy
  • To understand what and who they believe meets their needs now .. and how .. and where … and when ..
  • To understand their value to your brand


  • If you have a preferred segmentation already, then map it and show movements; growth, decline, size, profitability – in short mine the data to understand the mapping – sense checking its continued validity as you go
  • Talk to customers, and more importantly LISTEN to them.  This need not be expensive research, think about using the communications you have already and ask pointed questions you have thought about.  Pay attention to recording answers.  If you can afford a ‘Usage and Attitudes’ Survey then do one – gain attitudinal as well as more tangible insight.  But in most cases there is plenty of research in the business so collate it – borrow a room and create a customer wall/data-room – live and breathe it.  It’s especially important to understand how customers use what they already have bought from you, is it as you expected? Remember Lucozade !
  • I like to use boxy charts to identify basic needs/wants – then map outliers over this; variations by age, demographic, life-stage etc
  • Use publicly available insight – sign up for a few white-papers & use the research conducted by the likes of the IDM, DMA, ISBA, Thinkbox, MMC, Google etc.  And remember to ask your agencies & business partners what they have available that you can use
  • Talk to the people who talk to customers – a rich vein for feedback on customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction.  Your front line staff will know what drives customers to leave/join the brand first hand
  • Review customer complaints
  • Review Ombudsman rulings – mine the data that identifies the causes of dissatisfaction amongst customers
  • Pay particular attention to loyalty – what makes advocates for your brand – use your management information to establish the lifetime value of your customers based on price elasticity and include cross fertilisation of products.  Do some modeling of loyal customers to determine the financial impact of what an increase in loyalty will deliver vs acquiring new customers
  • Document their responsiveness to media types/channels and compare to their attitudinal assessment of channels.  Ask them how much a USP or differentiation matters vs relevance and brand appeal vs cost
  • Finally – if you get the chance to do some research think about asking harder questions than normal … try some value engineering;  Establishing how much ‘value’ a customer puts on say, great customer service vs good customer service, is really informative in developing your proposition.  It drives investment decisions and informs/creates customer focussed strategies  Use a 2×2 matrix of Value (high/low) and Cost to deliver (high/low) – simple and easy to understand priorities.  You will need to have at least a high level view of your customer journeys by channel to truly leverage this insight


  • The simple pay-off of a rich understanding of customers is a strategy based upon what they will respond to/buy/keep not one that is grounded in what you as the brand owner think they want.
  • This moves you significantly to a customer pull model rather than a product push model and will validate your ‘value’ assumptions, ready for financial planning later

This is the very start of the ‘thinking’ phase for me.  And the most interesting.

I hope you find my thoughts useful … let me know what you think as always, leave me a comment or two

Part 2 on developing market place insight to follow next week.



24 March 2013


Peter Fisk & Genius works


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