Tag Archives: marketing

Irrelevant Innovation

Last week I went to Inamo, an oriental restaurant in Lower Regent Street, for a pre-theatre meal. My companion suggested it, as he’d heard the food was good (it was – especially the spicy ribs) and it has a new and different twist – computerised dining tables.

In front of each diner is a mouse pad and the whole table is a digitised display. There’s a choice of landscapes for your table – so you can choose your own personal ambiance, from vivid tropical landscape to abstract expressionism. The mouse pad also controls the visual menu, broken down into drinks, starter and main courses, as well as an option to call for a waiter and a games console.

I suppose if you’re in the habit of going for a meal with an incredibly boring person, having a games console on your table during dinner may be an attractive diversion. And if you like the kind of establishment that offers illustrated menus, having one that visualises each dish as if it was a plate in front of you, may have its attractions. For the rest of us it’s a pointless feature.

I found the ordering process surprisingly stressful and time consuming (mouse management!) as well as rather anti-social. My companion ordered a second glass of wine for himself without telling me – when he’d normally have said ‘shall we have another?’ – which made it all seem very individually focused and not very sociable. I  found scrolling through the (picture) menu tedious and frequently got mouse paralysis. The novelty had worn off in about 45 seconds!

All this raises a question. Just exactly what unmet need is a computerised dining table and menu meeting? What is so difficult about looking at a printed menu? It’s MUCH quicker. It allows you to scan the whole offering – as opposed to looking at one item at a time. I can imagine there are benefits for the restaurant – more speedy and accurate transmission of orders from table to kitchen – and the fact that you probably end up spending much more than normal (we certainly did!).

It reduces the waiters to mere delivery vehicles and removes one of the most important elements of dining –  interaction with the waiters. When all they do is plonk something down on your table, it becomes a very souless and impersonal transaction.

Yes, you can apply technology to dining. Inamo have shown that. They delivered everything we ordered in a timely and accurate manner. But just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should!

I wonder how many of their diners make a return visit. Nice as the food was I won’t. I want to escape from computers when I go out to eat. I want to talk to my companion, not play with a mouse or challenge him to a game. I like to have a bit of repartee with a waiter – or ask for the recommendations – and in doing so glimpse his or her personality, not have a cipher silently deliver dishes to my table. They may as well be androids! And call me old fashioned – but give me  a well starched, linen table cloth in preference to a digital display any day.


My yellow card to Apple

I need to declare an interest up front. I’m writing this on a Mac, I have an iPod, an iPhone and an iPad. My first ever computer was an old Macintosh and, after years of corporate life which forced me down the PC railroad, I was ecstatic to get back to the Church of Apple. Lately however, while still a believer, I’m beginning to experience some doubts and now I’m wondering  whether Apple’s got just a bit too big for its rebellious nonconformist boots. Here’s why.

To me the big appeal of the Apple brand has always been the way they made things so easy. They took care of the horrible technology and all I had to do was show up and be creatively inspired (or more often not!).

When I had to use a PC after enjoying my first 2 years on a Mac, I nearly cried in despair. I couldn’t understand the complexity of all the directories. Everything was just so difficult and apart from the stupid time-wasting Solitaire game that came as part of the Windows package, I found it all a bit too much for my tiny brain. But needs must. I learned and eventually Windows became second nature, albeit a frustrating a complicated experience.

In contrast Macs were so great because they are intuitive. They work in a very easy to grasp way – they’re almost human! Certainly the user experience is human. Dragging things into folders to tidy them away. Clear and obvious icons. Nothing to worry about but what you wanted to create. And everything so aesthetically pleasing. Little wonder they became such a huge hit with creative people. The badge of honour of the non-business person. My friend Douglas Atkin in his book The Culting of Brands devotes a whole chapter to why Apple is a religious experience for creative people.

But now things are changing. Firstly the wonders of Apple’s almost perfect technology have been dealt a heavy blow by the debacle of the iPhone4 and its wonky antenna. This has come on top of some initial problems with early iPads around wireless capability. The iPad itself is arguably a contradiction of Apple’s own successful Mac vs PC advertising – unlike the fully loaded Mac ready to run when you take it out of the box, the iPad won’t run Flash, has no camera and no USB slot. I’ve never been a Flash fan and I don’t really care about the camera but I really do want that USB slot.

I don’t have an iPhone4 but iPhone 3GS is actually a pretty lousy phone. I can forgive that as I love the apps and the compatibility with everything else Apple I own. But why do I hardly ever get a decent signal? why does it keep dropping texts?  why will it only re-try to send them manually? – and why does that battery last less than a day?

All these points could be temporary blips to be sorted with the next generation hardware and none of them counter the fact that Apple keeps on coming up with game-changing developments in every category it plays in. From iTunes and the iPod which opened up the digital music market, to the Genius Bar which transformed the retail experience, to the way Apple encouraged developers to populate its mobile devices with a plethora of applications that make the user experience so special.

But – and it’s a big but – there is a real risk that the wonderfully human experience of the Apple brand is also being trashed by a customer service experience that is anything but perfect. A Mac RAM and drive disaster caused me to have to go to not one but three Apple stores in quick succession. First of all I have nothing but praise for all the staff I met there – fantastic friendly people who went out of their way to help me and who have restored my Mac to working order – and a special thanks to Alfred at Westfield who convinced me to invest in an external hard drive just before my system crashed – he must have been hired for his psychic powers – he certainly saved my bacon!

No, my problem is the way you have to fit Apple’s idea of customer communication. You can’t use the Genius Bar without an appointment – no matter how willing you are to wait hours for a cancellation or a gap in the schedule – at least that’s the story in the London stores especially Westfield. You can book your appointment online but you can’t cancel it. This means the stores don’t know if they’ll get any no-shows and hence can accommodate the poor suckers who do turn up on spec.

The store phone numbers are a joke. I called the Westfield store 8 times across 2 successive days and each time got a recorded message that I was Number 9 in the queue, a ranking that didn’t improve no matter how long I hung on the line. I called Brent Cross four times and each time I navigated the call system I was greeted with the words “The other person has hung up”. Sorry Apple not good enough! I’d rather talk to someone in a Bangalore call centre  than be unceremoniously dumped after navigating my way at my expense through your multiple choices. When I raised this with the lovely store staff they said “Well we’re really busy and there’s only one person upstairs answering the phone”. Excuse me Apple this is the 21st Century! Maybe call answering technology is not to your taste but a non-Apple experience that results in an answered call is better than the blind anger and frustration that results from your abject failure to answer the bloody phone!

Look this is a bit of a rant. I do love Apple. My Mac is now fixed and I’m so happy to have it back after a week on my HP laptop with its constant downloads of updates and interruptions and muddled directories and my inability to find anything I’m looking for. But as someone who believes in brands and has long rated Apple as one of the best of them, this is your yellow card Steve! A brand is not just about the physical product, breakthrough ideas and fabulous styling: it’s also about every touchpoint with the consumer. Most Apple fanatics have huge reserves of goodwill towards this most iconic and cultish of brands, so please don’t abuse that Apple – that way lies the graveyard of once great brands.

Funny that Apple always stood for creating (Think different!) and now with iPhones, iPads et al is this a move to consuming? And maybe the consequent flood of mass market consumers is what’s causing the human customer experience to look  as though it’s in need of some creativity.

Presenting to PRIME

princes_charities_logo_127px_opThis week I was invited to make a presentation to an audience of over-50s who want to become entrepreneurs, hosted at The British Library by  PRIME, The Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise.

As some of you may know, I am one of the four founding directors of >> Make it and Mend it, a website dedicated to living sustainably and creatively by making things and mending them instead of buying stuff and binning it. PRIME invited me to tell the would-be mature entrepreneurs how we, four over-50 women, built up Make it and Mend it from a casual conversation over a working lunch to a thriving and fast-growing online source of ideas and inspiration, with a large >> Twitter and  >>Facebook following.

Screengrab MIAMI

PRIME was founded by HRH The Prince of Wales in response to letters he was receiving from people desperate to work but unable to find anyone to employ them – because of their age. It offers free information, workshops and business networking events.

The evening was well attended – there are a lot of over 50s out there mad keen to establish their own small businesses – and it was one of several happening throughout the UK. Presentations included advice on PR and marketing, IT, financing etc and I was one of three entrepreneurs (or as PRIME rather irritatingly calls us “olderpreneurs”) recounting our experiences.

Several key themes came out across the presentations, notably the growing importance of using social media, of exploiting personal networks and of using the many free resources for advice and knowledge.

The evening also provided an excellent if brief opportunity for networking and I was fortunate to meet a number of interesting people, including my fellow presenters, Cecile who has set up a franchised dating company and has financed it via a Zopa-PRIME loan and Suzy who founded Walking Workouts. >>More info on the roadshows

I plan to write a series of blog pieces to pull out some of the learning I shared to the attendees at the PRIME roadshow – so watch this space!

Ford’s conversation with Generation Y

FiestaLineUpAgentsToday Ford was named Brand of the Year by the Society for New Communications Research for “its innovative use of social media to improve the way the company communicates with its stakeholders”. Noteworthy has been the company’s pioneering Fiesta Movement campaign.

I first came across the US Ford Fiesta Movement through Twitter. One of the people I followed when I began tweeting, was in the process of applying to be a Fiesta Agent and got very excited when she was one of the chosen 100. As a Brit, with memories of the old Ford Fiesta as a rather tired model, mainly favoured for supermarket and school runs by the unyummier brand of mummy, I was amazed that someone like her (20 something and very cool) would be so pumped up over being picked to test drive one.

So what is the Fiesta Movement? Ford has been testing the power of social media to “pre-launch” Fiesta in the USA. They’re targeting the car to under 30s, so the logic of exploiting the power of social media is clear. Ford held a beauty parade to find 100 high profile, 20 something, bloggers – over 4000 applied. Each of the 100 chosen bloggers received a car, imported from Europe and modified for the US, all taxed and insured and petrol and parking fees paid for, to use for 6 months, in exchange for undertaking six monthly “missions” in the car and blogging about these.

driver-44-profile_image_originalThe “Agents” have posted photos to Flickr, tweeted their opinions on the car on Twitter, commented on Facebook, uploaded videos to Youtube, shared views on the Fiesta Movement home page – and of course regularly write about their experiences in their own blogs. The bloggers have had a free rein to write and film what they wanted – and they certainly seem to have taken advantage of that! Not all the feedback has been positive – although the vast bulk of it has.

And the results? At the beginning of this month (almost the end of the 6 month run) Ford released these figures:

  • 4.3 million YouTube views so far
  • 500,000+ Flickr views
  • 3 million+ Twitter impressions
  • 50,000 interested potential customers, 97% of whom don’t own a Ford of any type currently.

These social media stats are not earth-shattering in comparison with the gazillions of viral hits achieved overnight by the Susan Boyle debut or the millons of views for Jill and Kevin’s wedding entrance, but for a consumer brand they are pretty impressive. What’s more important though, is the number of registered potential customers and the fact that most of these are new to Ford.

3993465696_059c0667d7The style-leading bloggers have given the Fiesta brand an injection of street cred that moves it far away from the old fashioned image the brand used to have. Having a blogger write about the fuel consumption he’s getting or show the storage capacity with photos of the boot (sorry trunk!) loaded up with gear for a camping weekend, is worth more than any number of glossy brochures or any amount of sale room patter to the target group.

Here’s a quote from one of the agents, Maria D:

“this has got to be one of the most brilliant campaigns ever. It fully engages us as ambassadors without us being hardcore sales people. We are not required to yap about the Fiesta constantly and we can pretty much say whatever we want. The only thing we’re not allowed to do in our videos is shoot something stupid — ie, driving without a seat belt, that sort of thing. Ford took a great risk in putting these cars in our hands.”

They did indeed take a risk. Not least by undertaking all this activity so far in advance of the car’s actual US launch date next year.

Ford appear to take social media seriously. This arm of their marketing effort is headed up by Scott Monty, who came to Ford from Crayon (tagline “Join the conversation”) and is regarded as a leading social marketing expert. (Although as a discipline so much in its infancy, experts don’t exactly have a lengthy track record). Scott has a Twitter following of over 31,000 and persuaded Ford CEO to venture onto Twitter to engage with Ford’s customers. To quote Monty:

“Ford is not interested in advertising on social networks. We’re interested in getting in there and interacting with people.”

Key to the campaign’s success – although recognising the jury is out until the car actually goes on sale – has been Ford’s understanding of the context of social media and ability to create interest in a sympathetic non-salesy manner that becomes part of the conversation rather than interrupting it. I’ll be watching those sales figures.

>> Brand of the Year

>> Fiesta Movement

15 Key Principles for winning in a recession


  1. Start with a clear vision for the business – Why do you exist? How do you create value? What are the things that you will do and, most importantly, won’t do?
  2. Make sure you really understand the market and your competitors and your own strengths and weaknesses
  3. Get close and personal with your customers – you need to understand them better than anyone else does (especially your competitors) and in tough economic times they will be more discerning and discriminating about what they buy and what they need
  4. Innovate, innovate, innovate! If you can’t afford to improve your product then be more creative in your marketing. Try different ways of serving your customers.
  5. Zero-base your business structure – what organization structure would you need to deliver your goals if you were starting from scratch now? What can be outsourced?
  6. How can you make better use of the talent at your disposal?
  7. Invest in advertising – but spend smarter and measure its effectiveness
  8. Collaborate with employees, customers and suppliers to develop ideas that build the business or save you money – and reward them for doing it
  9. Negotiate better deals with your suppliers
  10. Invest in “good costs” but prune bad ones
  11. Chase receivables and incentivise customers for early payment
  12. Communicate transparently with employees – they need to see the big picture
  13. Find ways to keep employees’ (and your own) morale and motivation up, at low cost
  14. Look for ways to add value, service or flexibility rather than just cutting prices or discounting
  15. Get 2 steps ahead of competition – pull forward projects that they might delay

And always keep smiling!

Burger King’s Whopping Whopper Sacrifice

whoppersacrificeFacebook may have killed off the Whopper Sacrifice in its prime: but not before Burger King’s promotion had seen more than 23,000 people strike off 10 of their friends in exchange for a free Whopper Sandwich token.

The burger chain’s promotion offered a free Whopper in exchange for Facebook members deleting 10 of their friends. The evil twist was that BK then notified the rejected friends that they had been unfriended and by whom, letting the victims know that their erstwhile friend valued them a less than one tenth the price of a burger. Claiming that this was breach of its users’ privacy, Facebook pulled the plug on the promotion after only ten days.

This was a short-lived, vicious but brilliant promotional device that perfectly exploited the nature of social media and the way that its devotees measure their own worth by the size of their friend lists. Its cheeky, memorable if somewhat brutal message made it stand out in a generally poor field, where brands are struggling to get to grips with the challenge of social media. It cost Burger King next to nothing and earned it a lot of valuable notoriety. The brand announced the demise of its offer with the words “In the end your love for the Whopper Sandwich was worth more than 233,906 friendships” and an offer to rejected friends to send an ‘AngryGram’ in the form of a talking Whopper to the person who defriended them. Brutal but perfectly attuned to the target market.

Riding out the recession

snowboardingThe natural instincts of most businesses, is to pull in their horns when recession looms. Just as consumers are abandoning the high street and reveling in frugality, so many businesses look inwards, cut budgets and cut back customer service.

This is a big mistake.

Great companies always outperform their competitors during hard times. They seize the opportunity to grab market share by continuing to invest in their customers, their products and services and keep a long-term focus.

Whilst many companies go to the wall during recessions, history is rich with examples of those that built unassailable gains and rode to greatness in these periods. Some of the world’s most significant inventions and most successful corporations were born during depressions or recessions.  New needs emerge in such times: Health insurance was born out of the US Depression as were stereo recordings, digital computers, Monopoly, sunglasses, ballpoint pens and bubble gum, to name but a few. Messrs Hewlett and Packard got their products rolling from the famous garage in 1939. Despite industry in crisis and companies going under, Fortune magazine, the world’s first and most successful business publication was born at the height of the Great Depression : this was a counter-intuitive and risky venture at the time, but proved an unqualified success.

Continue to invest – your money goes further
During recessions, when everyone else is cutting back on marketing expenditure and research and development efforts, the wisest companies continue to invest in these. They are often able to do so because they managed their businesses prudently during easier times, keeping costs under control and building a valuable war chest.  This makes sense, as during a recession money goes further, as suppliers cut costs, and are ready to make deals. For those with available resources, this can be a great time to get acquisitive. Sadly most firms work the other way round, spending freely in good times and then savagely cutting costs when times get tough.

Lavish time and effort on customers
For those companies or small businesses that haven’t built up a war chest, there are still great opportunities. What they lack in funds they can make up in time and effort, by lavishing attention on customers. This means spending time to listen to them and find out how to serve them better; to get them to collaborate with you in dreaming up new products or solutions; to look for ways to offer them more value, rather than lower prices and to find ways to lock in their loyalty.

Keep on marketing
Advertising and marketing is often the first spending victim of recessionary cost-cutting. It is such an easy budget to slash, but you do so at your peril. Look for ways to use the money more efficiently, to seek out better deals and to try new approaches, but NEVER stop communicating with your target market. If your competitors cut back their spending, rub your hands with glee and see it as a golden opportunity to gain share at their expense. In a normal market, marketing is often a game of ‘tit for tat’ that makes it hard to gain ground and often results in standoff. In recessionary times, you can find yourself on an empty dance floor with the audience’s eyes trained on you alone. Go for it!

Ideas and insights are free!
Whilst money may be tight, creativity comes free, as does spending time understanding your customers’ needs. Time spent now hanging out with customers and consumers, observing them, talking with them and listening to them will yield rich insights about their needs and behaviour that will give a huge edge to your new product and service development efforts and help you hone your advertising messages.

History shows that it is twice as easy to grow share in a recession as in buoyant economic periods. Those firms that succeed in growing market share in this recession are likely to hang on to it, while those that lose it will have a tough and very costly battle to regain ground when things pick up.

Yesterday I read a quote from Marco Pierre White of Hell’s Kitchen:

“I think a recession is the most obvious time to open a restaurant. Number one: in doom and gloom, you’re creating something that’s exciting and fun. Number two: everything is cheap to do. Number three: you get the lion’s share of publicity ‘cos no one else is doing it. So it’s entirely logical to open a restaurant during a recession.”

There are many other businesses that could apply the same philosophy.