Thursday, September 28, 2006

Dinner, Hope and Dispair

I was out to dinner with half a dozen good friends last night, discussing blogging and generally chewing the fat over what is happening to communications, marketing etc. Someone worried (or maybe it was a joke) about being too old for all this new stuff, we soon put the record straight by listing the ages of top bloggers we could think of - it was obvious that age is no barrier to success on line. It’s a good job too considering that there is a new law in the UK next week dealing with age discrimination! Then I saw this great post about late developing geniuses – QED.

We also witnessed a stunning failure of customer service, or if kind a real lack of understanding. When we ordered 3 starters for the 6 of us to share - one of the dishes served had 5 pieces of ravioli. We looked at the waiter and said, that’s a shame one of us will have to miss out, he grinned and walked away – leaving us each with 5/6ths each – we’d have paid for an extra piece of ravioli – but what’s the real cost!


Its one of the most important assets anyone or any organisation can have. Seth Godin says it’s behind genuine recommendations, I’d say it’s behind all good relationships. I’m no philosopher but it’s probably in the top 10 most important things in human life, with it you can achieve just about anything, as a leader it enables you, as a friend it secures you and as a brand it fuels customer loyalty.

Trust is tough to get and easy to loose and in today’s world of abundant information and excess availability of knowledge I think people have become far more cynical about other peoples (or organisations) motives. That’s why Seth thinks there is often a snap assumption of financial gain behind recommendations. I’d add that’s why no one really believes advertising anymore, with growing experience customers know not to trust the messages put out and consequently the companies behind them.

Trust can be built through genuine and honest conversations – by definition that requires a 2 way interaction that is not achieved in traditional broadcast communications. Of course the point I’ve been building up to is; that is why social media is so important, it is a great medium for building trust with your customers.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Feeling Good

It is a great feeling to know that everything you are working on really is to your own benefit. I decided that I wanted to build my own personal brand in order to provide better long term security (As per my post “Is short the new long?”), even if I started another corporate role how long would it last and if extrapolated 10 -15 years what happens in the final analysis?

It’s tough starting out on your own from a financial perspective and I’m not sure yet if the hardest part will be getting enough work to keep me fully occupied or ensuring I get paid as and when agreed or maybe some other issue I haven’t even considered yet.

In little under 3 months I have discovered what blogging was all about, thanks to Naked Conversations, and figured out it was a really significant story. I started this blog and discovered all about how the tools work (or not in some cases – i.e. Blogger’s lack of trackbacks), I think understanding feeds is the toughest bit.

I quickly worked out that I could launch my own marketing consulting business based on the powerful combination of this recently acquired knowledge and my own experience of corporate marketing.

Reflecting on my own perceptions from within my last corporate role, I’d say that lack of time, good explanation and relevant case studies meant it was easy to dismiss what’s actually happening with customer communications. I felt I could help companies with their bandwidth issues and explain the relevance to them in ways they’d understand.

It seems to be working! So far one client has said yes to my proposal and I am just about to start the project (hopefully more details to follow shortly) and I have at least 2 other hot prospects and several other good opportunities.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Shooting the Breeze with David Tebbutt

I recently had a coffee with David Tebbutt. I’m a great believer in the power of face to face meetings, despite the benefits of social media it really can never be a substitute, however it did facilitate this meeting.

David is an extremely experienced writer, journalist, trainer, mentor, blogger and all round very interesting guy. When I shook his hand I had no idea what would come next and I’m still unsure of the full potential, all I know is I really enjoyed the couple of hours and I learned a lot too.

Now David has made some great comments and observations about me in his latest post - thanks. It’s amazing that throughout my time in the IT market our paths hadn’t crossed before, we share many friends and contacts. It’s probably because as he says he’s been ensconced in the media and PR world – whilst I have forged a path through major corporate marketing roles. I am sure we’ll hook up regularly to shoot the breeze and who knows if there might be some business opportunities too.

David has also recommended a couple of interesting articles for further reading on social media and how it’s affecting corporate marketing and PR:

Neville Hobson who produces a regular podcast “the Hobson & Holtz Report” and also just posted an article on developing a social media communications strategy.

Also Paul Gillan who is writing an interesting book on line “The New Influencers”.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Not Dell again...

I’m not sure if it’s great to be posting how my daughters notebook had a second major fault within 4 weeks - but twice now Dell have delivered a great service experience. On the first occasion they replaced the motherboard, this time the screen went. It seemed like they were unrelated faults.

Once again the call centre was very polite, helpful and arranged the engineer visit the next day. They followed up with confirmation emails and a double check to see if all was well today. The engineer phoned first thing to advise me of his expected arrival time, allowing me to plan my day. The job was completed inside 20 minutes and everyone here is happy. The same can’t be said for BL Ochmans second experience with her Dell service.

It felt to me like someone cared about my experience and was doing as much as they could to manage the situation and it wasn’t one of their “top honchos” that BL Ochman had resorted too. The secret of providing a great service is being able to repeat it every time to meet everyone’s expectations. That requires everyone at all levels in the service delivery organisation doing their bit to make it great.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dell is Successful!

At least as far as BL Ochman’s support challenge and my own recent Dell service experience.

Seth Godin suggests that success is about keeping your promises. This is another way of saying you must manage and meet (or preferably beat) the expectations you set. Not just your customers’ expectations but your own objectives too. As with my earlier post about “solutions” being a glib marketing response to “problems” – the real issue here is determining the goals in the first place.

Setting goals is a whole subject in itself but one goal that is always held up in today’s society is wealth. I recently heard a great definition of wealth that went something like this: wealth can be measured by the time you could continue to live by the standards you want, without having to work. I think this a neat definition as it copes with almost every perspective I can think of and yet it is still measurable – provided you can fix what standards you want to live too!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Blogging is Strategic Marketing

Generally marketing is measured in terms of return on investment and for most people this means if they spend X dollars on marketing activities and they get Y incremental profit dollars, then Y/X = ROI. This approach usually results in marketing budgets being discretionary and when times get tough the budget gets cut, pretty early on in the cycle of trimming the P&L to meet forecasted quarterly results (usually because its impossible to prove Y – or its true incrementality).

However the intangible assets of a business make up a huge proportion of the market valuation of a business. This balance sheet goodwill is driven in part by activities that affect customer satisfaction, retention and loyalty. It also takes account of brand value, competitive conditions, market share, dynamics and awareness. These factors collectively are often referred to as strategic marketing.

The nature of blogging is to build genuine customer relationships, if taken to the core of a business strategy it can build substantial trust with customers. That in turn will create customer evangelists driving not only improvements in customer satisfaction and loyalty statistics but generate a long term brand advantage in the market. Blogging has to be strategic.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Blogging Consultant

Now Hugh has given away my secret, you all know why I started blogging!

But don't forget the blogging is just the tool - its all about interactive customer communications. That's why trackbacks are good - and Blogger doesn't support them so I have to fiddle around with Haloscan to make it work.

Solutions Need Problems

“Solution” is one of those words totally overused by marketers. It almost goes without saying that if a product or service really is a solution then it must be a benefit to the customer, because it must solve their problem. Eureka a great marketing message!

The problem is that it’s often used in a glib manner and the marketing message barely pays lip service to the actual problem that needs solving. In the traditional marketing way problems are identified through customer research. These problems are categorised or segmented so that good marketable solutions can be communicated. The bigger the “solutions” budget the more depth or breadth to the proposed solutions.

The concern is that this process undoubtedly leaves out some problems or variations in segments where perhaps the ROI doesn’t stack up. With the broadcast nature of traditional communications that means some customers are left seeing solution messages that aren’t answering their problem. Equals dissatisfied customer and bad marketing.

I was considering this subject the other day after visiting the European Solutions Group of a major multinational. The question I had for them was “how do you establish your customers’ problems?” The pitch I was attempting to make was that blogging could provide the means to establish a superior customer proposition through real solutions for real live problems. By taking a 1:1 approach to specific subjects or technologies, identifying problems that fit the standard solution and proposing suitable avenues for those that didn’t. (Admittedly responsiveness would be a big challenge!)

I certainly didn’t hit a home run but I’ll keep running with the idea as I think it could provide a great brand position for an organisation that’s truly customer centric and a market challenger.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Art of Communication

I wrote an introduction to the changes occuring in customer communications for my good friends at Signals:

How to find out what your customers really think

It’s an irony that communications technology has made it harder, not easier, to get your message heard. The problem is choice. These days, customers are unlikely to make significant buying decisions based solely on a dialogue with your sales team. Instead, they conduct research on the Internet. But even that is already changing.

Click here to discover how to be heard in an evolving virtual world.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Infect me with some of this please...

In this enlightening post on the difference between viral marketing and conversational marketing Shel Israel clearly states his personal objectives. Imagine what a fantastic place this world would be if everyone had these values.

“If you have not yet figured out why I post nearly 1000 times a year, let me explain that I am a conversational marketer. I'd love it if every reader buys my book, hires me to consult or pays a conference producer because I'm speaking at their event. But if you don't do that, then it's nice when you just come here leave comments here, or pick up what I'm talking about on your own blog or at your water cooler or in your car pool or over your backyard fence. Yes, I'm marketing myself, and I'm trying to build a personal brand. To do this, I try to be generous as often as I can.

But the only virus I want to spread is enthusiasm for the emerging social media.”

Monday, September 11, 2006

As predicted!

A good night was had by the ex Tektronix marketing team and many thanks to Rob.

There was a lot of reminiscing and catching up on what we are all doing now. It seems that every time I talk about blogging people want to know more about it. Its incredible how many people have heard about blogging but really don’t understand it.

I find it’s always necessary to point out that it’s just a communications tool, the really interesting stuff is that it is the enabler for millions of conversations which are causing a revolution in customer expectations.

Continuing one conversation we had last night, on the subject of my last post, there seemed to be a consensus of opinion on reunions. Not only are they great fun but enduring team spirits are created in groups of people who have faced significant challenges. Of course this just started more reminiscing and toasting.

Enjoy the great atmosphere that is obvious in these photos.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Reunions are great fun

I have been fortunate to work with some really good people and teams, many of whom I would consider my friends today. But I wonder what factors drive some of these past teams to keep organising reunions.

Tomorrow I am getting together with about a dozen ex Tektronix people who haven’t been working there for over 6 years. A few months ago I went to dinner with some of the guys from my Amstrad days – mostly we hadn’t been together for over 20 years. Last December my Dell team asked me and a few others who had left back for the team Christmas dinner.

Surely one possible explanation for the enduring relationships is that the team spirit was forged in the face of adversity. It could be that there was a business disaster or maybe the experience of an acquisition. It is always refreshing how people always remember the best in each other and not the worst. I always enjoy these sessions and to prove the point I have a couple of pictures from the Amstrad bash.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

WANTED: Alive - no good dead!

Seth asked for off the wall, challenging new ideas, I’ve no idea of the practicalities of this one but wouldn’t it useful for web users to be able to see at a glance how “alive” a web page is. It’s no longer important just to know how many hits a page gets but how often it gets updated. A little icon / gauge could tell a viewer quickly if it was worth a live bookmark. I think it would help people grasp the concept of RSS and the extra value in sites that are regularly updated.

Taking the plunge

Shel Israel talks to David Parmet on why he took the plunge and dropped traditional communications and PR in favour of social media. There are some real insights from someone who has lived through the transition and some good advice for those considering the future.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Incredible thanks to you

I am really delighted to see the way my readership is developing, In fact I'd go as far to say as I am stunned at the trend, after just 18 posts. Only one link in to my blog so far but nevertheless entering: Keith Collins Marketing, into a Google search gets me the top two returns out of 1.8 million, 6 weeks ago I was nowhere to be found!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Answers to David’s (oops sorry Dennis) questions on Blogging

Following David’s sorry I mean Dennis Howlett's questions in his comment on my post Italian Bistro Engine I have a rather lengthy response:

It’s important to first say that I am assuming the questions are from a corporate perspective rather than their customers view point or my own interest.

Why is there a need? There is always a need to communicate with customers, getting across your proposition, or answering their questions, or providing a service etc. The challenge is doing this as effectively as possible, and that’s not just a matter of cost, there may be quality or image considerations. Customers today are spoilt for choice and information is abundant on the web, if a business isn’t fully engaged with its customers it may loose out to its competitors.

What have you identified as requiring change? Traditional marketing communications are almost always a one way affair. Some organizations have done well to segment their propositions to different types of customers but that doesn’t go far enough. Customers want individual interaction with their chosen vendors, they want to understand more than the glossy pre-packed messages, and above all they are looking for a relationship. Perhaps in the past this relationship was the preserve of the corporate account manager, now customers of all shapes and sizes want to get closer.

Who is ready for any of this? The answer to this today is not everyone, however there are market challengers and companies that see that this fits their open culture and can easily benefit from this type of initiative. It may also present a good opportunity for market differentiation. If it becomes pervasive in a particular market it may leave the remaining companies no alternative but to participate.

Why should they believe you? My own experience as a corporate marketing director gives me insight into traditional marketing challenges. I have been fortunate to have had the time to investigate the opportunities, something I never really had time for when in a full time corporate job.

Why does it have to be external marketing? It doesn’t – this works equally well for a limited community like a management team or the whole workforce, in fact I can’t think of a better method for a CEO to explain his vision or strategy. The only question is what’s so secret that you don’t want customers to share in it too? I’m sure large companies already leak this sort of information to customers. So make sure all the stakeholders benefit.

What are the risks? There are risks that people may publish things in error, but a well organized employee blogging strategy should set down the rules and train staff as necessary, just like you would train staff to talk to customers (sales folk) or the media. It may be a different set of conditions but it boils down to how much do you trust a specific employee to represent the company. Salesmen do it for a living everyday – admittedly on a 1:1 or small group basis but nonetheless they are responsible for their actions. The other risk is starting and not meeting customer expectations on an ongoing basis – there has to be a real commitment, and time factors have to be accounted for in the analysis – so that the effort can be justified and properly resourced.

Who is going to manage the change and do they have the qualities necessary to steer this kind of thing through? I would suggest this responsibility rests with the head of marketing in a company, they are best placed to organize and implement this strategy, but they will need total buy in from the executive team, especially the CEO. They will have to be ready for the open culture it will demand and that may mean changes in policies, processes and some people!

Show me the money!!!! It’s very difficult to measure how a brand or company is perceived; the final measure should be in improved business performance. By having a customer centric business your customers act as sales representatives – driving new business and improving loyalty. (Reducing the demand for expensive acquisition programs). Customers can also provide valuable feedback for future product development that drives the circle of satisfaction. In the strategy is successful it should build substantial goodwill and thereby the overall asset value of the business.

I recognize this is not an easy change process, but I really do believe we are on the cusp of a very significant revolution in customer communications.

Good luck with the conference. Let me know what you think afterwards.

Monday, September 04, 2006


The problem with Seth’s idea about getting candidates to try a job before getting hired is that most people are already employed and even getting the time to attend an interview can be tricky (not considering their contractual issues). Another approach is to find out if a candidate can supply references or endorsements. Formal employer references are often overlooked, as no company wants to risk giving a bad reference; they simply confirm the historical facts. Open personal endorsements (i.e. on Linkedin) can seem one sided, as they are always positive however they could provide a valuable insight by looking carefully at who has been prepared to say something, or perhaps what’s not said.

I mentioned in my earlier post: Is short the new long? How contract work was more honest and upfront, and certainly I’m in favour of contract work evolving to permanent positions, if appropriate – but the candidate first needs to accept the nature of contract employment, not for many.

Showing a corporate video or getting the experienced tour guide probably won’t cover the specific role of the hiring team, particularly if the organisation is large. As an interviewee I am sure the authenticity of the less than polished pitch from the hiring manager gives a more honest view of the team you are thinking of joining. Perhaps a video podcast on the careers page of the corporate website would help in preparation; it could even be required before attending an interview.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Missing Lunch

I find that when I bored I eat; when I’m tired I eat chocolate and drink coffee. Ten years ago I used to smoke. So that’s my excuse for being overweight. Not surprisingly since I started blogging I haven’t got any time to be bored, I can always tell when I’m not bored because time flies past and I miss lunch and snacks without even noticing it. Also I don’t seem to get so tired, despite later nights writing posts in the early hours my brain seems additionally active.

I hope these effects aren’t temporary as it may mean that blogging actually has some unexpected health benefits!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The NEW Direct Model

Dell has built a highly effective customer proposition around their direct transactional business model. Not only does it save on the channel margins but it enables ideal stock management, which in turn drives additional cost savings. I hardly need to repeat this remarkable story, except to add that customers are not just interested in price these days.

It is possible to view traditional broadcast customer communications as working through another multi layer channel. Advertising agencies, PR agencies and media organisations introduce several layers of complexity each with their own profit requirement.

The internet cuts through these layers directly connecting customers and companies and blogs especially create a two way dialogue, which builds key relationships. These relationships are instrumental in driving future business (through evangelism) and protecting existing business (through loyalty).

Obviously in the direct communications model there are savings on “channel” margin, publication and media costs. However there are additional costs in time and resource. Nevertheless for many organisations I believe this new direct approach offers potential market advantage and improved ROI over traditional broadcast communications, which today are becomeing less and less efffective.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Naked Conversations

A good friend of mine gave me this book a few weeks ago with the strong advice; “this book was written for you Keith, you’d better read it…”

In the subsequent days I have started this Blog and found a real purpose that goes far beyond a job. The book isn’t just about blogging; it goes to the heart of building customer relationships through interactive communications.

I say to everyone who is interested in blogging for business they should read it, but anyone who wants to understand how their customers’ expectations are changing should read it as well.

I am really grateful to David for his recommendation and Robert Scoble and Shel Israel for writing a great book.