Return of the intermediary …..

Thought this article in the Independent fascinating.  Having spent years consulting on how to take out the “middleman” with lots of market maps and analysis of value we now seem to be moving to an era where the intermediary is a very significant source of value.  This suggests all sorts of intriguing ideas…..



In search of the Growth Hacker….


Sometimes things just creep up on you don’t they? I’m currently looking at what I need in terms of new staff for a major development push at work and someone I trust said “You need a Growth Hacker!” Yes, they even said it with an exclamation mark.

Never heard of it. But when I investigated it’s clearly me being slow. Assuming there are even slower people than me out there I thought, having now looked it up and reflected upon it a little, I’d blog about it.

Wikipedia defines it as follows : Growth hacking is a marketing technique developed by technology startups which uses creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure”. A little more digging shows it as well established (on 4/5/14 I found 484,000 hits on the big G for the phrase “growth hacking” and over 500 jobs for “Growth Hacker” on However, it’s clear that the job description has not really settled down yet as the salary ranges are:

‪$40,000+ (230)

‪$60,000+ (164)

‪$80,000+ (86)

‪$100,000+ (33)

‪$120,000+ (12)

In addition to have a look at this website wide for other jobs around this cluster of ideas:

Given the variety in salary ranges and the evangelical language around some of the job descriptions out there (e.g “Growth Hacking is a relatively new discipline that is part marketer, part developer and part magician. The Growth Hacker moves the needle in a major way and has the primary focus of gathering new users by leveraging technology” ) does this new job title makes any sense?

The May to August 2014 internship mentioned in the previous paragraph identifies a really interesting set of characteristics applicants must have:

 – You must have a hustler-like personality. (Think Steve Jobs-like obsession with product, Seth Godin-like ability to know people, and Tim O’Reilly-like belief in data. )

– Javascript

Here are the common characteristics:

– Constant learner

– Aggressive at moving the needle

– Obsessed with moving the needle

– Enjoys pushing the limits (Dan Martell -“TOS are secondary to growth hackers”)

– Lives and breathes product

– Creative problem solver ( Jim Young “Its an art and science”)

– Everything is about growth (Hesky Kutscher “Why do you build anything that does not help you grow?”)

– Hunter-like instincts

Hmmm…. Every organisation needs most of this so I will looking to see how this job title develops and where it fits in the strategy-tactics continuum. It’s not quite what I’m looking for in the post I’m currently devising but it sure makes me think broader about the future.  Will growth hacking drive an organisation forwards or fade away as a subset of a marketing job description? Is it a social media marketer on steroids or a “big data” manager getting strategic?  Is it a new post for a new era?


Making strategic marketing choices



I’m currently in the Middle East running marketing planning in-company workshops and thought I’d share my favourite marketing planning tool – the Directional Policy Matrix (DPM).  This is an excellent Professor Malcolm McDonald adaption of the GE/McKinsey matrix.  There’s a picture here of one we started to create earlier this week.

Why do I think this diagram is the core of marketing planning?  Well the two axes are essentially “Where’s the best business?” (Market Attractiveness) and “What’s our chances of winning it?” (Business Strengths).  Just what we need to know before making our final strategic choices, offer development, and priorities for the coming period

To be able to even plot these two axes the marketer needs to have a good understanding of the customers and competitors (Business Strengths model) and even more for the other axis he or she needs to understand just what makes good business for us (Market Attractiveness model) and our current strategies (to inform a weighting).

Once we can plot these with defendable information inputs we then have a one page summary diagram of our investment options to achieve marketing objectives.  And once we challenge the positioning of each plot and future potential, the outputs from the diagram will be chosen strategies based on a deep understanding of the business environment and our best options for the coming planning period and maybe beyond.

If you need a good strategic investment appraisal tool to help you choose between alternative possibilities I can’t think of a better tool to do the job than a DPM.   It will give you an excellent basis for the development of effective marketing strategies.  Check out Malcolm McDonald’s book on marketing plans published by Butterworth Heinemann  for a clear outline of how to construct a DPM.  See


… another big ad, subtle message

Hot on spotting the Smith and Nephew approach to marketing by association with your customers I see Google India doing a great subtle emotional short film/ad showing what their customers do with their product and the outcomes.  Looks like a new subtle marketing wave forming?  SM – Subtle Marketing.  You heard it here first. .


Big ad, subtle message

Came across this on an advertising board in Ipswich recently.  Very nice positioning/branding (rather than direct selling) ad.   This sort of thing can only be done when you have your place in the market, as Smith & Nephew have.   Advertising your customers to the world and then encouraging those seeing the ad with a tacit (rather than explicit ) “and by the way we supply some of the tools of their  important trade” is sheer measured excellence.  But only if you already have your place in the market secure as a market maker.  I would not recommend this approach for a follower, no matter how fast a follower.

Love it!



Marketing the impact of libraries

At the end of last week I ran a marketing planning workshop in London for information and library staff from throughout the UK. Over 50 attended from universities, health service and public libraries. With the advent of the internet and major search engines beginning with G, B and Y, many people feel that the era of libraries is over and that we can leave the search engines to organise and disseminate the world’s knowledge.

It was good to be amongst an energetic group of people who clearly believe that they have an expertise in information provision that the major search engines do not have. Their challenge is to get the message across to a set of funding bodies under pressure to make cuts rather than to expand. I wish them well in their development of segmentation and value propositions after the workshop. There is much stakeholder management to be undertaken in this sector.

The difficult thing for the library and information profession is to show the impact they have on people’s lives. They clearly do have impacts and after the workshops last week I hope the message about the importance of testimonials means that such things are used more and more to establish the relevance of libraries. At the moment library users may be seen in a negative light by many as “those who haven’t heard of G, B or Y”. Interesting… given that perhaps 90% of the material available on the internet is not searchable directly through a search engine (“invisible web” and “dark web” sources for instance) but is there (often freely) for those, such as information and library professionals, who think beyond search engines.

Impact is so important these days. What effect are we having? Metrics are great but we should never forget the impact on the lives of individuals who go on to do great things for society or their organisations. Someone should scour all the biographies out there to list all the “hat tips” to libraries. I’m still impressed that Bob Dylan regularly used New York Public library in the early 60s to read the microfiche copies of newspapers.

A new public library opened recently in Birmingham UK with over 12,000 visiting per day in the first week, slowing to around 10,000 per day after that. On Wednesday 23 October, just 51 days after the public opening, the Library of Birmingham welcomed its 500,000th visitor through the doors. What insights and inspirations have already been imparted to help the future of society and culture, employment and prosperity? How many lives have been made to feel better? And what in the coming years? Are libraries anachronistic or are their finest hours yet to come (whoops …. how many of you are humming Queen’s Radio Gaga now!)? I guess this may well come down to how well library and information staff can get the message across about the value they create. I, for one, hope there are enough people with energy out there to take on this challenge.

Cruise marketing reflections

In an attempt to extend the summer, Gilly and I have just returned from a highly enjoyable cruise to the Canaries. Here are a few marketing thoughts from the experience.

The total cruise industry worldwide is estimated at $36.2 billion (a 4.5% increase over 2012) with 20.9 million annualized passengers carried (a 3.3% increase over 2012). Worldwide, it has an annual passenger compound annual growth rate of 7% from 1990 – 2017. ( On each of my recent cruises I’ve met many “first timers” and they seem to be in the mood for repeat purchases when they leave so perhaps growth is assured for at least the short to medium term.

Despite the recent high profile problems such as the sinking of the Costa Concordia and the Carnival Triumph fire in the US my instinct tells me that this industry will continue to grow in terms of passengers and revenue. The figures above may be suggesting that the cruise lines are also increasing the yield from each passenger.

I suspect that the industry has some of the best marketing professionals in the business (from marketing planning to advertising) and really know how to work the Ansoff matrix as well as the marketing mix! The product is a pretty good mix of traditional routes and innovation and is clearly value for money. The sales structures and distribution channels are excellent from direct online to concessions in large department stores, and promotional activity is well managed. This industry is one of the few where I positively welcome their publicity though my door even though not a week goes by without at least one or two pieces of cruise-related direct mail falling though the letterbox to transport me from the mundane to the fanciful. That acceptance of direct mail is a real success for the industry if it translates across customer segments!

The element of the cruise marketing mix that is most interesting to me is price. There is some pretty complex dynamic pricing going on here that, should I ever get the time, I’d love to spend some time tracking in detail. I watched my last cruise prices bounce around over several months and had the impression that there was some smart thinking going on rather than simply discounting. For instance at one point the inside and outside cabins were so closely priced that the natural inclination of the new buyer would be to trade up (“only cost me £50 more to have a window rather than inside cabin”). Subsequently the prices moved apart more for a while, presumably reflecting buying activity. I think I detected a good time to buy a balcony cabin (Id already bought an inside though!) but given the pricing complexity I suspect this may not work for my next cruise.

As with many industries much of the value of the business is in reputation and this industry has its share of cruise blogs and review sites. These sometimes tell you more about the person posting comments than that which they post about. However, in general, they were pretty fair descriptions of what we found on the cruise. Cruise ships are unlikely to get it all right and for some people some features are more sensitive than others. This must be one of the most difficult things to manage for a cruise line. Price has an effect here too as given the dynamic pricing you are likely to meet someone who may have paid significantly less that you did for a similar cabin. But as a cruise line you want people on board spending money so this needs to be in the algorithm too. There are great challenges ahead for the cruise industry but I reckon they are probably capable of meeting them.

As a final aside, our cruise staff treated us like gods. They even thought we could walk on water. They were keen to help us manage our “Footprint on the water”. A cynic would say that this just meant that they might not have to wash so many towels. However, we had a great time and this is not a time for cynicism.

In uncertain times how far away should the marketing planning horizon be?

Back in the 1980s when I first started consulting in strategic marketing planning companies would regularly produce three year strategic marketing plans. The understanding was that to look forward required three years timeframe to effect any major marketing changes, Of course within this there were always year one tactical plans within a strategic intent for years two and three. Not that the plans always rolled out like they were written because all plans should accept “all bets are off” if the review process within the planning process discovers new threads which require quick reactions.

Since the 1980s times have become less certain but does that mean the time horizon for strategic marketing plans should reduce? Many companies think so, some influenced by Mintzberg and others who championed an emergent approach to planning – much more open to change at all levels within a belief that strategies emerge rather than are planned. Certainly from the mid to late 1990s as I did the consultancy rounds many companies clearly had less formal planning processes in place than previously and focussed more on a resource-based view of competitive advantage, building on their strengths and distinctive competences (sometimes self deluding themselves with mythical dynamic capabilities) rather than a more reflective planned approach to shaping the future of their marketplaces. In addition a more data driven approach (often through underused, but very expensive, CRM systems) meant that planning horizons shrank with a commitment to quick reactions to changing marketplace needs.

About five years ago I began to notice clients moving towards what might be termed a more “planned emergence” approach with quick reactions within some sound framework. And now it is interesting to see that even a FMCG company like Sainsbury’s is moving back to three year marketing plans from a reliance on one year plans (see: ). I am sure that this will not stop them from quick reactions to opportunity but I would contend that this will give them a much better perspective on investment decisions and what to spend when – a great combination of strategy and reaction to the “big data” context we live in.

So we now have a strategic marketing planning continuum of planned – planned emergence – emergence. Both ends of this continuum are in effect straw men – nobody ever planned themselves into the ground or just sat around waiting for things to emerge. Let’s move away from demonising either end of this and get down to reflective approaches to the future modified regularly through a good policy review and deployment process informed by emerging trends and “big data” – planned emergence.

What is the market size for internet grocery shopping mistyping?

… well I don’t know what it is but it could be considerable.

Just been part of a Facebook exchange on this and it’s probably more widespread than I first thought.  Hearing of all sorts of outrageous mistakes with people getting six bunches of bananas rather than six bananas.    We’ve personally been knee deep in courgettes and ginger in the past because of a slip of the finger.

Wonder what the funniest accidental overbuying has been?


Throwing stuff at people getting married – a new angle

Really interesting to see that someone has come up with the idea of confetti impregnated with wildflower seeds.  Many churches hate confetti because of the mess it leaves.  However, this new product biodegrades leaving wildflower seeds to grow.  Cute. Clever. Appropriate.

Couple of lingering thoughts though.  Firstly, how long before it biodegrades/turns into flowers (is there a mess of paper for six months?).  Secondly… what actually grows?   I note that we are dealing with a Dutch company here.  Great opportunity for segmentation from sweet peas to marijuana!

See the company at:–grow-confetti/-101