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.

Where is Norwich?

Living in Norwich I’ve a pretty reasonable idea where it is in the UK. So imagine my frustration when every time the BBC Weather map comes on the television Norwich is placed far closer to Fakenham than Norwich. Still in the same county but a way away from reality. I guess it’s a decorative thing so that the word “Norwich” doesn’t overwrite the Netherlands.

Just had to get that off my chest!

How soon we forget – “probably the world’s first vinyl lending library”

In an era when libraries are being closed around the country I was fascinated to read the following report:

“July marked the opening of Hackney’s – and probably the world’s – first vinyl lending library. Occupying a recently vacated shop space on Foulden Road, just off Stoke Newington Road, the Vinyl Library aims to reclaim the format from the reputation for inaccessibility often associated with record collectors”

Once upon a time, most public libraries had good collections of vinyl records for loan. Sit down crossed legs in front of me and I’ll tell you some stories of the past….

Teaching Strategic Risk Management. Have things changed over the last seven years?

Tomorrow I begin teaching the Strategic Risk Management module for the seventh year to UEA MBA students.  I hope they will be as successful as previous cohorts.How have things changed over these seven years?   Well, when I began teaching this module in 2007 the agenda was driven by compliance. Enron and Andersen were still in recent memory and Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) was the great hope for transparency.  In 2013 compliance is still important but the whole uncertainty and risk management agenda has become much more strategic.  Companies are beginning to recognise how managing uncertainty and risk is a source of new value in a rapidly commoditising world.  Chief Risk Officers are beginning to become much more than the insurance buyers for their organisation.   They look after ERM systems… but these have proved much easier to talk about than implement.  A new toolkit is emerging but slowly.

There is no doubt that the risk agenda has influenced strategy.  Even the vocabulary of SWOT has been affected. What used to be opportunities and threats is now often seen as opportunities and risks – sometimes without an understanding of the nuances between risks and issues and threats.  There you go – the SWOR analysis shows the integrations of the risk and strategy agendas.  That is provided you take the old fashioned view of risk as simply negative and are happy for issues to take over the threats part of the analysis (because they are immediate) and care less for the “distant” Black Swan risks which will destroy you.   Given the shift to short term thinking and agility perhaps that is an appropriate response?  Still much for my students to discuss in this area!

Have things changed? Is risk more better managed and controlled?  Well we certainly have more awareness of world of uncertainty and risk but scandals continue. And I’d put my money on them continuing into at least the forseeable future and probably longer. Why? Because as markets mature and both consumers and industrial buyers are able to compare competing offers easier then one of the only sources of superior profits is likely to involve taking risks with other people’s money (e.g banking) or even their environment (e.g. fracking).

Strategic risk management?  Still worth contemplation in a holistic way across the C-suite.  There’s profit and disaster in them there risks!

Another way to characterise risk

Risk is a pretty slippery concept.    It’s ether a terribly negative thing or a very positive source of new value.   We talk about it in many ways from strategic to operational risk, from systematic to non systematic (or use the systemic word), from managerial to organisational.  Just when I thought I’d got a handle on it and a steady vocabulary to share with my  clients and students someone  else defines it from another angle.

In a forthcoming e-book, “Deep Risk: How History Informs Portfolio Design,” William Bernstein (good name to have in this field after the excellent “Against the Gods” by Peter Bernstein) now talks about “shallow risk” and “deep risk”.  Shallow is temporary and deep is, well errr… deep and not temporary.  Shallow is the normal hustle and bustle of markets but it’s not permanently destroying capital.  Deep is a killer.  The sources of deep risks: inflation, deflation, confiscation and devastation.

Hmmmm…… can’t see an acronym there!   Not seen the book yet but the sources of “deep” risk must be a little more varied than the mechanistic ones he’s identified.  What about all the decision making risks?  These can be pretty “deep” on such a definition.    Markets work as much by psychology as they do by events.  Maybe he includes them… must read the book.

More US young folk read hard copy books than older folk do?

Worth a look for all those interested in the habits of US teenagers or the future of libraries.

“Younger Americans—those ages 16-29—exhibit a fascinating mix of habits and preferences when it comes to reading, libraries, and technology. Almost all Americans under age 30 are online, and they are more likely than older patrons to use libraries’ computer and internet connections; however, they are also still closely bound to print, as three-quarters (75%) of younger Americans say they have read at least one book in print in the past year, compared with 64% of adults ages 30 and older.”

One of many fascinating insights from the recently released research by Pew in the US.   See


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?