Sunday, 28 June 2009

Let me entertain you

With Wimbledon filling the screens and my old chums at RBS coming under attack yet again, this time for laying out £300k on tournament tickets, I couldn’t help but stick my oar into an online discussion about corporate hospitality.

Twitter led me to a blog post aimed at the professional services sector. The post held that entertaining clients and referral sources wouldn’t, by itself, lead to new client work. The phrase ‘by itself’ saved the post from being overly contentious, but I couldn’t stop myself jumping to the defence of good old fashioned client entertainment.

The recession has led to a rapid reining in of hospitality. As The Marketing Eye reported in its news pages last month, many marketers have considered removing corporate hospitality from the marketing mix altogether. A corporate paranoia has emerged, where companies are afraid of being perceived as being profligate in their expenditure on clients.

This is understandable, but we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

The value of corporate hospitality was reinforced to me on Friday when the business development manager from our printers came to see us. Brian might be described as being from the old school of sales. There’s nothing he doesn’t know about us: where we go on holiday, how many children we have, what our hobbies are – is all information stored in his mental hard drive. And, of course, he doesn’t just know about us; he has the same information stored on all of his clients.

Brian’s knowledge of his clients is second to none. The occasional lunch has been part of his information gathering strategy and has done wonders to reinforce our opinion of him as a genuine nice guy. The result is a loyalty that is hard to break.

While we wait for the economy to recover, there are few better investments than getting to know clients. Generation Y decision makers might be satisfied with getting to know people through Facebook profiles, but until they dominate there is no substitute for getting to know customers face to face. Relationships will always be deeper, more enduring and more productive.

Whether it is to seal a deal, embed a relationship or say thank you for the business, lunch or a round of golf is an ideal way of spending a concentrated period of quality time with a client or prospect. Just remember why you are there.

Anyone for tennis?

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Tweeting about a revolution

As the events in Iran unfold, we are witnessing what many will claim to be the first Twitter enabled revolution: a situation where the social networking tool is credited with sidestepping the censorship efforts of an authoritarian regime to allow democracy and people power to win out.

Monitoring #iranelection over the past week has been fascinating and disturbing in equal measure. The tweets are so numerous and so rapid that it is almost impossible to keep up with them.

"Iran Khodro workers on strike, Vahed bus drivers announce solidarity. If oil workers join movement, this can change history."

"Basij marking homes again! Check before entering, & wipe it off w/ oil"

"We've been beatn, tortured&killed for the last 30yrs. Nothing supreme liar says can break our will for freedom"

"#Neda video, a girl being shot in Tehran by Basij sniper"

We are told that the government in Iran has slowed internet speeds to a crawl and is blocking popular communication sites. Twitter, which can be updated from mobile phones, has allowed the messages to keep coming out.

"RT @persiankiwi Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail is now completely out of service in Iran"

Tweeters are turning their avatars green in support of the people of Iran, a call that has been widely taken up as a tide of emotion and solidarity sweeps across the globe. President Obama warned Iran on Friday that "the eyes of the world are watching you" and nowhere is this more true than on Twitter. Time magazine said: "President Ahmadinejad finds himself in a court of world opinion where even Khrushchev never had to stand trial".

As Andrew Sullivan observes in today's Sunday Times, it is tempting to reflect on how things might have been different in the Chicago demonstrations of 1968 had Twitter been around. One wonders too how the government of the day would have reacted - would it really have been any different to the way Iran is reacting now?

There is a need for caution, however. For all Twitter's influence we have to be careful that we don't get swept up in a one-sided view of events.

Twitter is a populist media. Uncensored and unedited, people can post anything to it they want. Identifying the truth from the rumours, lies and misinformation is almost impossible and while it is wrong to question people's intentions, it is evident that there are a number of people jumping on the 'go green for Iran' bandwagon without a proper analysis of the facts.

If Twitter is going to be a true tool for democracy, tweeters and their followers have to be discerning in what they post, read and believe. However distasteful it might seem on occasions, the medium also has to be available to both sides. Whenever we see any hint of support for Ahmadinejad, or possibly even an attempt by the regime to use Twitter for it's own ends, it is quickly denounced.

"DO NOT RT anything U read from "NEW" tweeters, gvmt spreading misinfo" was a popular tweet last week.

Ashton Kutcher called the creation of Twitter "as significant and paradigm shifting as the invention of morse code". That may be the case, but the role of 'old-media' journalists in gathering the facts and giving voice to both sides of the argument is now more important than ever.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Speed networking - is it worth it?

This post is by Bryony Saunders, Marketing Executive with The Marketing Eye.

I walked into my first ever speed networking event slightly late. I was delayed by a road accident on the way and by the time I got there, everybody was already in full flow. Bemused, nervous and embarrassed, I watched and awaited my fate.

People were seated at tables facing each other in deep conversation. Everybody looked so confident and business like and I could feel my heart beating inside my chest as I scanned the room for exit options. Unfortunately, my scheming was interrupted by the shriek of a whistle signalling the end of the first 4 minute networking session. This was it; I was taken to sit opposite my first victim.

I had thought through what I would say: I would introduce myself and then add a 2 minute piece about our company and what we do. I didn’t, however, expect to be put on the spot immediately. Sympathetic to my nerves, my first contact agreed to go first.

Then my turn came. I tensed myself to speak, but before I could even say our company name the whistle was blown. I had to move on...I had let him fill the entire four minutes talking about himself!

Right, I thought, I’ll do better with the next one and actually get to speak.

To my pleasant surprise the next victim was very handsome, which caused different problems. I immediately went red, started to stutter and lost track of what I was saying! Gosh, this is not what I expected at all...why is it so hard?

When my handsome opponent spoke, he was so well practised that his spiel was almost robotic...not very natural or interesting at all. My heart sank!

As I moved down the row of people every 4 minutes, the ritual did seem to get easier. Everyone relaxed a bit, become more natural and took more interest in what the other person had to say, rather than worry about themselves. I even started to enjoy it myself.

The people that came across the best were the most natural and slower speaking ones. The hard sellers were off-putting and the too well rehearsed just un-engaging. But you do need to know what you want to say and remember why you are there – to get business.

My advice, if you are going to give this networking style a go, would be:

  1. Think about what you are going to say, don’t rehearse it word for word, make it a quick and effective message about your business and the type of customers you are looking for

  2. Take your business cards to hand to each person

  3. Take a notepad to write details down about each contact – you’ll struggle to remember them all afterwards

  4. Be genuine, smile, and if you are not interested, try not to look too bored!

  5. Don’t promise things that you don’t intend to follow up on later simply to be polite

  6. Think about what you are looking to get from the event and measure your success

  7. Follow up any opportunity or interesting connection as soon as possible afterwards. Strike while the contact is still hot.

So is it worth it?

Well, once you get past the initial shock, I found it a very good way to network.
You get to meet lots of people quickly. At normal networking events you usually only speak to the people that are closest to you. At a speed networking event, you get to meet everybody, whether you like or not!

And everybody knows why you are there, so you can just cut to the chase! The time is long enough for you to work out if the person will be of any benefit to you without having to engage in all the awkward small talk that goes with it.

Even if you think the person you are talking to will have no use for your product or service, they are likely to have a large number of contacts. Most business people have several hundred contacts and you never know where your business card might end up.

If there is a downside, it is that everybody is there to find customers, not suppliers, which is why, I think, a lot of promised contacts come to nothing afterwards. The leads that are most likely to be successful are those where there is an opportunity on both sides.

At the end of the day, I came away with a handful of leads and a purse full of business cards. We’ll see what they come to, but on balance I would say yes, give it a go!


Thursday, 4 June 2009

Banking on a brand

Santander has announced that it is to rebrand all of its UK operations.

Bradford & Bingley, Abbey and Alliance & Leicester are to disappear from our High Street to be replaced by Santander, creating the prospect of 3 branches of the same bank in every major town - for the time being at least.

The driver for the change is a strategy to establish Santander as a global brand. Arguably one of the best managed banks in the world and currently 7th largest by asset size, Santander doesn’t yet have the perception of scale of an HSBC or Citibank.

To Santander, the solution is to make the brand ubiquitous. All group business will carry the Santander brand and there will be an ongoing programme of high profile sponsorships and media placements to support it.

But will this be appreciated by the customers?

As we look across the landscape of major banks in the UK, we see a variety of brand strategies in operation.

HSBC, like Santander, favours the monolithic brand approach, branding all of its businesses and marketing as HSBC.

RBS prefers to manage a portfolio of brands that includes NatWest, Coutts, Direct Line, Churchill and Lombard.

Lloyds Banking Group, like RBS, maintains a number of brands, including Cheltenham & Gloucester and recent acquisitions, Halifax and Bank of Scotland.

Barclays, on the other hand, is taking a sub-brand route with Barclays Capital, Barclays Wealth and Barclays Commercial, among others, being allowed to spin off and develop their own brand personalities.

So, why the different approaches and which one is right?

One brand applied to all businesses helps build brand recognition and is infinitely easier and less expensive to manage. There are limitations, however.

HSBC has been eminently successful in creating one of the world’s leading banking groups and its logo can be seen in all corners of the globe. The ability to adapt the brand to suit a particular target market is, though, constrained and being seen as a banking behemoth is not universally attractive. HSBC has had to invest heavily in the global ‘The world’s local bank’ campaign to show it is still in touch with its customers, whoever and wherever they are.

A monolithic brand strategy is fine in the good times, but when part of the business’ reputation comes under fire, the whole brand is affected. Never has this been more clearly demonstrated than in the current banking crisis.

The RBS brand, once hailed as the home of astute and savvy Scottish bankers, now finds itself a symbol of the meltdown of the whole financial services industry. The bank now has to hide the RBS brand under a bushel and promote the individual businesses for fear of derision if it does anything else. Fortunately, the brand strategy gives it this option.

Conventional wisdom says that if the target market, customer promise and proposition are different, then a separate brand should be used.

The multi-brand strategies operated by Lloyds Banking Group and RBS have allowed them to tailor different propositions to suit the different audiences they talk to. The cachet that the Coutts brand has to its high-net-worth clients, for example, would be lost under a re-brand to RBS Private Banking.

A multi-brand strategy also allows these banks to attack their markets on several fronts. A customer that decides against Halifax for a mortgage might still choose Cheltenham & Gloucester, be it through lack of awareness, convenience or some other perceived difference in the product, price or delivery proposition.

This then leaves the Barclays approach, which seems to be neither one thing nor the other and has all the hallmarks of an internal battle being won by certain sections of the business. We understand the breakaway started in Barclays Wealth, where the management felt their association with an everyday High Street bank was constraining their ability to win business. Rather than show the specialism with copy, image style and appropriate media choices, the bank has allowed a sub-brand to be created, which has then had to be replicated through the other divisions in the organisation. The danger of a sub-brand strategy is that, without careful management, the number of sub-brands gets out of control and the master brand becomes fragmented and diluted.

So, is Santander right to re-brand in the UK? We think not. We believe customers would have enjoyed the choice between the 3 businesses and that, in taking the route it has, Santander has given up the opportunity to position each brand for a different market. This would have given more options to consumers and created cross sales opportunities for the organisation.

We have no doubt that Santander will achieve the benefits of its scale, whether it rebrands in the UK or not. Organisations should keep in mind though that scale matters to the City, not to customers, and that analysts are more than capable of working out who owns what.