Saturday 20 February 2010

Dangerous Marketing (you should do)

I remember as a child someone once telling me that you could flatten a coin under a train wheel. Being the ever curious sort, me and my friend tried it out - running down the platform to place the coins on the rail, watching as the train passed over, grabbing our newly squashed coins with glee and then running back up to get on the train.

In hindsight it probably wasn't the wisest thing to do - we could have missed the train trying to retrieve them!

However kids of today are increasingly insulated - being ferried from place to place, never just exploring and finding out how the world works, and a new book has just been released that is looking to challenge this. Entitled Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do), it apparently covers my coin flattening experience as well as other things like licking a 9V battery or throwing a stone.

I'm not planning to discuss the rights or wrongs of this, however what is interesting is the reaction to it. Many "commentators" have derided the book asking questions such as "Have they never raised children?" Yet after self-publishing the book due to initial rejections from publishers they sold 5,000 copies in the first month.

What I like about this book - and I have a copy on order - is precisely the fact that it isn't "safe" - the book itself would seem to be about taking calculated risks.

It's too easy to try and please all of the people all of the time, however most of the time this creates safe, predictable, less engaging solutions. Sometimes we need to do things which are controversial, which push the boundaries and which may ultimately offend the few but will then really engage the many.

Seth Godin made an interesting point in one of his latest blogs when he talked about a small number of customers being ungrateful, abusing your service and complaining saying "Firing the customers you can't possibly please gives you the bandwidth and resources to coddle the ones that truly deserve your attention and repay you with referrals, applause and loyalty."

Ultimately it is probably easier to not recruit certain customers than fire them later - either way sometimes taking some calculated risks rather than a safe strategy of pleasing all could allow you to focus attention - and resources - on those most likely to reciprocate.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Could Tesco be challenged by Alice?

Alice? Who the [heck] is Alice? More on Alice later, however as the song suggests, what seems established - living next door to her for 24 years - can change - as she leaves in a limo.

It's interesting how on a day to day basis things never seem to change and yet when you look back over a few decades you see huge changes in the way we live that just aren't apparent in the small increments of daily life or come as a sudden and unexpected shock.

This came home when I saw a news item about some footage that had recently been found and digitised that documented life for Cornish miners from 1920 and 1960. This was footage from the film unit of Holmans of Camborne - once the biggest employer in the area with over 3000 employees at it's height.

They had been around for over 100 years at that point and looking at the footage of thousands of people spilling onto the streets after a hard days work they probably never thought things would change so much. Yet now in Camborne, in place of one of the factories is that icon of retail, a Tesco store.

The only thing we can really be sure of is that nothing will stay the same.

Companies are started by entrepreneurial people who see an opportunity to challenge the status quo - they grow, become established, dominate the industry and eventually become the status quo. The challenge is that there will always be someone else who comes to it fresh, spots a new way of doing something and ultimate changes the face of the industry.

Grocery retail is one such industry which has seen big changes as they have changed from many smaller, independent retailers where the manufacturers had the balance of power to the current situation with a small number of very large retailers who now seem to hold all the power - and the customer relationships.

The manufacturers continue to look for ways to rebalance this situation - building relationships directly with consumers through a variety of means including on-pack loyalty schemes such as the latest offering from Tropicana with Juicy Rewards, but ultimately they don't have a direct purchase relationship with the consumer like the retailer has.

This is a situation that many can't see will change any time soon - and one which the retailers are increasingly maximising.

However, for someone from the early 1900's where brands were stocked behind the counter and the retailer picked and packed the goods for you, our modern day self service supermarkets would appear alien - yet they disrupted the status quo and become dominant.

In the same way, there is a new upstart on the block that could possibly challenge this hold the retailers have - they are called

Alice is a site which allows you to purchase FMCG goods online - nothing new there, many supermarkets offer online shopping - but which fundamentally changes the balance of power by providing a more direct relationship between manufacturer and consumer. They describe their approach saying:-

You order from Alice just like you would a retailer, but behind the scenes we work like a marketplace, allowing participating manufacturers to sell directly to you...This direct platform eliminates the retail middleman and saves lots of costs that can be passed directly on to you. And in addition to saving you money, the Alice marketplace allows participating brands to have a direct relationship with you—to reward you, personalize things for you, and work smarter for you.

What makes this service even more interesting is guaranteed free shipping on everything and the fact that it's accessible from your iPhone - so when you actually run out of something you can simply re-order it there and then - no lists. As they say on their website "Need toilet paper? There's an app for that."

The truth is no one really wants to spend their valuable spare time walking round a supermarket looking for toothpaste and toilet roll, but while we also have to purchase food for the week ahead it makes sense to do it together. However, if the increasing number of "delivered meals" services such as Dining made easy or established player Wiltshire Farm Foods start to gain ground whereby the consumer can simply order their menu for the week and have it delivered fully prepared - no waste and no hassle - then a service like could fill the non-food gap.

I don't know if this kind of offering will ultimately break the grip of the large retailers, but it's also unclear if these retailers can continue to expand, increasing the lines they offer and the corresponding monopoly on consumers wallets.

What I am sure of though is that there will always be someone ready to challenge the status quo and even better where this provides more choice for the consumer.

Sunday 7 February 2010

Is the Poken mightier than the pen?

Social networks may have made the online world a much more connected experience – allowing us to connect with someone we know (or would like to know) or become a fan of a brand that we want to hear more from - but what about the real world. 

How does someone connect with a brand in store, or connect with each other.

Okay, I know it’s a stupid question - we’ve been doing this “offline” for millennia – we talk, we exchange details.  However this typically involves a pen and something the Chinese invented over 2000 years ago – some paper.  If we do this a lot then the paper may be pre-printed in the form of a business card.

Meet someone you like and want to chat again, you’ll need to note down their contact details (or swap business cards).  Like the retailer and want to hear more from them, you’ll need to fill in an application form.

But that could be all changing.

New technologies are allowing people to exchange details when they meet, seamlessly between devices such as a mobile phone.  There is still a requirement to make that first move and start the conversation, technology hasn’t managed to help with that yet unless of course you count the opening line “Do you Poken?" as both an ice breaker and a request to connect.

You google, you text, you chat, do you poken?

The Poken is a cute little device that comes in various form factors such as a key ring and which allows you to connect with another person simply by tapping your Pokens together.


When you then plug the Poken into your PC and go online you’re able to see all the people you connected with in a timeline and crucially with all their contact details, social networks etc. that they have chosen to share.


A different route is via the mobile with one of the most popular applications being, as you would expect, on the iPhone.

Called BUMP from Bump Technologies this application allows you to exchange details by simply bumping two iPhones together. 

Using some clever latitudinal thinking, the phones themselves don’t actually exchange anything and instead the solution recognises the unique properties of the bump itself from each phone, matching these up centrally on their servers and then sharing details where a match is found.

It’s not just contact details which can be exchanged but also content like photos - “bumping” them from phone to phone.

Whilst these technologies have been around for a little while and the Poken made a few headlines and blogs at the SXSW about a year ago, they’ve yet to really mature and gain mass penetration and usage.

However I think they have so much more to give.

As facebook matured from being solely about connecting people to also connecting with brands, groups and causes, these technologies could enable the same thing in the physical world.

  • Walk into a store and tap/bump to get immediate offers to your mobile
  • See an item you like… tap to get it added to your wish list
  • Want to join the loyalty programme, tap at POS

These solutions essentially allow you to be be you – not having to carry multiple cards or fill in multiple forms but instead, simply to tap a device to indicate your identity.

There are many arguments that these solution do nothing more than what could be achieved with Bluetooth today or NFC as it begins to roll out across mobiles. 

However that’s not the point – Poken for example is essentially nothing more than a proprietary RFID solution - it’s not about the technology, it’s about a simple, branded solution which people understand and feel in control of.

I think these types of solutions which allow identity to be easily captured in the physical world, whether it’s between people, brands or products will bring the same kind of advantages that we get in the online world – allowing interactions and relationships to be tracked and measured.

For marketers the online interaction has become an important measure – in some ways more important than the transaction - with the interaction being almost a “precognition” of the transaction itself.

Can technology like BUMP or Poken enable the same thing in the physical world?  It’s going to be fun finding out.