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Archive for November, 2011

Every doctrine has to start somewhere. Even this one.

Want to boost your repeat business, get tons of free referrals, acquire bunches of new customers and get lots of positive buzz for free? There’s a pretty simple way to do it that doesn’t have to cost you a whole lot. Can you guess what it is?

Simple: Purge your company of assholes.

In fact, let me share item #1 in my Better Business Doctrine with you real quick. Are you ready? Here we go:

The customer-facing organization with the fewest assholes wins.

That’s it.

A simple example, from the friendly skies.

Does this seem like common sense? Of course it does. And yet here we are, routinely forced to endure a passive-aggressive or plain argumentative jerks who would rather exercise their “authority” than provide customers – even stressed out customers – with pleasant experiences. Why is that? Let me answer that question: Because companies are still hiring assholes.

Let me give you a few personal examples:

1a. The Continental flight I was on a few months ago

Flight Attendant (sternly) to a passenger in the process of turning off their iPad, just not quickly enough: “SIR! I need you to turn that off right now!” (Stares angrily at passenger until the device is turned off, and walks away, visibly annoyed.)

This probably happens to flight crews 20+ times per day. Every time a plane pushes off from the gate and prepares its approach, passengers in the middle of a song, of a paragraph, of a game of Angry Birds or Brick Breaker take an extra 10-30 seconds to “comply” with the “please turn off your electronic devices at this time” announcement on the PA. I get it. It probably gets annoying after a while. But guess what: You’re a flight attendant. Asking people to turn off their electronic toys comes with the job. You don’t have to be an asshole about it. Case in point:

1b: The Delta flight I was on the following day

- Flight Attendant (with a smile, jokingly) to a passenger so absorbed by what he was reading that he missed the “turn off your electronic devices” announcement and kept his Kindle going: “Good book?”

- Passenger, sensing that he was the object of the flight attendant’s attention, looks up from his device: “I’m sorry?”

- Flight Attendant, nonchalantly points at the Kindle: “Good reading?”

- Passenger, smiling back: “Yeah. Very!” (Gets it. Laughs. Starts to look for the “off” button.)

- Flight attendant: “You can turn it back on as soon as we’re on the ground.” (Walks away. Stops. Turns around.) “The book. What is it?”

Passenger answers. Flight attendant repeats the title as if to remember it, nods as if interested, and returns to his station.

The difference between the two isn’t training or pay. It isn’t corporate policy or procedure. It isn’t even company culture. The difference between the two occurrences is this:

One of these flight attendants, at some point during the course of her day, week, month, year or career, decided to let her asshole flag fly. The other one didn’t.

The basic impact of an asshole on your customers

How every asshole on your payroll affects your brand equity and impacts your business on a daily basis.

The impact of just one asshole’s behavior in a customer-facing role doesn’t stop with the one customer they treat poorly. Ten rows of passengers witnessed the exchanges on both flights, and I can guarantee that the ten rows on the Continental flight (30 passengers) were not impressed, while those on the Delta flight surely were. The ramifications of this are simple:

Whatever shot Continental had at influencing these 30 people to develop a preference for flying its friendly skies, for being more loyal, for looking to book future flights with them first, just flew out the window, not because of price, not because of delays, not because the plane was dirty. The price was great. The plane left on time and was impeccable. Continental did everything right except one thing: Someone there allowed an asshole (and probably more than one) to take on a key customer service role. Delta, on the other hand, scored some points.

And just to be fair, I’ve run into my fair of assholes working for Delta too. Few domestic US airlines seem immune to this phenomenon these days, except for perhaps Alaska Air, whose service and hiring practices, to my knowledge are still impeccable.

That said, my experience with Delta flight crews recently has been stellar, and not just because of this little anecdote. (Expect another post about what else happened very soon.) The difference between the two airlines for me was limited to my experience, as it is for all of us. Before the recommendations and the word-of-mouth and the marketing, our own experience shapes our bias.

Every positive experience creates positive associations with a brand, while every negative experience creates a negative association with a brand. More positive than negative = positive bias, preference, even loyalty. Consistent negative experiences (especially those that repeat themselves, like frequent delays, rude employees, apathetic managers, or being talked down to by an unprofessional asshole) = negative bias, preference for your competitors instead of you, and cynicism towards your brand.

The wheels of this mental equation – more emotional than empirical – start turning every time the thought of your brand comes up, and you need to understand it isn’t linear. The way we process the negative and the positive isn’t as balanced as you might think. For whatever reason, until you have grown into a loyal fan of the brand, the equation tends to be heavily weighed towards the negative: What you did right six months ago – or for the last thirty years,- doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you did wrong yesterday or just last week. That’s part 1 of how the mental math of brand experiences work. Part 2 is this: People will easily forgive incidents and accidents: Lost luggage, no available upgrades, long lines at the counter, mechanical problems, etc. Those things are out of your control, and once the anger and frustration subside, they’ll get it. Those negative impressions will evaporate. But one thing customers won’t forgive of any company: Being deliberately treated badly by an asshole.

Just as being an asshole  is a choice, – especially when dealing with a customer – hiring an asshole and keeping them on staff is also a choice. Because of this immutable fact, every company bears its part of responsibility in the hiring and promoting of assholes. Customers instinctively understand this, which is why when they run into one of your company’s assholes, they don’t blame the asshole for treating them poorly, they blame you. They blame the brand. The negative association they take home with them isn’t with that person (whose name and face they will forget inside of a week), but with you. Your assholes are faceless. All customers remember is the context: You. Your company. Your brand. The asshole just goes on being an asshole day after day, happy to have a job that pays him – even rewards him – for being a complete raging asshole all day long.

At the end of their shift, what you have to understand is that assholes in your employ don’t lose customers. You do. You spend your resources bringing them to the cash register, and every asshole on your staff spends all day making sure they never come back.

For this reason if none other, choose and evaluate your employees carefully.

The impact of just one asshole - amplified by social media

The real cost of letting assholes poison your brand from the inside.

If you are in business and have employees, let me be VERY clear about this: You are always only one asshole away from losing your best customer. The more assholes you have on staff, the faster and more often this will happen.

Not only that, but assholes tend to turn off, not only the one customer they happen to be unpleasant to, but everyone within earshot as well.

And today, ladies and gentlemen, “within earshot” isn’t just the ten rows on the plane or the ten people in the store waiting to check out. It is also potentially the hundreds of thousands of Facebook and Twitter users who might get a glimpse of that negative experience and be turned off in turn. Even millions, for that matter. (See previous 2 images, inspired by David Armano’s “Influence Ripples” theory (Edelman), below:)

David Armano's "Influence Ripples" (Edelman)

Let me give this a financial angle for you: Over the course of a year, one asshole on your staff, just one, can invalidate every dime your company has spent on advertising, marketing and PR. That’s the real liability of assholes. For small businesses, an asshole might only cost you $10,000 in wasted marketing, messaging or brand positioning. If you’re a bigger company, the same asshole (or a whole army of them, which is more likely) could cost you hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted marketing and brand management dollars.

That was part 1 of that equation. Part 2 is measured in lost revenue from disappointed customers taking their business elsewhere (your competitors thank you), lost revenue from all of the net new customers delighted customers would have recommended you to (but didn’t, because your assholes chased them away), and so on.

As a result, the higher the proportion of assholes to caring professionals a company has on staff, the more likely it is to have to spend more and more on marketing (with increasingly diminishing returns), while customer retention falls flat and even starts to dip into the red. Assholes aren’t just bad for customer service or your brand’s image. Assholes are bad for business. They are a counter-current to your hopes and dreams. They are the cancer that first weighs you down, then eventually makes your brand begin to fail, then wither, then die.

So let me repeat today’s lesson: The customer-facing organization with the least amount of assholes wins.

Don’t believe me? Ask Zappos. If you have never heard of Zappos, they sell shoes on the internet. That’s it. Well… LOTS of shoes. So many in fact that Amazon bought them for a pretty penny. Not only that, but Amazon decided not to make any major changes to Zappos’ leadership or culture. They left Zappos alone because the model works well just as it is. What’s Zappos’ secret? The customer experiences they create are stellar. Why are they stellar? Because Zappos pretty much has a “no asshole on staff” policy. Their hiring practices focus on this, and for good reason: They know that a happy customer is a loyal customer.

The simple truth (and we all know this) is that happy customers are good for business. In fact, no. They are GREAT for business: The happier a customer is, the more likely it is that they will come back, spend more, spend more often, and recommend you to all their friends. This is what you want. This is what makes businesses insanely successful. This. You don’t have to invent the iPad to be a huge success. Zappos just sells shoes on the internet. Virgin Airlines just flies people from airport to airport. Intercontinental Hotels (disclosure: client) are basically just… hotels. We’re not talking space walks or time travel, here. Your favorite restaurant, your favorite coffee shop, your favorite mechanic, none of them necessarily reinvented the wheel, right? They didn’t win a Nobel prize for revolutionizing their industries. No. What they did was this: They figured out that a happy customer is good for business, so they focused on that. They earned your trust, your respect and your loyalty. Want to know how they did that? By giving you theirs.

Let me let you in on a little secret: An asshole doesn’t think that way. An asshole doesn’t think about happy customers. He doesn’t care about happy customers. An asshole only thinks about himself: His own mood, his own frustrations, his own personal dramas, his own power trips. An asshole doesn’t give anyone their trust, respect or loyalty. Assholes just don’t think that way. And that is precisely the rub: No matter how well you pay them, you can’t make assholes give a shit. And that is bad for business. Very bad.

A fork in the road for every organization:

Do you know one way to make sure your customers are always happy? Only hire people who want your customers to be happy too. People who want to be helpful, who want to fix problems, who take pride in making someone’s day better instead of worse. People who genuinely want to see the company do well. People with pride and self respect and ambition beyond their own bank account or advancement. Do you think this is too hard? It isn’t. Just hire better.

Want to guess how to guarantee that your customers will not be happy? Hire assholes to take care of them. (It works every time.)

That’s your choice: Door A or Door B.

Door A: Hire super nice, helpful people and your business will soar.

Door B: Hire assholes, and your business will forever struggle to stay afloat.

Every time you run into one of your employees (or candidates) and he or she acts like an asshole, I want you to think about that. I want you to think about how much harder you want to have to work to make your business successful once they start pissing off every customer and client they come in contact with.

Taking a step back so you can see your entire business now, how many assholes do you really want on your payroll, and how many customers do you want to put them in front of? Pull out a piece of paper and write down a number. Do it. Write it down. How many assholes do you want on your payroll?

Next to that number, write down how many assholes you have on your payroll now. Go through your mental org chart, and start counting them in your head. When you’re done, write down how many assholes you know are in your company right now. If that number is higher than the first number you wrote down, you have some cleaning up to do.

In closing, let me leave you with the top 5 ways to make sure that your company starts becoming asshole-proof.

Top 5 ways of asshole-proofing your company:

1. Don’t hire assholes. They are bad for business, and they breed inside organizations like weeds.

2. Don’t promote assholes. The only thing worse than an asshole is an asshole with authority (including the authority to hire and promote assholes when you aren’t paying attention).

3. Give your current assholes the “opportunity” to go work for your fiercest competitor. Do this immediately. Make sure the door doesn’t hit them in the ass on their way out.

4. Once removed, replace your former assholes with nice, smart friendly people. (They’re out there and they want to work for you, but your assholes probably already turned them down. Go find them and invite them back.)

5. Reward all of your employees for NOT being assholes.

That just about takes care of it for today. Any questions?

Inspired (in a good way) by conversations with Julien Smith, Geoff Livingston, Keith BurtisChris Brogan, Kristi Colvin, Tyler Durden, Jeffrey Jacobs, Peter Shankman, among others.

*          *          *

And in case you haven’t picked one up yet (or your favorite client seems to be having trouble figuring out how to bring social media into their organization), you can pick up a fresh copy of Social Media ROI at fine book stores everywhere. If you have sworn off paper, you can also download it for iPad, Kindle, Nook or other e-formats at www.smroi.net.

Tip: Leave it sitting conspicuously on your desk when your boss does his rounds. It seems to be a good conversation starter.

(Click here for details, or to sample a free chapter.)

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11.11

That’s the original Olivier Blanchard up there – my grandfather and namesake – in 1915 Paris, shortly after joining the French cavalry and just days before being sent off to fight the Germans. Cavalry units still rode actual horses during World War 1. They charged with lances and sabers. Sniper rifles and machine guns were still new. Tanks and combat aircraft were just beginning to emerge. Germany hadn’t yet deployed chlorine gas around the Ypres salient.

That kid fought in the trenches and endured horrors of war that we cannot imagine today. He went on to survive combat not only in World War 1 but in World War 2. He never talked about any of it, but his medals told us all we ever needed to know.

Millions weren’t as lucky as he was. Not everyone comes home whole, if at all.

Here’s to our veterans. All of them.

Cheers.

PS: Buy a vet a drink today. Or better yet, hire one.

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A little bit of family pride: 3 Generations of Blanchard military officers

Olivier Blanchard - Cavalerie

Alain Blanchard - Artillerie

Olivier Blanchard - Fusiliers Marins

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Filed under Opinion.

I want to share a head scratching moment with you for a sec. See if you can figure out what’s going on over at Ferrero (the makers of my beloved Nutella).

First, this article/press release found in The Drum from 6 November 2011:

Ferrero is to launch a £6m campaign to promote both flagship brand Ferrero Rocher and the Ferrero Collection.

The 30 second ad, by RKCR/Y&R will launch today (6 November) during Downton Abbey on ITV1, with a second standalone film also set to launch on 21 November.

Entitled ‘Food of the Gods’ the new campaign aims to change consumer attitudes to the brand, to make its range more social, having established the brand as one of quality for special occasions.

> UPDATE (11/30/11): A Ferrero representative contacted me today to let me know that the above statement (“Entitled ‘food of the Gods’”) was removed from the article published by The Drum. The email suggests that The Drum made an error in regards to the campaign’s name. This change affects certain elements of this post as it was written before the change.

Both campaigns will run until Christmas.

Mauro de Felip, marketing director for Ferrero, said: “The launch of these new creative advertising campaigns provides us with an excellent platform to exhibit our market leadership in special sharing and gifting. Both creatives capture the ‘new’ special that is relevant to consumers, and demonstrates our ability as a business to adapt to current market conditions and understand shifting consumer attitudes.”   (Source.)

Let that soak in for a minute.

Now… I am a very big fan of Ferrero, and have been since childhood. As a little French boy, I remember their ads, I was raised on their products (my allowance went almost exclusively to Kinder Surprise eggs for many years), and if you have been following this blog and its twitter feed for the last few years, you know how much I dig Nutella – one of Ferrero’s signature products/brands. So you can be assured that I am not writing this post to bash the company or throw them under the bus. I want them to do well. In fact, I want them to do VERY well. Perhaps that is why I notice their mistakes more than  mistakes made by companies I don’t really care about: As much as it sucks to see companies do the wrong thing over and over again when you don’t care of they succeed or fail, it is terribly frustrating to watch a company you actually care come off the tracks again and again and again.

Okay. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, read Mauro de Felip’s statement again and let’s look at some of the things keeping Ferrero from being a lot more successful than it already is.

Note: If you are in a hurry, skip 1-4 and go straight to 5 and 6.

Error 1: Brand Identity Disorder.

The folks at Ferrero still think Rocher needs to be  a luxury or prestige brand.

Let’s think about what qualities are innate to luxury brands: One is price. The other is exclusivity. You can’t just go to your local CarMax and buy a Bentley. Target doesn’t carry Cartier timepieces. K-Mart doesn’t have a Gucci section.  The bakery at Publix, BiLo or Piggly Wiggly doesn’t sell Lenôtre confections.

See where I am going with this? Luxury brands don’t place their products in convenience stores and grimy old grocery stores. Where do I find Ferrero’s products? In the case of Nutella, between the peanut butter and the grape jam squeeze bottles. In the case of Rocher (the gold-wrapped nutty chocolate balls Ferrero considers ), somewhere between the beef jerky and the nail clippers, right by the cash register, or in the chocolate aisle at your local CVS.

Ferrero Rocher is no more a prestige brand than Toblerone. The emphasis of their marketing should be on letting consumers feel like treating themselves to something delicious (and as often as possible) rather than making them feel like they only deserve to enjoy them mostly on special occasions, or when they can afford to spend more on chocolate products than they really want to.

The lesson here is that when you position your product as a luxury product (especially when it isn’t), you screw yourself in 3 ways:

1. You create a socioeconomic disconnect between your market and your product. People can’t relate to it as well as they might a more “down to earth” alternative. That creates a barrier between your product and your market. Your job is to break down barriers between your products and your customers, not erect them.

2. Because your premium pricing can’t bridge the gap between image and actual value, it teaches consumers to look for more budget friendly alternatives. In other words, it makes them buy from the competition instead of from you. This is how you guarantee that your market share will remain stalled for years.

3. Even if your pricing is competitive, too much of an emphasis on building a premium image will give consumers the wrong impression. If consumers believe – before they even walk into a store – that they can’t justify the expense of buying your product, they will stick to more budget-friendly alternatives.  This is how you ensure that your consumers’ buy-rate will never increase.

Error 2: Chasing very bad assumptions.

Someone at Ferrero Rocher still seems to think that people feel better about themselves when they spend more money on chocolate than the average consumer. This is true of some consumers IF you are a boutique chocolatier or confectionary, but the moment you a) begin selling your products alongside commodity products in everyday grocery stores and b) try to appeal to the average consumer rather than an exclusive clientele, you’re in the weeds with that theory.

There was a time when it was cool to blow cash on flashy sports cars, mansions and champagne breakfasts just to show off. Here’s the problem: The 80′s are long gone. The average consumer is looking to satisfy a need for the best price possible. Strangely though, Ferrero Rocher ads are still clinging to the same outdated narrative as if the 80′s were still going strong. Only now, we have moved Rocher from the manor house to the outer reaches of Mount Olympus.

Here is a dose of reality the folks at Ferrero probably need to hear: Nobody cares that you are serving mounds of Ferrero Rocher at your house parties, just like the fantasy millionaire models in all of their commercials. It’s a chocolate and nut ball you grabbed at the local Walgreen’s, not caviar from Caspian Sea belugas.

This outdated world view has to be hurting the Ferrero business, especially in a market like the United States, where 99% of consumers look for value and flavor rather than the notion that a chocolate treat will make them look or feel like a billionaire.

As for that billionaire market, the 0.o1%, how many boxes of Ferrero Rocher is it really buying?

Ferrero should be focusing on fighting for relevance and wallet share rather than perpetuating an image that is no longer relevant in today’s world.

I am struck by Mr. de Felip’s admission that the company wants to change perceptions about the brand. That’s terrific. If Mr. de Felip has any hopes of changing perceptions, increasing both market share and boosting monthly sales volume (objective indicators of that change), he and his team need to drop their internal assumptions, go out into the world, and look very closely at how they position the brand from the perspective of 2011 consumers.

Error 3: Holding on to outdated business dogma.

Because it has always been strong for them, the folks at Ferrero Rocher still think the Christmas season is the key to boosting sales. Even today, Ferrero Rocher still places its bets on Christmas season campaigns.

Here’s the problem: Teaching consumers that your product is a seasonal treat is the best way to make sure they won’t think about you for the other 11 months of the year.

The term you are looking for is strategic myopia.

Fortunately, this is an easy fix. Even if Ferrero executives aren’t yet ready to focus on boosting sales for Rocher year round, other holidays can help spread the sales load to all fourquarters instead of just one: How does Ferrero leverage chocolate-rich holidays like Easter, Halloween, Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day? Not well, if at all. My question is why? Time to spread the advertising budget to other holidays and look for alternatives in terms of consumer engagement. (If only someone were to invent digital social networks where consumer communities could be… oh, never mind.)

As for the other 7 months of the year, it isn’t so hard either. With Rocher being pretty much everywhere now, the problem isn’t one of availability or distribution. So what is it?

The answer might be found in the context of the brand’s narrative. It is still so deeply rooted in the Christmas season that Ferrero is simply not top of mind for consumers at any other time during the year.

Think of this process as an internal Google search. When you think about Easter in the US, you think Cadbury eggs and Peeps. Valentine’s Day: Russel Stover, maybe even M&Ms. Halloween: Reese’s, Kit-Kat, Snicker’s, M&M’s again, etc. If Rocher is not top of mind, your marketing isn’t working. It’s that simple.

Shifting to year-round relevance wouldn’t suck. What’s strange is Ferrero already knows how to do this with their other brands: Nutella, Kinder, and the ubiquitous Tic-Tac. Why not do it with Rocher as well?

Error 4: Thinking that buzzwords and wishful thinking will save you.

Ferrero Rocher doesn’t need to “make its range more social.” It just needs to actually connect with its market. I am referring to this:

Entitled ‘Food of the Gods’ the new campaign aims to change consumer attitudes to the brand, to make its range more social, having established the brand as one of quality for special occasions.

Both campaigns will run until Christmas.

I have no idea what that first sentence is supposed to mean, so let me try to paraphrase it. Here we go:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah social blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Ferrero, let me share a few very important market insights with you:

1. Just because you use the word “social” in a sentence or attach it to a campaign doesn’t mean anything you are doing is actually social. Say no to buzzwords. If indeed you have something social to offer your consumers, great. If not, don’t pretend you do.

2. Nobody cares how much money you blew on your upscale advertising campaign. This is especially true now, during a global recession. People are too savvy to be impressed by that, and far too cynical right now to find it charming.

3. The gods of Olympus don’t make your brand narrative more social. In fact, they do the exact opposite: How much more exclusive can you get than the gods up on their mountain, looking down on us mortals? Are the gods not the prefect metaphor for the super rich? At a time when income inequality in Europe and the US is at its highest, when movements like #OccupyWallStreet illustrate a growing disdain for the super wealthy, is it really intelligent to align your brand with that 0.01% of the population that the other 99.9% isn’t all that happy with? (Especially if your market is that 99.9%.) More to the point, can someone explain to me how the penultimate aura of exclusivity embodied by Mount Olympus makes a brand’s range “more social?”

4. You don’t have to be a trained Jungian analyst to understand that Ferrero Rocher’s ads are 100% about ego projection. They have nothing to do with the reality of the market, which is to say the experiences of the consumers they aim to influence. Whomever is signing off on these ads and the direction of the brand’s marketing might consider walking out of the palace gates, coming down from the mountain and hanging out with average mortals, if only for a few days. A recalibration might be in order. These choices are not happening in a vacuum. Someone’s ego is driving this trainwreck.

Back to the “social” thing: Being “social” is not the end game. Connecting with your audience, with your market, with the people who will make you part of their lives for the next 50+ years, THAT is the goal. Focus on creating that connection.

Making a brand’s “range more social” means nothing and accomplishes even less. Buzzwords can’t take the place of results.

Error 5: Believing your own spin.

Denial cripples brands and erodes their relevance with every passing day.

“The launch of these new creative advertising campaigns provides us with an excellent platform to exhibit our market leadership in special sharing and gifting. Both creatives capture the ‘new’ special that is relevant to consumers, and demonstrates our ability as a business to adapt to current market conditions and understand shifting consumer attitudes.”

No.

- Advertising campaigns don’t provide brands with a platform to exhibit market leadership. They’re ads, not annual reports. Market leadership is exhibited by numbers. If you really want to talk about market leadership, let’s see the numbers. What makes you a market leader? What does that mean?

- There is no “new special,” and even it there were, it can’t be “relevant to consumers” if those consumers have no idea what it is or what it means. If you really want to talk about the “new special,” it has to be understood by the market. It has to be real. It can’t just be the product of an internal memo.

- Spending £6,000,000 on an ad campaign in 2011 doesn’t demonstrate a company’s ability to “adapt to current market conditions and understand shifting consumer attitudes.” In fact, it demonstrates the exact opposite.

But none of what we have talked about so far is as tragic as my next point:

Error 6: Allowing bullshit to pile up in your front yard.

New is new. New is not old. When a concept has been at the core of an ad campaign for 4+ years, it cannot be refered to as “new.”

Here is the quote again:

“Entitled ‘Food of the Gods’ the new campaign aims to change consumer attitudes to the brand, to make its range more social, having established the brand as one of quality for special occasions.”

“The launch of these new creative advertising campaigns [...]. Both creatives capture the ‘new’ special that is relevant to consumers, and demonstrates our ability as a business to adapt to current market conditions and understand shifting consumer attitudes.”

So the assumption here, or the message being conveyed by Ferrero, is that the brand is doing something new with these ads. They are “new campaigns” with “new creative” that aim to capture the “new special” and change consumer attitudes. One might expect, then, that these ads would be nothing like Ferrero’s previous ads. Right?

Let’s see what Ferrero’s ads looked like in 2010:

(If the video doesn’t play, go watch it here.)

Wait a second… Aren’t those… gods? Isn’t the ad about Ferrero Rocher being the food of the gods? Wasn’t the ad campaign actually called “Food of the Gods?”

I’m confused. What’s so new about this year’s campaign then?

Here is another one, also from 2010, which features not only the gods but mythological hero Ulysses:

(If the video doesn’t play, go watch it here.)

Okay. Let’s go back a little further. Maybe that was just a glitch. Here is a 2007 TV ad from Ferrero:

(If the video doesn’t play, go watch it here.)

#Facepalm

I really want to ignore the fact that this 2007 ad is about the gods of Olympus inviting their “Nordic cousins” (Norse gods AND Mr. Santa Claus himself) to share with them their “Food of the Gods”. I really do. I really, really, really do.

Now you see why I find myself scratching my head at what Mr. de Felip is talking about:

What precisely is “new” about this £6,000,000 ad campaign?

How will using the same narrative and imagery (the Gods of Olympus) that have been used since 2007 somehow “change” consumer perceptions or give the brand a more “social range?”

The myth you might be searching for is The Emperor’s New Clothes.

If nobody cares, nobody cares. But… what if someone actually cares?

No matter how off-target a company’s ads may be, no matter how poorly devised that company’s product positioning or how outdated its brand narrative may be, no matter how disconnected from reality its marketing executives may be, a good product is still a good product. Ferrero Rocher is pretty tasty, and Nutella is simply one of the most delicious chocolate-related products on the face of the Earth.

Those of us who have already discovered these products and love them won’t stop buying them just because their advertising misses the mark or the company’s marketing executives spout nonsense at journalists through their PR teams. We will continue to recommend them and help other consumers discover them. So… does any of it matter?

Yes, but only if someone at a company like Ferrero wants to become the market leader they claim to be. Only if someone there wants to see high double-digit growth in sales, an acceleration in market penetration and a real, concrete, sticky increase in market share.

If the powers that be at Ferrero are truly happy with the company’s performance as it stands, then this is all moot. If that were the case though, would Ferrero blow £6 million on an ad campaign whose aim is to “change” consumer perceptions? That tells me that somewhere at Ferrero, someone cares. That’s good.

Ferrero vs.  Apple by the numbers: The importance of relevance.

Now, with €6.6 billion in global sales in 2010 (an increase of 4.3% over 2009), the Ferrero group as a whole is doing extremely well. But I want to throw a couple of quick questions at the Ferrero folks:

1. If the Rocher brand were managed better, could that €6.6 billion look more like €8 billion? Wouldn’t that be better?

2. Strong balance sheets aside, is 4.3% YoY growth for the entire group really all that stellar?

Every company I have ever worked for would have fired me if I allowed my growth numbers to drop that low. The most anemic of  my employers limped along at 6% growth YoY before they hired me out of desperation. 6% YoY growth was considered horrible.

Much to my chagrin, the jump from 11% to 14% I managed in my first year at another company still wasn’t enough to uncork the champagne in the CEO’s office, even though they had been stuck at 11% for half a decade.

It has always seemed to me that somewhere between 18% and 20% was the magic YoY growth figure for most executives and investors. I certainly never received any significant accolades if my numbers fell below 16% YoY growth.

Here’s a sobering little bit of insight: Most years, 4.3% barely keeps up with inflation.

For some context, let’s compare Ferrero’s 4.3% YoY growth for 2010 to Apple’s numbers for the same period:

87.2% YoY growth for iPhone and 24% for Mac.

Granted, using the incredible 87.2% YoY growth figure for iPhone might be a little unfair since the product is fairly new and cool and relevant, but… that is precisely why it matters: iPhone is exciting and relevant. Rocher no longer is, for the reasons outlined in this post. 87% growth vs. 4% growth. The numbers don’t lie. Ferrero needs to take a long look at their business and be realistic about what is happening to it.

But okay. To be kind, let’s instead compare Rocher to Mac, since the product was launched in the 1980′s, which was Ferrero’s heyday:

In an economic downturn, Mac is still seeing 24% YoY growth. Ferrero is only seeing 4.3% YoY growth.

What is going on?

Ferrero vs. Hershey by the numbers: Why Ferrero should be seeing double-digit growth.

If you feel that comparing a candy/chocolate company to a technology company isn’t fair, fine. Compare Ferrero’s growth to Hershey’s for 2010, and what you will find is a near stalemate:

Hershey’s 2010 YoY growth was 7% (source, source).

Ferrero’s 2010 YoY growth was 4.3% (source)

Now consider that Hershey is a far more established brand than Ferrero, especially in the US. Let me illustrate:

Ferrero owns Nutella, Rocher, Kinder and Tic-Tac.

Hershey owns… well, all of the Hershey bars, Hershey syrup, Hershey’s Kisses, Twizzlers, Reese’s, Kit-Kat, Almond Joy, Mounds and Ice-Breakers mints.

When was the last time you bought or enjoyed a Hershey product?

When was the last time you bought or enjoyed a Ferrero product?

What does this illustrate? An enormous gap in market penetration and market maturity between Hershey and Ferrero, at least in the US. As an established brand, Hershey’s market is relatively saturated. People already buy Hershey products regularly. EVERYONE has heard of and tried Reese’s, Kit-Kats and Hershey’s Kisses. How do you squeeze 20% growth out of a fully penetrated, mature market? With a lot of ingenuity. (Probably more emphasis on Frequency and Yield than customer acquisition.)  I am amazed (as in impressed) that Hershey still manages to score 7% YoY growth, honestly. Someone over there deserves to be paid some big bucks.

Ferrero, on the other hand doesn’t have Hershey’s problem: Nutella, Rocher and Kinder are outliers in the US market. They haven’t really been discovered or adopted by the average American. Only Tic-Tac has seen real penetration. Ferrero still hasn’t connected with that market. Unlike Hershey, which finds itself forced to focus more on influencing buy rate and yield, Ferrero can focus on not only buy rate and yield but good old customer acquisition. The market is wide open for its products to be discovered, adopted and shared by delighted consumers. Once customer acquisition is in full swing,  it becomes a question of positioning products so consumers buy more of them and more often. Addressing the 6 mistakes outlined in this post would certainly be a good way to get things back on track.

If Hershey can manage 7% YoY growth with virtually no new markets to conquer or customers to acquire, surely Ferrero should be able to see double-digit growth in markets where most consumers are not yet their customers.

4.3% growth is indicative of one thing: A company running out of ideas and losing touch with its market. Time for a reboot.

PS: Start with the basics.

Here’s a little bit of analyst insight – based on the numbers rather than internal “brand-driven” assumptions – that Ferrero needs to pay attention to:

“Despite economic woes, Hershey sustained its top-line momentum with consumers preferring moderately priced candies compared to premium ones.” (source)

Ferrero, here’s hoping that you will start turning it around in 2012.

All the best,

A  fan.

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This week, I had the pleasure of being interviewed on #mmchat (episode 68). We talked about social media (social business) integration, which is a pretty crucial topic. Pushing content through social media channels and setting up monitoring practices is the easy part. Making it all work and flow across an organization is where the real difficulties arise.

For almost every company adopting social media, the biggest challenge is not a lack of great ideas or social media expertise, but rather a lack of change management planning and execution. (Theory, presentations and case studies are great, but making someone else’s stories actually work for a business, that’s where the rubber really meets the road – or doesn’t, for the most part.)

Here were the questions:

Q1: So our topic tonight is on Social Media Alignment in organizations, can you describe your view on what this means?

Q2: [In reference to social media] what are some of the negative consequences experienced by organizations that are not aligned?

Q3: How should organizations begin when it comes to aligning their social media efforts with the rest of the business? Who should lead this initiative and how?

Q4: Are there specific steps required to align social networking within organizations?

Q5: Once alignment is achieved, can it be easily scaled or are there suggestions you can male to facilitate this process?

Q6: Are there different challenges & solutions for trying to align around the world in global organizations?

Q7: How does a company know when they have succeeded in the alignment quest? What are some of the major signs and benefits?

Because of the short amount of time allotted to the chat and the limited 140-character format, my answers and ensuing discussion don’t get super in-depth, but that comes with an advantage: They are VERY accessible. Even if you are still unsure how to effectively plug social media into a company so it doesn’t end up being just a marketing add-on, you will understand the fundamental principles covered here.

To access the chat’s full transcript, click here.

For a far more in-depth look into how to actually plug social media into a business (large or small), grab yourself a copy of Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization (Que/Pearson).

It isn’t a “social media” book. It is a management book that focuses on social media for business. Big difference. If you aren’t sure that it is for you, download a free chapter here, then make up your mind.

Very special thanks to @thesocialcmo and @karimacatherine for hosting the #chat.

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The danger of content-centric strategies in Social Business:

Let me preface this short post with the catalyst behind it – this article by Sarah Shearman for Marketing.co.uk: “Content key to marketing in social media says P&G exec.” Let me throw a few bits and pieces of the article your way, and we’ll get started.

Content is the best currency in social media, according to Usama Al-Qassab, e-commerce marketing and digital innovation team leader at Procter & Gamble.

Speaking at a panel debate at the Social Media World Forum today (29 March) on the role of social media in traditional marketing strategy, Al-Qassab said: “There is a lot of talk about social commerce, but the average person is not yet there yet. On sites such as Facebook, the majority of people do not go there to purchase and still prefer their traditional online retailers. In order to monetise social media, it should not be seen in isolation and needs to be integrated into the wider marketing mix. But unless you have content, there is no point. The content you deliver and the investment behind that is key, much bigger than straight media dollars.”

And this (edited for brevity):

“To grab people’s attention in social media, you need to do something amazing and to do this, [what] you need is a function of how good your product is and how human you appear. The less good your product is and the less human you appear, the more spectacular, giving and generous the thing you do as an organisation needs to be.” - John Willshire, head of innovation at PHD

“There is so much content out there that is great and excellent, [but that] does not mean anyone will be able to even see it. The only way you can get people to see things and talk about things is by giving them a big push. Everything, whether it be business cards, letterheads, the website, the TV advertising, should all drive to one specific thing you want people to do. People don’t talk about things because they think they are great, they talk about them because they think they ought to, or because other people talk about them. Popular things get more popular, as a result of being in the public eye. It is about driving the content and hoping to get additional benefits, when people start getting involved.” - Nick Butcher, global head of social media and digital innovation at ZenithOptimedia.

First, let me begin by saying that I have absolutely no problem with what is now called creative/content, or even a proper focus on it. Content is important. It helps communicate to consumers the value and advantages of buying a product or service. It makes consumers discover, desire, crave, and develop a preference for a product. Now more than ever, content is easy to share, which ads to its value and power. Content also pulls people to websites, which is pretty damn important if you are trying to keep consumers interested and/or primed to visit websites and click on buttons. For these reasons, content is at the core of all things digital marketing, and great content is worth its weight in gold. You will get absolutely no argument from me there. All of this is true.

But here is where experienced marketing executives around the world – including pretty brilliant guys like John, Nick and Usama – fall into a common trap: Mistaking social media channels for marketing channels.

The problem is simple: Marketing professionals see the marketing opportunity in these powerful new channels – as well they should. Their reflex is to do what they know, which is to adapt their marketing thinking to the social space: shift some of their communications, strategies,creative and content to the Facebooks, Twitters and Youtubes of the moment. It’s their job after all. It’s what they know. “Push” has always worked everywhere else, therefore it will work in the social space as well. (And in spite of what social media purists claim, “push” does work quite well on social channels. Ask Dell and Old Spice, for starters.) The problem, however, is that digital social channels are not solely marketing channels. In fact, they are mostly not marketing channels. They are social channels (hence the nomenclature). As such, they favor dialog rather than monologue, which is to say actual conversations rather than messaging.

Publishing content and creative might be seen as a conversation starter, but it is not in any way, shape or form a dialog. It is a monologue through and through. And there is the rub.

At the root of the confusion between social marketing and social business are two distinct operational world views:

The easiest way to illustrate the problem is – as always – with a silly picture of old white dudes in suits sitting around a table.

Below is the functional view of social media channels as perceived (and expressed) by marketing professionals like John, Nick, Usama and thousands upon thousands of others around the world, including the majority of CMOs:

The problem with a unilateral functional view of SM channels

This begins a chain reaction of tactical thinking in which “content” – whose importance to the marketing function (on and off the web) is without question – becomes the core component of marketing-driven social media programs: If “content is king” for marketing on and off the web, then content must also be king for marketing in social media channels.

Logical, right?

If you have ever wondered why “content” was such a recurring theme and point of focus in the social space – when it clearly doesn’t need to be, this is why. What you are looking at in the above image, and what you are hearing from John, Nick, Usama and their peers isn’t representative of either social business or a social media program for business. What it illustrates is limited to social media marketing: The traditional marketing function adapted and applied to social media channels. This world view reflects a belief that social media management is primarily a marketing function.

This view point is of course a little too limited to work super well in a social medium, where people value non-marketing interactions at least as much (if not a lot more) than marketing-related ones.

Since social media channels and the social space are not inherently marketing-focused channels, the correct approach for a business looking to see both short and long term results, is one that is NOT primarily marketing-centric, and therefore NOT primarily content-centric. Here is what that more integrated social business model looks like:

Social Business favors multi-functional adoption across the org

The above image reflects the nature of social business. This multi-functional approach to social media, marked by the adoption of social channels by all functions and departments across an organization, stands a much better chance of yielding results in a space that is not inherently marketing-focused (and can be, at times, openly hostile to overtly marketing-focused exploitation by companies that haven’t yet thought things through).

This model does not focus on “content” as the key component of its social media program “strategy.” Instead, the model focuses on creating new types of value for consumers and stakeholders:

1. Pragmatically this is done to gain a competitive advantage, or – because the more value an organization creates for its customers, the more win becomes associated with its reputation.

2. From the consumer side, as long as the organization driving such a program seems to be genuinely interested in improving the lives or the experience of people it comes in contact with, as long as it seems to want to foster a relationship with them that isn’t automated, that is as truly human and genuine as an old fashioned handshake or a kiss on the cheek or a warm and honest hello, this business socialization activity won’t come across as one-sided and self-serving. This is important.

Sometimes, the best marketing isn’t marketing at all. It grows out of the personal connections that happen between the impression and the purchase, the thousand little personal interactions that happen between the purchase and the coffee shop, and the bonds consumers form with human beings around them. These human beings can be fellow customers of Brand x or employees or Brand x, or perhaps future customers of Brand x. For the purposes of this piece, let’s just focus on employees of Brand x.

Thus, having your marketing department push content all day long via Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and Youtube channels basically amounts to executing a simple social media marketing strategy. It doesn’t build anything. It doesn’t stick either. It’s just marketing spend at a lower cost and with a higher content velocity. Not bad, but that won’t get you very far in the social space.

Moving beyond “social media marketing” – A short list of business functions in social media that do not require content to create value and yield results:

We have seen how Marketing, advertising and PR all tend to focus on content in and out of social channels and why. (And again, there is nothing wrong with that.) Now, let us briefly look at a few other functions that can find a profitable home in the social space that require zero content creation, publication or curation.

  • Digital Customer Service
  • Business Intelligence
  • Digital market research
  • Consumer Insights Management
  • Online Reputation Management
  • Digital keyword and sentiment monitoring
  • Digital campaign or program measurement
  • Digital crisis management
  • Community management
  • Digital technical support
  • Digital concierge services

There are more, but you get the idea. None of these are particularly “content” driven functions, are they. Yet… “content” is supposed to be at the core of social media programs, right?

An emphasis on “content” in social media and social communications is simply code for “we think of social media primarily as a marketing channel.” It clearly needs to be treated as far more than that.

Organizations whose executives come to believe that “content” is key or central to social media success, equity or potential are making a grave mistake: Content doesn’t in fact drive engagement, traction or success in social media. “Content” drives marketing and responses to marketing in social media. As important as that is, we all have to be realistic about the limits of this kind of approach.

Realistically, content doesn’t drive customer service, crisis management, reputation management or market research in social media, nor does it drive conversations about customer service, crisis management, reputation, market research or even shopping experiences about a brand in social media. Since these and other key business function are principal building blocks of every successful social media program (for business), you see how an emphasis on content can hobble an organization’s social media program right from the start if its importance is mistakenly overstated.

Content’s relation to old vs. new forms of media:

Old media was 100% about messaging and distribution. Marketing was a monologue, primarily because the media used by marketing didn’t give consumers a voice. Viewers didn’t talk back to brands through their TV. Listeners didn’t talk back to brands through their radio. Billboards, print ads, posters, point of sale displays, coupons and even Web 1.0 websites functioned the same way: You created the message and pushed it out. The channels were basically one-way pipelines with marketers at one end and consumers at the other, the latter being the receiving end.

Social media channels are very different. Dialog rules in the social space. Marketing is at best suspect, and tolerated only if it doesn’t come across as exploitation of the channel by a company. Moreover, marketing in social media is permission-based: Too much marketing, or the wrong kind, and social media denizens will disengage from an offending brand. The wrong approach in these social channels can even do more harm than good for a company that forgets to treat consumers like individual human beings.

Though occasional monologues and messaging can find their place in the social space within a healthy mix of engagement activity, an operational emphasis on any kind of marketing monologue doesn’t work. Put simply, companies need to stop shoving “content” through social media channels like sh*t through a goose for ten seconds, take a step back, and start placing as much – if not more – emphasis on listening to consumers in order to then respond to them and begin a process of socialization. That is at the core of true engagement, and the fuel that will drive companies’ loyalty engines in the social space. The recent emphasis on content creation and publishing isn’t helping companies engage better. Instead, it is creating a wedge between brands and consumers. A wall of noise, even. It has become terribly counterproductive.

Two more things to think about:

1. Engagement and buzz are not the same thing. Pushing content through social media channels to generate buzz is perfectly fine and it can work very well. But don’t kid yourselves: Generating buzz around content or a campaign isn’t engagement. Not by a long shot. So next time someone tries to tell you that content and engagement go hand in hand, ask them to explain the difference between engagement and buzz. Chances are that they have the two mixed up. (Beware: That kind of confusion can send organizations down the wrong road fast.)

2. Saying hello or thank you doesn’t qualify as content. By the same token, having a conversation with someone is not content creation or curation. Responding to customer service requests via twitter is not content either. In fact, the more your communications resemble a conversation or dialogue, the less your communications qualify as “content.” The flip side of this is that the more focused an organization is on content when it comes to its social media presence, the more anti-social it will appear to be.

Strike for a balance. Always. The social space is far too complex and filled with opportunities to put all of your operational eggs in one basket – even the one tagged “content.”

Cheers,

Olivier

*          *          *

For more in-depth insights into how to properly build a social media program for your company, department or organization, pick up a copy of Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization (Que / Pearson), the definitive business guide to social media program management.

(Click here for a sample chapter.)

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