Marketing Focus – Miscellaneous Essays on Management & Marketing

My, how things have changed.
The nature of, and expectations for most business relationships in 2016 are now founded and valued on single transactions, and short-term relationships.
Put aside the well crafted vision and philosophy statements about customer-centricity, client-driven and mutually rewarding strategic alliances.
Reality is, that for most, loyalty is tenuous, commitments are conditional and “win-win” is determined and quantified by the specifics of the next transaction.
Connections are being maintained, engagement fostered and communication channels are being kept open.
In business, disappointment abounds because of flawed relationships, emotional hurt is common and the very character of establishing those relationships is restrained, if not constrained.
Pleas for understanding tend to centre on the other party, and tolerance seems to be on a short rein.
Understandably, business owners, managers, and leaders have moments of reflection, pondering the question:
Is it me?
It is a widely-held sentiment.  Being guarded is understandable, and natural.

Reaching out, being measured in actions and expectations and overcoming hesitancy are laudable – and in some instances, challenging.

Fear not.  There is someone there to listen, to empathise and to support.  Go ahead.  Make contact.  I’m waiting.
Barry Urquhart
That makes sense.
For retailers, a key link exists between shape, colour, texture, sound and taste. 
It’s a complex and intriguing intersection of senses which influences and impacts on, and determines consumer perceptions, expectations, purchase patterns and satisfaction.
Collectively, these factors offer an entirely new and insightful understanding of the much touted phrase, customer experience.
For example, coffee served in transparent glass is considered and accepted as being less intense (in street language that means “not as strong”) than that which is served in china cups and mugs.
Soft-drinks that feature a dominance of white in packaging are perceived to be less sugar-laden.
Overall, the plain packaging of generic products in supermarkets projects images and establishes expectations that such will be of lower quality than recognisably branded competitors. It needs link building strategies to be implemented to gain the lost recognition.
The nature and importance of sensory perception are recognised, respected and utilised by global brand leaders Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Red Bull.
Jewellers display their wares on colours of black and regal purple to create a positive ambience for select product ranges.
Interestingly, male deodorants seem more masculine when the sound of a spray mechanism is louder. 
The ingredients and formula seem to be secondary considerations in establishing an image and brand profile.
Thus, consumer perceptions about the shopping experience are often a composition of contextual aspects, rather than the specifics of the product, service or application.  Images of companies, brands and people are often determined by the inordinate wait- times and multiple steps involved in negotiating an automatic telephone answering system, rather than the personal and professional service extended by a caring gracious individual.
It’s a “waity” issue, worthy of consideration by business owners and senior executives who do not have daily or regular interactions with customers and clients.
It makes sense, and lots of dollars, to give heightened consideration to sensory perceptions and the roles they play in multidimensional customer experiences. 

Innovations, creativity and technology are great.  The potential, scope and advantages they offer are, to paraphrase the Australian Prime Minister, exciting.
Individually and collectively, the concepts generate considerable enthusiasm, energy, urgency, discussion – and in some instances, feelings of inadequacy.
Digital, social media, on-line and connectivity are essential words, phrases and concepts in most contemporary commercial discourses.
I have been and remain a religious follower, analyser, advocate and implementer of relevant developments, enhancements and expeditors, regardless of their tag.
During the first quarter of 2016 I have participated in four webinars.  These internationally-orientated presentations are heavily promoted as imperative, effective and efficient means to disseminate and share information and intelligence to stimulate awareness, interest, demand, transactions and to, ultimately, lead to establishing ongoing mutually rewarding relationships. Great concept, and laudable outcomes.
Sadly, in three of the four instances the verbal and visual presenters were appalling in their communication skills, emotional intelligence and interpersonal relationship capabilities.  They, and their sessions were crushingly boring.
The content?
Well, that was mired in the distractions, filters and barriers of the presence of the individuals charged to deliver the message.
Sadly, the messenger became the message – and that was rapidly and completely recognised to be a loser.
Sadly, and ironically, during the 60 -minute sessions repeated references were made to “customer experiences”.  How insensitive!
Technical capabilities count for little if one cannot and does not relate, empathise with and engage those in the target audience.
 Is it time for these new-generation technology-driven geeks to “get back to the basics?”
 Probably not.
For most, they have never been exposed to, comprehended, appreciated or applied the basics.
That is, for them, an enthusiastic, energetic and exciting new reality – probably existing and operating successfully and profitably in a parallel universe to one with which they are most familiar.
When seeking skills and expertise, be sure they too are multi-and omni-channelled.
Man can’t survive on bread alone.  Now can business and technology.
There are times when all Australians can, and should, fight for their country.
Our brave and loyal military service men and women do this at great personal risk, and we should be forever grateful for their personal efforts and sacrifices.
It would be insincere and entirely improper for me to compare the battles that the Australian dairy industry is having, with those of our military forces. Both, however, have dire consequences if not fought and fought hard, to protect all of our futures.
Today, for many in business, it is increasingly difficult to maintain a ‘sustainable business model’, due in part to international and corporate-player pressure.
Our dairy industry finds itself fighting with two ‘Australian-owned’ supermarket retailing companies which appear to be leveraging corporate power over smaller businesses, for their own market advantage.
This battle has been widely written and spoken about, so does not need further explanation.
For me, the entirely unacceptable conduct of the major retailers, (being Coles and Woolworths), is that they appear to be ‘happy’ to knowingly see our Australian dairy farmers sell their product to them at below cost, so that they can reap greater profits and brand leverage, in their own competitive marketplace.
This is not simply about price, it is about the sustainability of our dairy industry.
Surely, this is a battle each and every Australian should be fighting, to protect a core agricultural industry that has served us all well since inception.  Just think of what we would do without them. If things do not change quickly, we will surely lose many dairy farms to international ownership and operations. The federal government’s offer of ‘low interest loans’ is interesting to ponder. They are still ‘loans’, which simply enable the dairy farmers to lose more money, over more time, in the hope that things will change.
Sadly, our corporate watchdog, the ACCC, is slow at best, to firstly, identify bullying when it is ever so obvious to so many people in business. Then they seem to take forever to act. Time is not on the side of the dairy farmers.
If we Australians, do not fight for the right of the dairy industry to have a sustainable business model in its dealings with our own retail giants, then sadly nobody else will.
It will slowly wither, and become another foreign-owned industry.
Fight for the Right to Sustainability in the dairy industry.
Make it count at the checkout!
John Brown – Managing Director
Franchise Australia Pty Ltd
0408 273 337

Good for some, but not for all – in the moment.
In most instances, recognition of the ongoing need for change generates the drive for transformation.
That can be a long, complex journey.
Current external and competitive forces dictate the need for promptly applied innovation and creativity, just to stay relevant and to be positioned positively in the marketplace.  There is a strong time-line imperative in such circumstances – tactical if you will.
The ultimate and aimed-for immediate outcomes include optimisation of sales, revenue and profit.  Individually and collectively, they have a certain self-generating energy and urgency about them.
However, there could be two forces at work, transformation and optimisation.
Countless recent media stories from around the globe have reported on business leaders and subordinates undertaking questionable and inappropriate initiatives.
Essential corporate values, beliefs and behaviours have come under close and widespread scrutiny.
In societal and political corridors of power, calls have been made for changes in those prevailing cultures. There is with considerable justification.
Veils of secrecy have been lifted, and virtues assigned to transparency and accountability.
Transformation of cultures and attendant behaviours is a complex process.  It can take 18 months, to 3, 5 and possibly 10 years to effect, establish and to sustain the new “normative state” within entities.
Many of those time- periods extend beyond the usual tenure of a single chief executive.
Therefore, who will accept, drive and ensure completion of the total transformation process?
A quick review and analysis of the recent performances (and behaviours) of a number of leading Australian, New Zealand, British and American entities will highlight variances in standards and practices. 
The negative consequences, in terms of consumer patronage, sales, profits and competitiveness, are palpable.
Endeavours to change, redefine or introduce totally new cultures do not come with guarantees.
Group dynamics, philosophies, established practices and self-interest are factors that need to be addressed, redressed, and often integrated into the new culture.
The idealised model, vision, or aspirations may not be what is ultimately attained.
Leadership and guidance from the top ranks, and from the Board of Directors is important. 
However, imposition by fiat is not viable.
The new set of philosophies, values, beliefs, behaviours must be embraced and owned by all stakeholders and contributors.

Transformation of the culture may be indeed be a matter of accepting optimisation (as against what Abraham Maslow nominated the peak status, self-actualisation).
Only in rare instances is there a forced-choice between the two – transformation or optimisation.
One template applies.  However, some take longer than others. Ironically, both factors can and should be strategic.  They could be compatible, complementary and progressive.
At present, for some, action is needed, and now.
It will be interesting to study which comes to the fore ……… initially – Transformation or Optimisation.
It’s counter-intuitive.
A reduction in choice, options and range leading to increased sales and customer satisfaction.
Who would ever have guessed?
Simplified, narrower product ranges are contributing to accelerated customer and corporate purchase decisions, improved productivity, velocity and volume, and interestingly, fewer instances of buyer’s remorse.
Marks and Spencers in Britain have taken the plunge, and have been rewarded with enhanced performance outcomes. They simply followed the lead of several national coffee lounge networks which introduced a singular standardised “medium” sized cup of coffee, regardless of the type (latte, cappuccino or macchiato). 
Some fast -food outlets are following a single -size burger.
Consumer responses have been overwhelmingly positive, queues at the ordering counters have shortened and the speed of service improved.
There has been some resistance. Custom has been lost to those who preferred smaller or larger options. However, that leakage in sales was not because of the reduction in the number of choices. It was a disagreement with the single-choice imposed by management.
There is little evidence of long-term brand damage or negative sentiment about quality or value
Simplifying the buying process has long been valued by customers, fulfilling the demand for convenience. 
Moreover, the policy can be an effective means in the market positioning of brands, companies, products, services or applications. Importantly, it can be, and has proven to be, an effective manner to differentiate from competitors and substitutes.
Single-brand new motor vehicle dealerships consistently attain and maintain higher key performance measures than multi-brand outlets.
That is important in an industry where much of the “shopping” is done on-line, and the average time spent on the forecourt of a new vehicle dealership by intending purchasers is as little as 46 minutes.  One outlet visitation is now the industry norm.
Simplifying the buying process is rewarded with typically higher conversion rates, and volumes.
Narrowing the range of available throat lozenges from an average 9 to just 3 at the pay consoles of service station “shops” did not discerningly affect sales.  Moreover, the sales from the resultant available space with alternative products, were attractively high.
Hardware, electrical appliance and toy retailer references to having and promoting, the biggest range is seldom attractive to an individual, whose needs will usually be fulfilled by one product, service or application – the right one.
Choice is, and should be, a measured and subjective assessment based on research, intelligence, judgement and experience.
Astute business owners and managers are taking the risk of narrowing stock ranges, brands and sizes. They are tolerating some leakage of revenue but welcoming the increase in profits, customer satisfaction, productivity, velocity and volume.
The measurement of stock- turns is an established monitor of business efficiency. Sadly, too many people in commerce are unaware of the principle, and therefore do not monitor and quantify sales and profits performance.
Narrowing and simplifying choice, appropriately applied, can reduce inventory, shrinkage, insurance premiums, logistics costs and capital–servicing expenses.
All-round, it is an attractive proposition.
Fear of the threat or possibility of losses in marginal and incremental sales, to isolated and tertiary customer groups can, and does induce inertia.
Decisions have consequences – good and bad, upside and downside.
Those seeking to service and satisfy all inevitably fail.
The alternative is to identify, isolate, analyse and relate to choice customers and choice clients. Most have narrow and specific preferences.

Barry Urquhart of Marketing Focus is an internationally respected business strategist, consumer behaviour analyst and conference keynote speaker.

Barry Urquhart
Marketing Focus
M:      041 983 5555
T:       08 9257 1777
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