31 January 2010
Push beyond the cicle, and you'll end up with credibility snap.
In a previous life, I once had a manager who used a complaint about me to deliver one of the most inspiring lessons of my career. I was heading a regional marcom team at the time; and our legal team had just hauled me up for making one of these borderline claims for our product in an ad. I expected to get chewed up when my boss summoned me to his office. Instead he said, "David, if you're not getting hauled up at least twice a year by Legal, you're not doing your job!"
I knew from that day on that he wanted me to push the envelope, to stretch the boundaries of our brand's circle of acceptability with some edgy work, so that we'd get noticed, and gain a bigger bang for our buck. And I've nudged all my teams since then to do the same: Not to aim for the safety and comfort of the centre; but to skate at the edge without falling over.
Over time, your brand will loosen its collar; and your audience will become comfortable with different shades of its character.
Who dares, wins.
30 January 2010
When a few isolated accidents involving Toyota vehicles caused by accelerator pedals 'sticking' to the floorboard increased to a statistically significant number, Toyota swung in action, issuing a series of vehicle recalls from November last year.
In the latest installment of this unfolding saga, Toyota announced on Wednesday this week that it would immediately stop building and selling the Camry, Corolla and Avalon sedans, Matrix wagon, RAV4 crossover, Tundra opickup, and Highlander and Sequoia SUVs. Beyond the USA and Canada, the recall will be extended to China and Europe (though it is currently unclear which models will be affected).
The accidents, and the deaths and injuries they have caused, are truly tragic. The root cause, whether it's a broken accelerator pedal or floor mat interference (as documented in this YouTube video clip: http://youtube.com/watch?v=VTOxYFt1yT8VTOxYFt1yT8), needs to be fixed, and quickly. Toyota is doing all in its power to address the swiftly situation and stem the body blows to its vaunted reputation for product quality. (See http://pressroom.toyota.com/pr/tms/toyota/toyota-consumer-safety-advisory-102572.aspx for details.)
According to some detractors, the Toyota brand is now in tatters, and the business will never recover from this, the largest product recall in its history. The vehicles being recalled account for 57% of the company's US sales; and it is estimated that Toyota will haemorrhage some US$400 million a week due to suspended production and sales. I note with a trace of distaste, however, some telling observations:
1. All the eight affected models in this recall exercise are assembled at five plants in the USA and Canada, with what I must assume to be a predominantly local workforce.
2. In its bid to become the world's #1 car-maker, Toyota moved away from some of the business practices that had served it well for the longest time. One example is its decision to buy parts from companies around the world, rather than from a small group of Japanese suppliers that had been long-time partners. The accelerator pedals in the vehicles affected by the recall come from a supplier's Canadian plant.
3. US Transportation Department officials have taken pains to point out that they had advised Toyota to act quickly. "The reason Toyota decided to do the recall and stop manufacturing is that we asked them to," said Raymond LaHood, the Transportation Secretary. "We were the ones that met with Toyota, our department, our safety folks, and told them, you've got to do the recall." (Ouch.)
4. Journalists say Toyota is almost certain to face lawsuits soon not just from people who claim injuries from the defects, but also -- get this -- class-action suits on behalf of consumers who will claim the crisis has damaged the value of their cars. (Only in America.)
Is it just me, or do some of these news tidbits merely reinforce the quality of Japanese engineering vis-a-viz the rest of the world? Toyota is a savvy organization. Not by accident (pun unintended) is it ranked amongst the world's most admired companies and the world's most respected brands. Granted, the company has skated close to the edge by risking its core brand attribute -- quality -- in its fixation on growth. Toyota now has to reconsider the wisdom of some of the operational decisions taken in its quest for global leadership in the automobile industry. But it would have executed these recalls, LaHood or no hood.
This crisis will likely cost them untold billions of dollars; but a principle isn't a principle until it costs you something.
Chin up, Toyota. You're doing the right thing.
[Disclosure: I have never owned a Toyota, nor shares in the company. But that doesn't stop me from respecting the brand.]
25 January 2010
It's logical deduction, when you think about it. Yet too many brand marketers ignore the obvious imperative to focus their energies on delivering the goods at these three critical customer touchpoints. The consequences can be significant.
Numerous research studies have been conducted in this arena over the past two decades. While the findings may not be exactly similar from study to study, the correlation is tight enough to draw these conclusions:
20% of your customers deliver 80% of your revenue. (The Pareto principle.) 10% of your customers deliver 90% of your profit.
It costs 6 times more to acquire than to retain a customer.
It costs 12 times more to win back a dissatisfied customer.
98% of dissatisfied customers don't complain. They just leave.
A very satisfied customer, on average, will tell 6 other people.
A dissatisfied customer, on average, will tell 12 other people.
A very dissatisfied customer, on average, will tell 20 other people.
I'm going to prove this last statistic right now. This morning, I made a familiar trek to the Customer Service Centre of a top-tier technology company. My printer had conked out over the weekend, and I needed a functioning machine at home.
The customer service rep informed me that spare part support for this particular model had been discontinued. I could not get my printer repaired; but I was offered a trade-in promotion: $60 off the retail price of a newer model, which would be delivered to my home. Great! Except for one thing: Delivery would take up to 14 working days.
I made the point that as a freelance consultant, I needed a printer at home rather urgently; and asked if there was any way delivery could be expedited. I was told this was the jurisdiction of their Sales department, that I would have to contact them directly, and here was the toll-free number.
I stepped back from the counter, sat down, and made the call. Turns out the number connected me to a call centre rep in Australia, who had no jurisdiction over or interest in helping me further. I was directed to call another number; this connected me to a guy in Manila who, while more empathetic, could give me no real help. I was given a third number, unmistakably a Singapore line. Would you believe it: this connected me to the company's Singapore office receptionist, who directed me to contact their customer service centre. When I pointed out that I was sitting in the middle of said location, after having toured half the Asia-Pacific, I was finally given the number of their Sales department. I dialled the number, negotiated several automated menu options, was finally connected to a sales rep who was away from his/her desk and whose VM box was full. 45 minutes after I initiated the first call, I found I could not leave a message, and was cut off after a cheery "goodbye".
That company lost a customer today. The sad thing was that it was one of my former employers. What's even sadder, is that I'm sure numerous other organizations similarly fall by the wayside. They forget that their brand is porous; that without attention to detail, they can be left holding nothing of value.
How, then, can brand marketers avoid this 'leaky bucket' syndrome?
1. Integrate your brand strategy with the business strategy. Work to build networks of influence across functions and disciplines. You cannot hope to succeed by merely considering your own patch.
2. Don't just focus on the first 'moment of truth'; give due diligence to the second and third. This is especially critical if you're operating in the service industry.
3. Do all you can to build customer loyalty. Not just because of the costs of customer acquisition; but because loyal customers offer you a bigger share of their wallets, and often become your extended sales force.
Gotta go; I need to print something.
16 January 2010
09 January 2010
Brand Champions -- storytellers who proactively spread the brand idea
07 January 2010
Once you build a team of brand champions with the right mindset, then you can build a champion brand.
So go on. Pull out that notepad or position that cursor. May your resolutions spark a revolution.
06 January 2010
Hold that thought for a second. First, the facts: Burj Khalifa, with its 160 stories served by 57 elevators, tops off at 828 metres, surpassing by far the previous tallest tower in the world, Taipei 101 which stands at all of 509 metres. (Wonder how much they have to pay window-washers to entice them up to clean the 24,348 external windows.) The building can accommodate 25,000 people at any one time. Five years in construction, it is a symbol of Dubai's endeavour to diversify from an oil-based economy to one that is tourism- and service-oriented.
Indeed, the world's tallest skyscrapers all seem to be built in tandem with a country's growing economic ascendancy and the local government's efforts to garner international recognition and investment. Just think about Taipei 101 and a previous record-holder, the Petronas Towers.
But here's the thing: The Burj Khalifa could not be launched at a more awkward time in Dubai's history. The city-state has fallen on hard times over the past year or two, caused by the twin torpedoes of the global financial implosion as well as the collective (over)ambition of Dubai's leaders and an expat community paying over-inflated prices for the good life. (You can read a vivid account of Dubai's troubles in a Fast Company article at http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/38/exodus.html). This latest landmark had to be renamed (it was formerly known as Burj Dubai) in honour of the current ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates, which has had to inject billion-dollar bailouts at critical junctures to keep the project alive. The current massive real estate collapse means that the Burj Khalifa is likely to stay empty for the forseeable future.
I blogged in an earlier post about the competitive advantage of projecting a lighthouse identity -- so that others can know what you stand for, unequivocally. So what kind of lighthouse identity is this signature tower projecting? An iconic, aesthetically attractive and functionally superior symbol of a nation's stature ... or, as a recent Los Angeles Times article more bluntly describes, "the latest in a string of monuments to architectural vacancy"?
Two thoughts occur to me:
1. This is the perfect commercial address for marketers with a long-winded elevator pitch.
2. What are their contingency plans to evacuate someone from the 160th storey in an emergency? (Note to brand marketers: Have a crisis management plan in place.)
On a more grounded note, timing and credibility have as much to do as the nuts and bolts of brand identity (what you say and do as a brand, and how you say and do it) when it comes to crafting and communicating a sustainable brand image. On one level, I can empathize with the building's owners: What would you have done in their shoes? (Post a comment and share your views.) The Burj Khalifa would probably have been universally well-received five years ago ... but the brand story of the Burj unravels for me in these turbulent times; and I, for one, would not want it to be the posterboy for this new decade.