Monday, December 20, 2010

Poor weather and service

Following the previous post here it is interesting to see the responses from organisations in terms of service issues with the cold weather currently affecting the UK. I have had two different scenarios today, the first being an item which I ordered over a week ago which was despatched by the supplier but has sat in the sorting hub of the carrier for a week now, delayed due to weather. It is a Christmas present for my wife so no names at the moment, but the supplier have, without prompting, refunded me the carriage charge (not bad as I actually got a free carriage offer anyway and they have refunded what it would have cost me). The trouble is that they can't promise when it will turn up so the carrier are very low on my list of those providing service (haven't they heard of winter tyres for the vans so they can do their job?).

The second relates to a weekly magazine I have a subscription for - Autocar, published by Haymarket every Wednesday. I had an email apologising for late delivery due to the bad weather last Friday, the day my copy arrived, but that was good anyway. Today, another email has arrived with a link to a digital edition of the magazine for subscribers so those still waiting can at least read it. In my view that is a pretty good response to a situation, and provides a solution to help customers out (a petrolhead will realise the importance of getting the magazine fix!).

So, it seems that there are good examples of pro-active service (First Direct and Haymarket), some organisations who respond in a reactive manner (the as yet nameless Christmas present supplier) and those who say they can't do anything about it because it is the weather (Royal Mail and the Carrier - Home Delivery Network). Yet it is the final category who should have prepared themselves as their business is totally dependant on the others continuing to use their services. So come on carriers, get your act together, or at least buy suitable equipment to do your job.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Pro-active service example

Quick note here but I thought it worth commenting about a good example of pro-active service I have just experienced. My personal bank account is with First Direct (that would help with those data protection security questions!) who have call centres in Leeds and somewhere in Scotland (sorry, I don't know where specifically). I just received a text from First Direct apologising if there is a delay if I try ringing them because their staff in Scotland have not managed to get to work safely due to the weather and road conditions.

OK, they are actually saying that the service may be poor, but by forewarning me and giving a reason for it I actually feel good about them, whether or not I need to use their service tonight.

Well done First Direct.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Has Google changed things for SEO in an Instant?

On Wednesday this week (8th September) Google announced Google Instant - a new way of delivering search results. Essentially, as you type in the search request it shows the search results reflecting the letters typed so far with predictions about what is coming, for more information see

So does this affect marketers? It could do, it is early days yet, but the area it certainly has an impact on is search engine optimisation (SEO) - some traditional SEO methods may not work well with Google Instant. One thing which Google are suggesting is that it will affect keyword frequency in analytics - - leading to the possibility that an individual searching for something could get a different result from someone else searching for that at a slightly different time.

Which I guess all leads to having to learn all over again how to secure that elusive top spot in the Google rankings! It will be interesting to see responses to this change in search and how it might affect the content of student work in assignments for the recently launched CAM Digital Marketing qualifications - for those looking at SEO as a major part of their digital strategy it will have to be reflected in the content. One thing is certain, Google will continue to change the way search operates. It was only in June this year that they introduced Google Caffeine as a new indexing system for their searches - they certainly like to keep SEO marketers on their toes, and also like to keep their competitors a step or two behind!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Having a product named after you

It is many people's dream - buying a product which is named after them, people will often pay a premium for personalisation at this level. Some people even change their name to show allegiance to their favourite products (is that why he is called Meat Loaf?). However it does seem that not everyone is happy about having their name used by manufacturers.

(quick apology here, it is another motor industry related story)

Renault are currently developing a range of electric cars to go on sale in 2012, and one of these is currently referred to as the Renault Zoe ZE (zero emission). A Parisian called Zoe Renault is not happy about this, and is trying to stop Renault from using her name on the car, and is joined by a group of people also called Zoe.

Now, whilst it would be possible to suggest that Zoe Renault is getting her 15 minutes of fame, or Renault are getting additional publicity for the car, she may have a valid point. But I struggle to see how this could really cause offence, but then no one has ever suggested that they name a car which could break down after me!

Of course, Renault could offer to give her a car once they are in production (I hesitate to suggest that someone I know nothing about would try to find a way to get a free car), and may well do so. In many ways it would be a good way for Renault to get more publicity for the car by using her in promotions, saying how much Zoe loves her Zoe. A great way to manage corporate reputation - find a way to ensure the customer is happy and gain positive publicity from it!

Details of the story are here

Monday, May 17, 2010

Morgan Motor Company

As you may have noticed from the recurring subject of my blog posts I am a bit of a petrolhead (OK, probably more than a bit!), enjoying cars and having a fascination with the motor industry and how it uses marketing. Because of this, I had a great day out recently when I went to Malvern for a factory tour at Morgan, possibly the largest British owned car manufacturer.

You may know of Morgan - they produce brand new cars which look like they are old, and some of the construction and technology they use is old, but they also produce a fascinating insight into satisfying customers.

One of the things I often read about the motor industry is that it takes large companies, each manufacturing millions of cars a year, to be able to make a profit - this is why manufacturers have joined forces with each other, taken over competitors, formed alliances and all sorts of things to gain economies of scale. And still some of them lose money! Morgan, however, seem to take a different route. They manufacture bespoke cars in very small numbers, and sell them at reasonably low prices, and yet still manage to make profits.

So how do Morgan defy the logic which other preach? I think there are a variety of factors, but the main one has to be through understanding their customers and providing what they want, allowing personalisation and a personal touch. Add in to that a very clear focus on manufacturing effectiveness, doing things in the most effective way to retain the traditional methods where appropriate, but bringing in technology for things which can be made more effectively this way, and the process works well.

The range of cars is tailored to suit different buyer needs - for those wanting an entry level model there is a choice of exterior colour, but otherwise the options are very few. This keeps costs down as there are fewer changes to make from one car to the next, and parts can be made in bulk (by Morgan standards). By spending more, customers can have a choice of colour and trim, engines, wheels and almost anything else. This costs slightly more, but does allow personalisation to a degree not available in other cars at similar prices. I guess this is a big part of the appeal - buying a car which is very personal, and probably not an entirely logical choice. The other benefit for Morgan, in addition to increasing the value of a sale through the options, is that they get to understand what customers really want - they have one to one conversations with their customers, and they can use the understanding they gain to make the basic models more appropriate to customer needs. Customers also benefit from resale values which are very good, the cars suffering very little depreciation even with the waiting list being much shorter than it once was.

What I found fantastic during my visit, however, was the passion that was obviously put into the cars by the people working in production - true craftsmanship at all stages making sure that everything fitted perfectly to that particular car, many things being done by eye and touch, making it look easy even though I know from my own experiences of working on cars that it isn't.

I left the factory wanting a Morgan, but also with great respect for what they do, and joy that a small company working with many traditional methods, mixed with the best of modern technology, can defy the people who say that big is the only way to go. It is great to see this happening in the UK at a British owned manufacturer - such a shame we don't have more manufacturing, across in a variety of industries.

And a quick, final point, I'll have one just like this please:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Eyjafjallajoekull Volcano and the Triple Bottom Line

I was contemplating earlier the possible marketing related consequences of the flight bans in the UK due to the Icelandic Volcano eruptions and the ensuing ash clouds. Whilst there are many areas which fall into the "Managing Corporate Reputation" area due to the publicity with the obvious areas being in relation to airlines, holiday companies and particularly insurance companies who may not be doing themselves favours by trying to get out of paying out on things people thought they had cover for, I think one area which could have longer term consequences for food retailers is their environmental credentials.

Many retailers have recently been making bold claims about their environmental activities, becoming carbon neutral and generally looking after the planet. On another side, there have been many reports about food miles - the distance food we put on our plates has travelled from original growing before we get it. I suspect that whilst people are aware of food miles, quite a few pay very little attention to it. However, if the flight ban continues for a few more days, when people go shopping this weekend and find that a lot of the fresh food items they have taken for granted are not available they might, just might, think about the reason why and therefore where it would have come from.

My thought is that the retailers who have made a fuss about being environmental (part of what has become known as the triple bottom line of People, Planet and Profit) will be exposed as actually being involved in quite a lot which has a negative impact on the environment through flying food around the world to get it to our plates.

Whilst I love a wide variety of foods, many of which are not native UK items, and am certainly not what could be regarded as an environmentalist (too much of a Petrolhead for that) I do consider that we should think about what is involved in getting food to us, and I love buying from my local farm where food has covered at most 2 miles, plus another one back to my house. If Eyjafjallajoekull keeps erupting for a while then maybe we will all be forced to buy food grown much more locally, and retailers such as M&S really will have to follow Plan A!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

BBC Consolidation Strategy

The BBC Trust have published a proposed strategy for the future of the BBC based on a challenge to address questions about the scope of the BBC's activities to focus on how the BBC can most effectively deliver its public service mission and meet audience needs and deliver value for money.

This is a situation faced by many organisations and a subject covered in various units of CIM qualifications, but particularly those at Chartered Post-Graduate Diploma level. Strategic decisions should address the scope of an organisations activities, and this is exactly what the BBC have done. What is unusual is that this is a strategy proposal on which the public are being asked to comment. Commercial organisations would not normally do that because they would rather keep things confidential until fianl decisions are made> However, the nature of the BBC means that we get the chance to influence decisions, albeit in a small way.

The proposal calls for various changes - closing 6 Music and the Asian Network are the two headline items, but behind this is a vision for:
• putting quality first
• doing fewer things better
• guaranteeing access
• making the licence fee work harder
• setting new boundaries

In marketing strategy terms I see this as consolidation , removing peripheral activities to concentrate on the core strengths of the BBC with the proposal calling for priorities based on quality content production across a range of media platforms and appealing to a range of audiences. An interesting point, which again relates to the non commercial nature of the BBC is the suggestion that Radio 2 should not overlapping more than it does today with the audiences targeted by the majority of commercial radio - it is unlikely a commercial radio station would take the view to avoid overlapping Radio 2 target audiences unless it was specifically using a niche strategy!

Overall, an interesting example of strategy in action and the results of the consultation will be interesting.

The full strategy proposal document can be seen here

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sony Ericsson Product Research

As I am in the market for a new mobile phone I have been looking at models currently available and due soon. For various reasons I think I would like one which operates on the Google Android operating system and have been using Sony Ericsson phones for a few years so one which is of interest to me is the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 which is due for release at the end of March.

My search for information landed me on the official Sony Ericsson blog and I was intrigued to see this week that they are really getting into the customer involvement area very well - through the blog they are asking for people to try one of the phones and provide feedback to them about how they get on. There is nothing particularly unusual about trials of this sort, but it is interesting to see the selection process so transparently, and the level of involvement which is being expected.

I have added my name to the list - if I get selected for the trial I will keep you updated - here's hoping!

The blog and the research trial details are here, if you are successful let me know, I won't be at all jealous.

Quick update - I wasn't chosen, and I decided to get a Google Nexus One phone insteaad of the Xperia X10, a decision I am very happy with - it is a great phone.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Toyota and Corporate Reputation

Toyota have been in the news a lot over the past week with publicity about the international recall of vehicles potentially affected by sticking accelerator pedals. It has been an interesting issue of managing corporate reputation during a crisis situation so I thought I would share some of my thoughts about it.

There have been suggestions that Toyota were slow to react to the situation - it is difficult to know for sure because there is a fairly lengthy procedure for recalls both here in the UK and the US which have to be adhered to before public action is taken. I certainly haven't seen any of the evidence of denial which seemed to be prevalent in the Ford and Firestone tyre recall where each was blaming the other and not taking action. Having started the recall process I think that this week Toyota have been responding very well to the situation, they have been working very hard keeping their customers informed about the situation and advising on what will be happening and when. This is key to managing the potential impact on the brand - they have been open and informative, taking appropriate actions. The PR team at Toyota must have been very busy, I have been following their blogs and twitter feeds from various Toyota sources, seeing how they are doing all the right things to keep the public informed correctly, without being confrontational towards sections of the media who have exaggerated the possible effects on cars. There are different levels of detail available to those who have an interest, the levels being appropriate to the technical knowledge of different groups through to very good, illustrated diagrams of the components concerned. The involvement of Toyota personnel from the very top downwards is good.

With the new communications channels available there is a great deal of scope for all sides to make points about issues such as this, but it seems that the overwhelming evidence from more informed sources is that the risk of failure is minimal, and provided drivers are aware of the feel of the cars they are driving and nothing changes there is no need to worry in the short term, but if there are any concerns it can be sorted quickly and easily. People from the President of the AA, through motoring journalists to industry specialists have all come out in defence of Toyota.

It may only be time that will tell whether the situation affects the reputation of Toyota, but at present they are doing all the right things to minimise any negative impact, and on the basis that they have a brand built on a very well deserved reputation for quality throughout design, manufacture and usage my own view is that they will be OK, and may well even come out with a stronger reputation. It is often the case that people develop more trust in an organisation that handles a difficult situation well than they would have done without that situation arising in the first place. Through great service at the dealers when people take their cars for the recall work Toyota can build their reputation through customer reassurance. Unfortunately I won't be able to experience this first hand as I don't have a Toyota, but I suspect they will get it right.

Overall, it seems to me that Toyota are receiving a lot of media attention which is unwarranted in relation to the numbers of affected cars, particularly if the totals are taken into account. The reaction from Toyota is appropriate - their communication has met the 2S test - swift and sincere so I wish them well.

Links to some interesting articles I have seen are:
Edmund King in the Guardian
Jeffrey Liker in Business Week
Various marketers in The Independent

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Apple iPad

Everyone else is talking about it, so I might as well do the same!

I am interested in the iPad as a marketer - it has to be said that Apple have been very successful in creating products which have broad market appeal, and are certainly profitable with the announced 50% increase in profits for the organsiation. I also love technology products but am struggling to see the market for the iPad - I understand what Steve Jobs has said it can do, but it seems to be such a half way device between other things I wonder how well it wil fare in the market.

Certainly, rading various forums about it (and there are plenty of people commenting) the overall view I am getting is that less people say they get it and want one than don't. I am interested to see how it pans out, and following other Apple launches of products which could be claimed to be lacking in required features (iPhone camera capability and lack of MMS facility at launch spring to mind) but but have gone on to great success I wouldn't say my personal verdict will be accurate.

One thing which is certain, however, is that Steve Jobs has created tremendous awareness for his organisations latest product, and most of it without paying for the media exposure.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

CIM Diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Marketing

SPA Professional Academy are delighted to be accredited for this recently updated qualification from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. The Diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Marketing is a specialist award which introduces the key concepts and principles of services marketing applied to the hospitality, travel and tourism industries.

We will be launching courses for this shortly, delivering in a variety of flexible ways to suit the lives of busy marketers in the sector, full details will be on our website once established and an update will be posted here. In the meantime if you would like further information please contact us via the links on

Additional details of the course are available from the CIM website