Sales funnel revisited as a purchase funnel


The “sales funnel” is a pretty familiar diagram, it has been around for a long time, simply because it makes sense, at least it did to sales people. To their customer prospects, there is a level of antipathy to the notion of being just a part of some “funnel”

It is time for an alternative view, one taken from the perspective of the consumer who now has all the knowledge necessary to make their own informed decisions, and they are exercising that power aggressively.

The world has changed, so too should our representations of the manner in which our marketing activities are managed, and the nature of customers and potential customers reaction to our efforts to meet their needs.

Seems to me that we would be better off thinking about the process in two funnels, one that represents  our e-marketing activities,  the other the way in which those messages are received.

The first is the marketing funnel, which has replaced the sales funnel, an obsolete metaphor in a digital world.

Below is my way of illustrating the new Customer purchase process.

purchase decision

  1. Need awareness. This can be either explicit, one that emerges when the consumer recognises that a purchase is necessary, such as when your printer dies, you need a new one, today! The other type of need is implicit, which is generally uncovered by a sales process, rather than by the consumer in isolation.
  2. Information search. Google has revolutionised this part of the process, by taking the power of information from the seller where it has been for all of human history, and giving it to the buyer. It is this point at which the marketing process now kicks in.
  3. Value comparison. The value equation is different for every person, in every situation, but the components are unchanged. Features, availability, warranty, design, capacity, and many others all feature in varying degrees, the means by which we communicate the bundle that makes up the value, so is common to every situation, is price.
  4. Purchase decision. “Yes, I will buy” thinks the consumer
  5. Short list. Which options meet the need, operational requirement, and value outcome needed, from which a finance decision can be made
  6. Transaction. The transaction can take many forms, from a simple exchange of cash for product, to all sorts of arrangements and trade-offs made between sellers, buyers and various middlemen

Whilst the whole process is usually depicted as an ordered, sequential one, in which the various marketing automation software options can provide order and  flow, in reality is is usually a chaotic, messy, and iterative process.

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Heston Vs Jamie, a retail bunfight.


Heston Vs Jamie

It is fascinating to watch the evolution of the marketing of the two retail gorillas, Coles and Woolworths.

It is clear what they are doing, setting out to engage consumers with the freshness, range and provenance of their produce, and selling consumers  all the packaged goods they need on the way through the stores. Their strategies are working, but more importantly, they highlight the depth of the opportunity for those few independent retailers left alive, and points to the way the more fragmented food service, ingredient, and emerging home delivery and farmers markets should be marketing themselves.

Coles and Woolies remain mass retailers, vulnerable on the edges.

A few years ago Woolies were undisputed heavweight champ, Coles the belted contender with no hope, but how things can change with a new trainer. Coles has been rejuvenated, and whilst their financial results have been hugely improved, they have a way to go to catch Woolies, but in the marketing stakes, they have taken the lead.

The sponsorship of “Masterchef” was a masterstroke, and they have followed up and leveraged the success extraordinarily well, with Woolies just starting to respond by buying Jamie Oliver to shape up to Heston, Curtis, and Status Quo (I was young in the 70′s) and a massive and very well co-ordinated marketing budget. Bit of an uneven contest.

From a consumers perspective, increasingly their choices are limited to brands the retailers control. Wether they be Coles new “Heston Blumenthal” brand, Woolies “Jamie Oliver” brand, or one of the various other housebrand versions at differing price-points, and pack configurations, they are all housebrands.

Suppliers of packaged proprietary brands have been progressively squeezed out, and those left are mostly sourced via global supply chains rather than manufacturing domestically,  where almost nobody is left standing.

Change always starts at the fringes, as we have seen time and again over our history. Change is happening now in the food value chain, but at the fringes. Organics, local produce, micro suppliers of almost personalised products, restaurants differentiating on the basis of seasons and local supply, “pick your own” farmers markets, food tourism, various home delivery services, all happening outside the supermarket, some pretty basic  marketing communicating the differentiated offer.

Jamie and Heston can take their money to beat each other up in the ad breaks of the nightly news. The increasing number of us who really care about what we eat, will go to the local blokes who genuinely care about what they deliver to us, and buy from them.




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The value curve


As a young marketing graduate in the 70′s I was given a scholarship to attend  an intensive marketing management program in Boston, run by Harvard professor Jim Hagler.

He changed my life.

One of the many things he rumbled to me (he spoke, but it came out as a rumble) was:

“Son, find out how they intend to stay in front of the curve”

Sage advice.

Marketing is all about staying in front of the curve, the challenge most businesses have is defining the curve.

Most businesses have a choice of curves,  but you cannot be all things to all people, so choices are made.

The price curve

The cost curve

The innovation curve

The Value curve.

It is just this last one that really matters to customers worth keeping. They want value, however they choose to define it.

Whatever else you do, for your chosen group, niche, cohort, or however you choose to define your  ideal target customers, stay in front of the value curve.

Look around you, there is no successful enterprise that is behind the curve.

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Digital body language



Prospecting, lead qualification and nurturing, prospect management and the transaction itself have all changed forever.

The salesman with a bag has been relegated, at best,  to the transaction end of the prospect to transaction continuum. In the process, we have lost some of the humanity, some of the eyeball closeness that good sales people brought to the table, the insights and instinct gathered from the context and body language that underpinned all the conversations they had.

All gone, but most would agree that body language holds a significant place in the sales process, so how  have we replaced it?

Is there such a thing as “Digital body language”?

Can we score metaphors of the physical reaction from digital interactions?

Logically the answer has to be ‘Yes”, as we now have access to a huge body of data that reflects the sum of behaviour of all who come into contact with whatever platform or tool we have working for us. However, access to data is a very long way from leveraging the insights that are hidden within the data, a fairly advanced level of analytic capability along with a tool with some grunt is required, although simpler tools with manual intervention can be made to work.

Consider the process:

    •  Somebody reads a blog post and “likes” it, better yet, shares it,
    • They subscribe to the blog to make receiving it automatic,
    • They respond to an offer, webinar, e-book download, surveys, or combination of these, perhaps several times, and all the while your system is recording and responding to their actions, delivering the next step to them.
    • The system is constantly being improved as more data points are collected, and A/B testing provides finer grained insights

The data collected can be sliced and diced, weighted and resliced in all sorts of ways that can provide an almost visceral insight into the behaviour of groups and subgroups to various content stimuli at differing levels of engagement. The relative effectiveness of differing pieces of content at each point in the sales continuum can be calculated with good levels of accuracy.

Surely this is the equivalent of the sum of the body language cues of those in the database, if not necessarily that of any individual within it, and so is a very effective guide when well used. Data will never replace the one on one human responses, but the value of the digital picture built up is a source of enormous value, immeasurably widening the net of prospects beyond what can be achieved with boots on the ground.






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Contrarian strategy


The complexity of the world these days demands an approach to strategy that is counter intuitive, perhaps even a contrarian approach to the accepted best practice.

For decades managers have sweated and planned, and set out to execute, just to see the planning go to crap at the first hurdle, as things rarely happen as planned.

In the “MBA model”, you push on regardless, because it is planned, the resources gathered, prioritised and allocated, a “push” model of strategy development and deployment.

If the opposite were to happen with strategy, as it does with agile software development, how would it differ?

A  continuous process of combining strategic hypothesis generation and A/B  testing, going  hand in hand with incremental resource allocation from a diverse pool of  experts, rather than a from pool of available bodies? Seems to be a sensible alternative, so why don’t we do it?

Generally we people like certainty, clarity, and a minimum of ambiguity, and that comes with a detailed plan. Problem is, plans are only as good as our ability to read the future,   which is generally pretty ordinary. The better way is to know the end point, and if we can manage the ambiguity and uncertainty, make our own away there based on the obstacles we encounter.

In this uncertain world, we need a compass, not a roadmap.

Maps tell us to move forward a defined distance, take a left, followed by a right, and so on, whereas a compass tells us the direction, not necessarily the detail of how to navigate the immediate terrain.
This counter intuitive approach to strategy is often what SME’s do, without really recognising it as such. They react to what is in front of them, rather than what they may have planned to do, often the plans do not even exist in a formal sense. Their challenge is to apply some focus on the longer term, not just the burning bridge they are standing on.



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Content marketing story

“Content marketing ” is no more than a new buzzword to try and build interest in the stuff we marketers have always been doing, telling stories, and creating a context in which the stories we tell will be meaningful, and be a catalyst to an action we want.

It is also fundamentally important that the bag of stuff called content is understood, well organised and communicated.

Cave paintings were perhaps the first, they told stories about the lives of those living in those days, passing on messages to those that followed, next week, month, millennium.

I have argued previously that Martins Luthers church door was just facebook in beta form,  but perhaps the first recognised piece of content marketing as we now know it emerged in 1895 with the first publication of the John Deere farm machinery magazine “The Furrow“, still going strong.

The Michelin brothers first published the “Guide Michelin”  a motoring guide in 1900, with the objective of telling the few motorists then around where they could find petrol, accommodation, meals and repairs in France.

In what may have been the first modern cookbook, Frank Woodward saved his $350 investment in the rights to “Jello” at  the last moment by publishing a recipe book, the first step in creating a dessert tradition that still exists in the US, and perhaps taking the first step towards our obsession with cookbooks, or “Cooking Content Books”.

Burns & McDonnell engineering first published their “Benchmark” magazine in 1913, and Procter & gamble did more than bring us our daily cleansing products, they gave the name “soap opera” to the daily dose of  what we still call “soaps” on TV, by sponsoring radio programs in the ’30′s.

Lego has been the king, with their magazine, and now the Lego movie, how great is that, to have Hollywood make a movie about your product? Wonder where the funding came from?

The examples of so called “Content Marketing” exploded after 2000, any scan of the web will give hundreds of thousands of examples, opinions, and infographics. Curata’s list of content marketing e-books is a great assembly of information, and more evidence, if any more is needed of the interest in the area.

Point is, “Content” is not new, neither is the notion of engaging by communicating stories offering advice, and managing context, it is just that we now have some pretty potent additions to the toolbox.


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Conferences are for marketing.


Water will be the frontier of conflict in the C21

Water will become the frontier of conflict and innovation in the C21

Few things are more important than how we feed ourselves, and get access to clean water. Without these, our species will not survive,  our numbers are increasing rapidly, as the resources of the planet, particularly available water, are being consumed faster than replacement rates.

According to the UN, 6-8 million people die every year due to water related disease or disaster, 2.5 billion do not have access to sanitation, and nearly a billion do not have clean drinking water.  I suspect water will be the root cause of much of the international power plays over the next 50 years.

During this last week, there was an international Peri Urban conference in Sydney. Much earnest discussion amongst the disappointingly low number of attendees went on, but there were some lessons that need to be learned beyond the gravity of the emerging crisis on water management:

    • For the message to get out beyond those in the room, the facts need to be told as stories to which the public can relate, and engage, creating pressure on decision makers to allocate some priority to the questions raised. Dry academic papers read by Professors with limited story-telling skills, accompanied  by PowerPoint slides as comprehensible as the Rosetta stone will not cut the mustard. The presentations I saw reminded of Sir Ken Robinsons classic line that “the only purpose of academic bodies is to get their heads to meetings”.
    • Marketing is not just useful, but required. Twitter is now routinely used by conference organisers to get their message out, and there was a handle for the conference, #periurban14, which attracted 1 tweet. Enough said.
    • For peri urban agriculture to be a reality, it is required to be economically sustainable, as well as ecologically sustainable. Discussion of the barriers and challenges  to economic sustainability would appear to me to be of vial interest to the topic, but beyond some consideration of the evolving organic market, little was said, the vital role of consumer demand largely ignored.

I presented at a workshop breakout session. A short presentation that set out to make the point that whatever happens in the growing part of the agricultural process, you still need a customer to make the whole thing commercially sustainable. There were so few people there that clearly the issue of commercial sustainability being a vital foundation of change has not yet resonated.

Conferences are a vital part of the process of creating and disseminating Intellectual capital. The presentations are just a small part of the mix, the relationships built with other conference attendees, and the opportunity to leverage he messages to wider audiences via social media are the real reasons conferences are worth the time and expense.




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3 Marketing observations from the club-house



Last weekend the local tennis club of which I am a member had an open day. We marketed the day pretty heavily to the local community over the course of a couple of weeks, and got a great turnout. In order to ensure we could follow up, we collected the  email addresses of visitors by offering entry to a raffle for a new racquet.

I have just completed transcribing the emails into our system, and considering how we may have done it better. A number of factors were absolutely obvious, and whilst they should not have been a surprise, the extent of the change evident in our collective behaviour was indeed a surprise.

  1. We asked for phone numbers, but did  not specify mobile or landline. Every single number we got, which was every visitor except one, gave us a mobile number, not one landline.
  2. With one exception, every person, irrespective of age, gave us an email address.
  3. A quick look at the analytics on the website over the past few weeks shows that just over 76% of the hits have come from mobile devices. Whilst the numbers involved are  not huge, the dominance of mobile surprised me.

I read, and talk about the switch to mobile every day, but it has been to date a theoretical fact, something I was aware of, understood, but had not brushed against directly to the extend that the general numbers indicated. Now however, the understanding of the numbers has a very personal dimension, and I have absorbed the lesson rather than just understood it.

Unusually for me I have been at home for the last few weeks, and I have been answering the home phone while my wife is away. In the two weeks, there have been quite a number of calls, every single one a telemarketer.

Why am I paying line rental? It seems it is to give telemarketers access. I think I will cancel the landline, the boss will never notice when she gets home, unless she really likes the sales calls.

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The 7 common features of successful websites

in out


Success does not happen by accident, it comes from hard work, knowledge, insight and experimentation. In the case of websites there are almost a billion websites live (866k) in July 2014, the billion mark will probably be reached by the 4nd of 2014. This is from the first site, being put up by Tim Berners-Lee in August 1991.

This is a pretty useful universe from which to draw lessons, and we have learnt a lot about what works and what does not.

What works:

  1. Content that is Interesting and engaging and targeted for a specific group of people will attract their attention, rather than content that is more general in nature .
  2. Attractive, eye-catching design is essential. Humans are visual animals, design is fundamental to attracting and keeping attention. The more research we do in this area, the more we understand the basic rules, and they are rules that have applied from the dawn of human development. Disregard them at your peril.
  3. Simplicity. Also essential is a design that enables visitors to find the stuff they are looking for simply and quickly.
  4.  Speed. Low loading speed is penalised by search engines, but more importantly, is penalised by casual viewers, who simply move on.
  5. SEO.   At least basic search engine optimisation is both easy and essential, if you have a great site that cannot be found, nobody wins.
  6. Competitive. With almost a billion sites, the web is a competitive environment, and you need to be distinctive amongst your competitors. If you are selling machine tools, you need to  look like you are the expert in machine tools, not real estate or life insurance, and the relative merits of your site to those of your competitors are important.
  7. Be there to help, rather than overtly flogging something. Your website is the front door to your business, make sure it invites people in, rather acting like a tout in a sideshow, and alienating almost all who pass.

What does not work, in a word, lots. Complicated, messy, poorly targeted, overtly sales driven sites that lack humanity. Just trawl through the sites of most of our federal governments agencies and departments to see some great examples of what not to do, while trying to be all things to all people. The easiest way to construct a list of “no no’s”  is to do the opposite of the list above.

If you follow these simple guides, at least you will be on the right road.

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Future of Urban Agriculture


How we deliver good quality food and water to an urbanised and growing population around the world is the challenge of the 21st century.

We have gone from a largely subsistence existence to a highly urbanised one in 200 years, a “blink” in the context of human evolution, and some would argue that in the process we have lost some of the “connection” to the food we eat, to our collective detriment.

The last few years have seen the beginnings of a movement back to food basics, and a greater interest in the sourcing, preparation and presentation of food. The “Masterchef effect” if you like.

Some consumers are starting to look for the source and provenance of the food they eat, as a way to ensure they are getting both quality and value. It is far from mass market, but not so far from the mainstream.

However, all change starts at the fringes, as a challenge to orthodoxy, and can rapidly become mainstream as the merits of the argument become known. Technology is changing our lives on a daily basis, but to date the manner in which we grow and distribute our fresh produce has been relatively untouched, but the change is now coming at us at warp speed with urban hydroponics and retail being combined in fascinating ways, like The Farmery, and almost all driven by innovative SME’s

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Content marketing, and marketing content


Content marketing 2

Have you created the best content you can, original, insightful, and engaging, that demonstrates your domain knowledge, but it goes nowhere?

No impact, no interest, even your friends do not read it.

It is a bit like throwing a party and having nobody turn up.

Maybe you forgot to send invitations, after all, psychics are pretty rare, so people need to know the party is on.

Creating the content is just the same, the creation is only a part of the process, you also need to market the content, and having done that successfully, then the content can be judged by the response you get.

So, following are four simple, common sense marketing rules to apply to your precious content.

    1. Have a strategy that promises to deliver the objectives, creating the content is not enough.
    2. Use data, not just your gut. The data is freely available, and enormously valuable, use it.
    3. Learn by doing. The oldest and still the best game in town is to experiment and learn.
    4. Remember always that creating the content just gets you a ticket to the game, not the automatic right to play, that comes from elsewhere.
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Why B2B websites do not work


Have you ever been in a conversation where despite the language being clear, the subject of the conversation is absolutely muddled?

I have, many times, and it occurs particularly where there is an individual in the conversation who has a barrow to push, and irrespective of anything else said, responds from the barrow.

Now it is happening every day with websites I see.

The site is talking about themselves, their particular barrow, when those looking for something are not interested in their “news” they are looking for stuff that is in their interests.

B2B sites seem to make some pretty consistent mistakes, talking about:

    1. The size and geographic reach of their business
    2. What they have done to shape markets
    3. Their latest “innovation” which more often than not is just a paint job
    4. Their great record of corporate social responsibility
    5. The sustainability steps they have taken.

There are many others, but you get the picture.

By contrast, B2B customers seeking goods and services via the web are looking for:

    1. Information on how the product or service offered will perform
    2. Delivery and after sales service arrangements
    3. Evidence of the expertise claimed
    4. Technical information on the design and performance parameters
    5. An open, simple and transparent communication process pre and post sale

And so on.

The marketing challenge is to see your products and services from the perspective of the customers, and potential customers.

To me it seems blindingly obvious, but clearly, a large percentage of B2B web site managers have no idea, and their marketing needs some intelligent thought.

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SME Marketing capability gap


ag capability gap

Marketing technology is rapidly taking over from the hit and miss, ad hoc research, customer and prospect management, and  performance measurement practices that  have dominated to date. This is a particularly critical evolution for  small businesses who are generally already behind as the game started.

As time passes, this marketing capability gap, and hence ability to compete with their larger, better resourced competitors is becoming increasingly compromised.

Simple things like having a website, are still beyond many small businesses. Often they give the task of “knocking up” a website to their 15 year old kids or the summer intern, think the job done, and wonder why business does not walk in the door.

According to the ABS, 60% of Australian enterprises of less than 5 employees do not even have a website.  The penetration in Agriculture is particularly low, yet Ag is being touted as one of the saviors of the economy post mining boom!

There is clearly a disconnect between economic forecasters sitting in ivory towers, looking at survey data  and the reality out in the boonies. Many small businesses in Ag do not have a website, or any digital connectivity for all the same reasons their city brothers do not, but also have the added challenge that access to the web is crap, they can often make a cup of tea while the home page of a searched site launches.

Digital competence is learned, the more you play with it, the more curious you are, the better you get at it. This is counter intuitive to the average 55 year old farmer, who manages risk in a long term, and very organised manner.

Small businesses have wonderful opportunities to compete delivered by technology, the gap created by the economies of scale available to their larger are now increasingly obsolete due to technology, but a new form of gap has emerged, the digital capability gap, that is proving difficult for many to jump.

SME’s often just need some encouragement, a dose of curiosity, and access, then the gap can be rapidly filled.



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What matters?


One of the most common questions I get is how you get away from competing on price.

A couple of things are common in the situation that leads to the question:

  1. Someone else has control of the value chain. This is often the case with an FMCG product. In Australia two chains have 75% market share, the supplier, even to the MNC behemoths can only watch as they set the retail price, shelf position and category definition.
  2. The questioner has not spent the time and brainpower to consider what really matters to the customer. They have therefore failed, or chosen not to to make the hard choices that are central to building a brand.

Back to the Australian FMCG situation, as it relates to produce. Coles and Woolworths do not stock any proprietary brands at all in produce, just store branded product. The producer therefore has no control at all about what happens in store,  but they do have a choice: to build a brand in alternative channels.

In some produce categories, hard vegetables, for example, the chains have close to the FMCG share of 75%. Carrots and onions seem to be pretty commoditised, but other categories like sensitive summer fruit, mangoes, stone fruit, and berries like strawberries and blueberries, have a far larger share in the alternative channels simply because the state of the product really matters to consumers. The 17 year old casual in Coles after school does not care much about the sensitive nature of the strawberries,  but the greengrocer often does, the product matters, so they make decisions based on what matters.

Not every consumer will care enough about their strawberries, but perhaps enough will to make the development of a brand worth the effort, time, risk and cost.

When you accept that it is only price that matters to consumers, you have made a key strategic choice. That choice is that you will not care enough to find out what else may really matter to consumers sufficiently that they will make their purchase choice on a basis other than price.

Things that matter are usually beyond the physical dimensions and capabilities of a product, they are the stories that make the difference.

Why is one toaster worth more than another, they both toast bread, but perhaps one is just a tool, the other a piece of kitchen art based on the stories of the designer.

In simple terms, Focus on what really matters

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10 questions for a Customer Value Audit.

Customer Value has almost become a cliché, often trotted out to cover the lack of real marketing insight.

Effective articulation of customer value, and the business model and processes to deliver it remains  at the core of those businesses that find success. It is particularly relevant to SME’s as they must ensure their very limited resources are focussed where they can best deliver outcomes, they do not have the benefit of scale to absorb mistakes.

Following is a list of questions frequently asked in strategy sessions that seek to identify, and give form to this most elusive notion of “Value”.

  1. Why do customers come to us rather than go to the competition?
  2. What customer needs are currently unmet or under met?
  3. How have customer needs changed in the last few years?
  4. If we project forward two years and look back, how have their needs changed now?
  5. What could our competitors do for our customers that we would like to be able to do?
  6. Where are new customers coming from, and why?
  7. Are there new competitors emerging that offer value different to ours?
  8. To what degree does our concerns for customers welfare really drive our =decision making
  9. What else could we do for customers?
  10. What could we do to attract new customers?

Each of these questions can and should generate a great deal of discussion, the quality of that discussion is a measure in itself of how well you understand “Why” you do what you do, rather than just What and How you do it.

The really successful companies do not wait for  strategy session, they ask themselves these question every day, and the answers drive how they behave and interact with customers and prospects.

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Do you need a telephone?


I asked that question a week or so ago of a group of SME’s, most of whom did not have any digital presence.
None said their businesses would survive without a phone. Why is it then that they think they can survive without a website and social media presence? These tools are as integral to success as the phone, but like the phone, need to be used well, as they are just a tool.

Last week (July 19, 2014) the ABS released a report “Summary of IT use and innovation in Australian Business”

web presence by size

web presence by size

Web presence by industry

Web presence by industry


Businesses with 4 or less employees 35% penetration, 19 or less employees, 60% penetration, overall about 50% of enterprises have no web presence.




Lowest web penetration is, obviously in industries with many SME’s, agriculture, transport, and distribution.





It is a report that highlights the paucity of digital  capability amongst SME’s, which are the backbone of the Australian economy, and back up previous reports by Sensis and others pointing out the shortfall.

The building of digital capability by SME’s is not just necessary to compete, it is vital for survival.


Social media use

Social media use


The pattern is repeated in social media, but is more pronounced, most SME’s do not even use the simplest forms to market their business. 




I remain “gobbsmacked” that so many still seem not to have got the message,

That is where your customers are!!!

But what opportunities there are for improvement and leverage, it just takes a bit of energy and time.


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Another bloody meeting


Meetings are supposed to be a place where work gets done, accountabilities exercised options  articulated and examined, decisions made, and outcomes reported. However, often they become just a reason to have another meeting.

Whilst the public sector comes in for some pretty harsh criticism, they are not alone.

Last week I found myself in a meeting called by a prospective client so I felt it sensible to attend and contribute.

No agenda, minutes of the previous meeting were supplied as we walked into the room, no definitive objective, just another bloody meeting.

To amuse myself, I tried to calculate the cost of the thing, thousands, and found  myself thinking about the waste, and how to fix it, and only came up with the same stuff I have written about before. Serendipitously, later in the day, my inbox “plinked” with a lovely little cartoon from Hugh MacLeod that does his usual great job of nailing the topic   with a few words and lines, and links.

The infographic in one link is terrific, and the  meeting clock is wonderful, I will use it regularly from here on in when I see wasted resources being directed towards massaging someone’s ego, or “busywork” being done by having another bloody meeting.

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Scale social one person at a time.


not an algorithm

not an algorithm

There are platforms that will automate social for you, do everything, except the one thing that really counts, make a person to person connection.

“Social Media” badly used is a terrible misnomer, it is often anti-social media, an effort to remove people from the process.

Maybe we will develop an app to do that, but I suspect not, we are social animals, it is in our DNA, and you cannot substitute that for some digital metaphor.

Our bullshit detectors are enormously sensitive.

Last week, I got another email, personally addressed , so it passed the first test, but the font of my name was slightly different, Boom! Bullshit detector cuts in.

I guess it was better than the Dear Mr. Allen Roberts, or even Dear Mr Roberts Allen, but really it was only just more obviously a machine that had been poorly set up, a SPAM, or the result of my email address being scraped from somewhere I would rather have had it remain private.

Authenticity matters, and it is hard to scale. The tools will get us part of the way, like all tools, but it is how we use them that really counts. Using tools to get you to the point of eyeballing is sensible, a logical leveraging of technology, but few people are happy to eyeball a device and call it “Sally”, and really mean it.

Technology can get you so far, but usually is still requires people to close the social loop

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10 rules for small retailers to out-compete chains

Chain stores dominate our grocery shopping environment, they have developed all the advantages of scale, and use them to the advantage of their shareholders, by delivering returns, and to customers by delivering low prices.

The model works, in Australia 75% of the grocery shopping dollar goes to one of two retailers, and small retailers have been decimated.

However, small retailers are making a comeback, the ones left are good, good enough to deliver value to their customers in different ways to the chains, and they are making a good  bob.

They compete with a variety of strategies, all of which have elements of the following 10 rules.

  1. Make the store look warm, friendly, inviting, and, importantly, current. The last Valentines day, a client put in huge volumes of roses on which he put some very cheap prices compared to the highway robbery employed elsewhere, but he also had a promotion of Chocolates and a voucher for collaborative promotion with the grog shop two doors down, on sale. He did sell a lot of roses, a pile of chocolate, and got a slice from the bubbles the grog shop sold.
  2.  Collaborative retailing is a really effective way of building sales and relationship s with customers. The example above worked really well, as have others that group retailers of differing women’s apparel, dresses, shoes, hairdressing services, et al together.
  3. Experiment, with everything under your control. Store layout, range, price, stock weight and position, proximity of complementary products, promotional activity, it is a long list limited only by imagination and energy. However, experimenting is not the only game, you need to track results, now easy via the electronic tills, and if nothing else, Excel pivot tables.  Understand what works, and improve it for next time, eliminating the things that prove not to work. It is a simple formula, challenging to implement consistently, but in principal, simple. Learn as you go, and as the you experiment more, you will also find your depth of tacit knowledge also increases.  A small business can put in place an experiment, have the outcomes and a resulting tactical outlook while their bigger competitors are still trying to get a meeting together to decide if it may be a good idea.
  4. Use technology widely, not just in the tracking of sales, but in the management of your operations, and most importantly, the engagement of your consumers. Make your website the co-ordination centre of your marketing efforts. Mobile, email, social media platforms, blog posts, all potentially have  a place, but mostly you cannot do them all, so make informed choices. However, you need to recognise that digital is not free, there are both operating and opportunity costs attached, and for most SME’s, a capability gap. Outsource all you can, which is getting easier by the day, and importantly, track the results of everything you are doing on line
  5. Make sure you have a website that does you justice.  A mate sent this to me this link to Victor Churchill, a butcher in Sydney’s eastern suburbs,  and now I just want to go there.
  6. Personalise, personalise, personalise. The chain retailers have “mass market”  business model, they cannot easily personalise their offer to the customer base. They may have a technology edge because they have the resources,  but how often does the casual filling the shelves greet a customer by name? Enquire after their kids, and ask how the fruit basket you supplied last week for the centre-piece of your dinner party work out?.
  7. Specialise in what you do best, deliver “depth” to consumers where the mass retailers can only deliver “breadth” to a mass market.
  8. Be the expert in your category. If you are a produce retailer, know where the best strawberries come from, and when they will be available , similarly, a fashion retailer needs to be current with the trendsetters, to know what is coming, what will accessorise easily, and how the fashion can be tailored to the market they are serving. Most people want to deal with, and seek the affirmation of experts, be the expert, and they will keep on coming back.
  9. Apply the disciplines of Category Management to your inventory and space management. In its simplest form, Category Management is a mindset that seeks to allocate finite and valuable  shelf space  on the basis of maximising the customer experience, while delivering optimised profitability and long term commercial sustainability. This can get as complicated as you like, but for an SME, building an excel database leveraging the capability of pivot tables, tools virtually every business has sitting on their PC already, is sufficient to get started.
  10. Watch the cash. This one always gets a run. Retailers greatest cost, and biggest risk is usually inventory, and inventory is a raging consumer of cash. On the other hand, the oldest adage in retailing  is “stock sells stock”, so there is a tightrope to be walked. Perhaps the most valuable, and in SME’s underused, performance measure in retailing is stock turn. Use it aggressively to fine tune your range, and inventory.

None of these “rules” are of great value separately, but together, they offer a potent competitive tool set for small retailers.


Posted in Collaboration, Customers, retail, Small business | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Greatest marketing mistake


Evolution is a journey

A journey evolves

One of the most memorable, and biggest mistakes I made as a young product manager was to redesign a pack.

The product was an old fashioned, relatively low value product on supermarket shelves, it had a small niche to itself, and the sales ticked over, pretty much unaffected by promotional activity of any sort.

The pack was truly horrible.

Over the years , as suppliers of the display box had come and gone, the original photo had morphed into a messy amalgam of unrecognisable shape and conflicting colour to the point that it was not easy to recognise what the product inside might be,  and if you did, it seemed unlikely to me that any reasonable consumer would consider buying it.

So, I did the obvious thing, at least it seemed obvious.

I contracted a designer, who did a great job of redesigning the pack, new photos, layout, recipe ideas, the whole five yards, so it looked clean, fresh, appetising, and with a bit of a flourish in womens magazines (this was the early 80′s) we relaunched the product.

The unexpected, unthinkable, happened.

Sales stopped, literally, dead in the water, nothing, nada, zilch.

Panic stations were manned, as while the volumes and profile of  the product were low, the gross margins were outrageously high, and I had just shot the goose.

Not having any budget for research, I did the next best thing, which turned out to be the best thing, another lesson I have kept and reused, and reused.

I lurked around in supermarket isles for a while trying to talk to consumers of the product, and begged the field staff to do the same, to try to understand the reason for the abject failure of the new design.

It was rapidly clear that while consumers had no love for the old pack, they also thought it was rubbish, but they recognised it, bought it by habit,  and when the design was so radically changed, they simply did not recognise the new pack as the same product, assumed their regular purchase, that had done the job for them well despite the packaging, was out of stock and moved on.

We changed the pack back, with a couple of subtle improvements and sales recovered immediately.

The point here is that I am sometimes faced with a client wanting to completely redesign their websites, they get sick of the old one, it is dated, unresponsive, not mobile friendly, and so on, and it seems like a good idea, and it almost always is.

However, I relate my pack story, and seek to persuade that many incremental steps that create an evolution of design that takes people with you is better than a big jump that risks losing some of the rusted on followers, those to whom you probably owe the bulk of your profits.

Now, you do not have to lurk in supermarket isles to assess the impact, you can conduct a series of A/B tests, to maximise the impact of the changes as the evolution journey winds along, a journey that should not end, just seek to deliver a superior experience.

BTW, the old product is still on the shelf, and having just googled it, the design seems fairly close to my memory of the brand, spanking new design of 30 years ago that so nearly truncated my marketing career.

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