Oscar Wilde’s famous quote from his only published novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is one that intrigues me. It can have a number of subtle meanings but within the novel it is specifically relating to the bartering of an item in Wardour Street . In the late 19th century this part of London was known for antique and furniture shops and Lord Henry’s bidding for a piece of old brocade may have hinted at the difficult economic circumstances of the period. Lord Henry’s frustration at the time taken to secure his purchase leads to his statement, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Fast forward to the 21st century and things are not so different. One effect of the recent recession has been our re-focus on reducing our outgoings both personally and commercially as the pinch on our profit and lifestyle hit home.
Let me be very clear (sound like a pompous politician there) I don’t have an issue with careful cost control. Quite the contrary, I actively encourage a regular domestic and business review of expenditure. The issue as it relates to Oscar’s brilliantly written line is that we can become “hard wired” to focussing exclusively on the currency of a product or service and not the benefit or return that item will bring.
As a marketer and business owner this is very important territory. I’m equally a supplier and customer and in both relationships I try my best to be consistent. The difficulty is in identifying what that often quoted but rarely defined “value” is.
What is “value”?
As a noun it’s “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something”
As a verb “to estimate the monetary worth”
All too often we see the term reduced to a base level with items branded as “value meals” and the like. That’s not really value, it’s just cheap but of course that’s a word that won’t shift a chicken tikka masala from your local supermarket shelf.
Knowing the value of something can be harder to realise than you might think. Often we only truly gauge something’s worth when it’s no longer available. From your favourite TV series to particular brand of perfume, that great boss who selfishly retired or reliable local mechanic who always fixed your car with a smile. When they’re gone we appreciate them more.
This test equally works on goods and services that we might already attribute more value to than they deserve. What about that expensive watch, particular club membership, car, holiday destination or brand of coffee? These are often aspirational items and by owning or experiencing them we believe as a consequence our lives to be “better” and thereby valuable. That’s a state of mind that many brand owners want their target customers to buy into but if we were forced to use an alternate would our lives be so much worse?
Businesses that sell services can often struggle to differentiate themselves from the competition. There will always be those who use price as a promotional blunt instrument. Successful companies take the time to understand not only the mechanics of their offering but the emotional response to experiencing the best and worst of the market offerings.
You might technically be measured as the very best at what you provide but if you employ robots or a team of over confident practitioners to deliver, they’re unlikely to capitalise on that technical advantage.
Good business is all about the human experience.
So what are the factors that make the difference?
And of course this can all add up, when we include the fee, to value.
If you’re up for a challenge take a look at a couple of services and products that you use over the course of the next few weeks. Ask yourself what you are basing your decisions on and consider if that is the best measure for making those purchases. Put yourself in a position where you must justify those purchases to a boss and they are going to want clearly articulated and rational responses. Consider which of those items you would wish to retain and those that fall short and face being replaced.
What does value look like to you? Once you’ve thought about it from your own consumer perspective you might want to have a go at applying it to your own business. Consider, honestly, if you would want to buy from your business, if so great…. can you do even better? If the answer is no… where are you failing and how can you address the shortcomings?
If you’re not a typical customer of your company’s product or service, seek out those who are and ask for their honest, non sugar-coated views.
Knowing the price of something is the easy bit, knowing the value… that’s a skill that we all need to work on.
A short while ago I was asked to present at a Practice Management Conference to owners and senior managers of law firms in the UK. The brief for this event was to present on the challenge of engaging with younger clients. A very topical issue not only for lawyers but many businesses facing the prospect of attracting new customers in the digital age.
Personally I find the topic fascinating and equally intriguing when you consider how little attention is given to thinking about the socio demographic make-up of potential clients. OK, my apologies to those marketers out there that have this all neatly packaged but note, you’re in the minority. There’s plenty of talk about addressing customer needs, presenting and delivering goods or services that appeal to a niche market but how many of us need to appeal to a broad spectrum of the population? How do we make that work?
For my presentation I didn’t want to talk solely about the youngest, newest client segment. Sure, talking social media and digital advertising would be sexy and necessary but in isolation would not place that particular generational trend in context with other older segments of the population. So there I had it. Let’s cover ALL bases and provide an overview of the generations and their likely preferences.
To kick the presentation off I asked the assembled audience which category they fell into. The options.
To truly test the audience of law firm senior executives I didn’t offer up the list in timeline order as it is above. I then provided the specific classification by year to determine exactly which group they would fall into with a little more detail as to the typical traits of each, the dates represent the dates of birth :-
Formal, private, loyal, trust, respect, face to face, written, value time
Competitive, aspirational, hardworking, want detail, like options, challenging
Entrepreneurial, independent, work life balance, sound bites, e-mail, feedback
Optimistic, confident, seek positive reinforcement, multi taskers, e-mail, text, skype
Connected, ethnically diverse, entitled,
When asked to then place themselves in the appropriate category it became quite apparent most had mistakenly considered themselves to be in a category other than the one they belonged to. This highlighted the fact that as a rule we don’t know which generation we are and probably don’t see it as being very relevant. That is a mistake.
Let me provide a couple of examples:
Mrs Marple is a recently widowed lady of 77. She is having her late husband’s estate managed by Swish Swash Law. Swish Swash pride themselves on being at the cutting edge of technology. “It’s all in the cloud man” “we’re totally paperless” “Have you seen our App?” “The websites purely organic and built for the mobile and tablet market” Yadda yadda – you get the picture. Well Swish Swash employ some very bright young lawyers and they are equally adept at their use of technology as they are at applying their legal knowledge. They have a 24/7 approach to service and in their best efforts to keep Mrs Marple informed they send an e-mail and follow up text to her to inform her of their progress. It’s sent at 9.15pm. Next morning a rather angry daughter of Mrs Marple calls the lawyer who sent the text explaining that her mother had been asleep and got very stressed when the message arrived thinking anything sent at such a time could only be bad news!
As a Traditionalist Mrs Marple would prefer face to face communication, a phone call would be ok as would a letter but only during normal office hours. This generation values privacy and whilst very hardworking they do not always appreciate the 24/7 immediacy of life preferring a more ordered and sensible approach to working hours.
My 2nd example features Jordan, a young entrepreneur who is setting up a business with a couple of friends he met at University. They have plans to launch a business offering animation and augmented reality software solutions. They need help with setting up the company and creating a partnership. Jordan’s father has recommended the family firm Boggit Down & Co. Established in 1888 they have a long tradition of serving the local people of their small market town and cover private and business clients services from their grade II listed high st office. Reginald Smythe (63) is the head of company commercial and a partner. He receives a call from Jordan’s father and askes his secretary to arrange a meeting with the 4 young men.
Jordan receives a call from Edith, Reginald’s long standing secretary and she has difficulty arranging a time when they would all be available, they finally settle on a date 3 weeks hence. Jordan receives a letter 3 days later inviting him to the offices and setting out the terms of an engagement with Boggitt Down & Co. Jordan and friends are not impressed. They wanted to get things up and running pronto, they can’t wait 3 weeks and quickly decide to find a lawyer who can see them that week..or even better be prepared to have an initial e-mail exchange to provide advice and help them get started. They Google for law firms who understand software businesses and find two within 10 miles of Jordan’s home town and a third that offers online support nationally.
As a Generation Y/ Millennial group the young entrepreneurs are quite confident, assertive and expect rather more instant returns. The culture clash with the very traditional firm of Boggitt Down & Co. is too much and they can see that the firm is not going to “get” them or their business. Boggitt Down & Co. has not moved with the times nor understood the urgency of their need to set up this business. The firm simply presents itself as it has done for years and not adapted to the preferences of a new, informed and impatient generation.
Two simple examples that do genuinely occur on an all too regular basis. But what can firms do if they need to win and maintain clients from a cross section of the generational divide?
In my firm we have a mixture of baby boomers, generation X’s and recently introduced generation Y partners. The business is evolving and the factors that impact on the outward facing communication with clients are equally prevalent with internal communications. Being aware of those subtle differences in attitude and approach to work is becoming increasingly important. The generation game certainly is one for all the family – just don’t forget your *cuddly toys.
*(That final reference places me firmly in my Generation X category, but equally recognisable by baby Boomers and Traditionalists apologies to any readers who are too young to remember the classic Saturday night BBC show of the 70’s and 80’s)
If you would like to discuss marketing support for your firm please feel free to contact me to arrange an initial no obligation meeting
I’m fed up with hearing that we’re living in “interesting times” we’re not. We’re actually living in the times outlined by Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities. I’m sure you all know the opening chapter of the book word for word but just to remind us……
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – [Extract from chapter I, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)
Anyone else feel the contemporary connection with these words?
2014 has presented as a year where we are seeing economic recovery, employment levels rising and an all over feeling of optimism, well so certain politicians would wish us to think. I’m not against a healthy bit of optimism, by nature I’m drinking from the half full cup most of the time but in reality there is still an awfully long and hard journey ahead for many businesses and thoughts of instant solutions are really not helpful.
If a business is going to survive and thrive it needs to have a strong realistic vision of its future, a plan for managed growth and control over its costs. Leaders of these businesses need to retain and recruit the staff that share a passion for making that organisation the best in its particular sector/ sphere of operation. It’s not easy, it takes time. Things go wrong, deals don’t come off, recruits fail to live up to expectation and customers can change their preferences at the least expected moment. What you shouldn’t do is panic. Retain the belief in the business and acknowledge that the World is partly mad and partly sane, you cannot predict everything nor expect to be continually on the back foot.
Even though we’re in what still feels to me like a futuristic date, 2014, the words of Charles Dickens in the opening of the classic Tale seem as appropriate today as when they were first penned some 150 years earlier.
Whether you do face the best or the worst of times I see it as a period for calm heads and a return to the principles of good solid business practice with, of course, the energy, enthusiasm, creativity and originality that will deliver sustainable success.
David Laud FCIM, Chartered Marketer
follow me on Twitter @davidlaud
I still encounter those who see marketing as at best a necessary evil and at worst a practice of smoke and mirrors with no substance.
This unwarranted prejudice is borne out of a lack of understanding of the core principles of marketing. Sceptics who poke sticks at marketers often suggest that the acquiring of customers is not difficult. Winning new business is not connected to marketing activity. They believe that by producing a quality product or service customers will return and promote to others. That method of gaining customers can often be effective but the marketing element should already be interwoven with production and customer experience and not simply be seen as a blunt instrument of advertising or PR before or after the fact. Ironically sceptics often employ marketing techniques, unaware of their natural ability to develop the business. MD’s don’t always connect their activity to marketing which they see as a separate collection of basic promotional actions.
If you were to survey 100 non marketers and ask them for a definition of marketing the chances are over 50% would reference advertising within their response. The truth is marketing, certainly for me is “The Business of Business” a little more than creating and placing an advert. To be an effective marketer you must understand all you can about your customers, the financial model that produces the product, where the margins kick in, the mechanisms involved in delivering the product and the experience of customers once purchased. The entire scope of the company, its infrastructure, inner workings and technical elements must be understood to contextualise a successful approach to develop the brand and thereby grow the business.
All too often when recruiting or appointing a marketing resource business owners go into the process with a narrow pre-determined idea of what the person will add to the mix. They focus on PR or advertising. They might also worry about the need for a better online presence rather than consider an opportunity to involve the marketer in helping with business planning and setting a strategy.
Typical Marketing Professionals Skill Set
An added challenge for many is the “hobby” marketer boss who believes they can play “the marketing game”. We all consume so many marketing messages each day it’s not surprising that a boss or client might suggest they have the answer to a new advertising campaign, website or sponsorship deal. Don’t for one minute think I’m against business owners or bosses getting engaged with the marketing activity. I’ve spent far too long in my career trying to encourage such interest to fight it; but it can be difficult for junior, less experienced marketers to put a counter view forward when the ultimate decision maker insists on having their way.
Where experienced and effective marketers set themselves apart is in their ability to distinguish “good ideas” from the ego driven project. They need an ability to swiftly reflect and analyse any newly presented opportunity, establish the potential impact and make recommendations in plain jargon free English. That particular skill can save organisations a large chunk of their marketing budget.
A very good example of the scale of the challenge for today’s marketer is their need to stay on top of the terabytes of information related to digital marketing. Without necessarily being an expert the modern marketer must understand the principles of SEO, (search engine optimisation) PPC (pay per click advertising) Social Media, Mobile Technologies, Online Advertising and CRM (Customer Relationship Management). Interpreting Google Analytics and having the confidence to reject or accept digital agency proposals are also essential attributes of those holding the responsibility for marketing in any organisation.
Yes it’s complicated out there but life is these days. We can either keep up or give in and outsource management to the wave upon wave of niche agency suppliers promising to deliver success. Without the confidence borne out of our own knowledge of specific marketing processes we’re left with fingers crossed just hoping that the agency knows what they’re doing with their sizeable budget. Personally I don’t see it as an option. We owe it to ourselves, clients and employers to provide the very best level of expertise and professionalism and demonstrate that more than ever we have the knowledge and the spark to drive businesses forward.
Far from being a dirty word marketing is the discipline that business owners need to embrace wholeheartedly. They need to seek out the very best qualified practitioners to work with, provide resource and trust them to deliver. David Laud – FCIM Chartered Marketer, consultant.
What lies behind the sudden increase in solicitors firms merging? Is it a need for personal partner security, succession or future proofing, fear of failing or a strategic move to build a successful business?
2013 has revealed a weekly supply of dramatic news impacting the legal profession. Jackson reforms, loss of legal aid, liquidations, economic position and client migration, inability for partners to plan ahead, ABS’s and the increasing impact of the Legal Services Act, succession issues for traditional partnerships, professional indemnity renewal……they have all combined to place the profession in new uncomfortable territory.
One consequence of these issues is the fact that there are now far fewer firms in England & Wales than at any time recorded by the Law Society.
As at September 2013 there were some 10,726 firms to be precise. It still sounds like a big number but as reported in the LSG it’s 400 less than the same month in 2012. This dramatic fall is due to all of the above factors which have resulted in:
The rather worrying state of affairs has created a rather tense atmosphere within many firms as they find themselves glancing around to find security against the pressures, the security of a merger partner.
It’s the merger activity that is of particular interest because if well thought through and executed it can deliver a very positive outcome to counter the weight of negativity surrounding the profession. Unfortunately the press releases with smiling partners shaking hands in front of newly branded and dressed offices are unlikely to convince many onlookers of the true drivers of such arrangements.
When partners start to feel the cold and their accountant or bank has that “little word in the ear” they see the one route to securing their future as that long discussed but never acted upon merger opportunity.
The firm nearby that presents less of a threat to personal control than others with domineering partners. The firm that has the client you’d always courted but failed to land. The firm who’ve just announced an investment in IT which must mean they’re “switched on” and looking to the future. The firm that hasn’t joined a national brand in a vain attempt to protect its future flow of work.
It’s not surprising that the above traits are seen as attractive to the partners of a firm keen to link arms with another. Regardless of whether it’s an arranged marriage or one that all partners consent to willingly, the success of the union will not be founded in any of those considerations but could certainly result in its failure.
As with any successful marriage having things in common helps but is not essential. Yes you need an attraction, a spark and a personality match that uses the “chemistry” to good rather than toxic effect. When joined the “personality” of the newly formed business must be a commonly shared persona. If not the deal can be blown wide open leaving space for detractors, conflicting agendas and negative views of those who were just waiting for the “I told you so” moment.
Leadership is critical and it doesn’t necessarily need to be a single person more often a team who share a vision driven by clearly stated and understood objectives.
The original cupid arrow that created the merged business is typically founded in solid logic and should have all the ingredients for a successful outcome. Unfortunately the complexity and challenge of putting organisations together can dilute and lose the benefit of economies of scale and combined resources.
Critical to the success is a clearly articulated strategy delivered consistently by an effective leadership team. The focus at all times MUST be on the customers, lose sight of that key fact and matters can start to unravel fast.
Rather than being daunted by the scale of the challenge it’s helpful to view the merger plan as a series of projects that each need to be worked on to achieve the overall desired outcome.
Not many employees relish change and mergers present plenty of new challenges and potential threats to personal job security. Keeping the talent engaged is important as is the need to motivate the business to achieve the new goals.
There are many positives to be borne from mergers but before being charmed by a suitable partner it’s worth looking at theirs and other track records. We can and should certainly learn from the mistakes of others and the legal market is peppered with them.
On the upside mergers can and do deliver, but best look at an equation that gives 1+1 = 3+ not 0. This is a marriage that needs to deliver offspring that can grow and evolve and take the newly formed business forward.
Here below are a list of projects, an example of the areas a typical merger would need to cover to deliver a positive and co-ordinated outcome. The list below is but a guide and is not comprehensive. The projects would of course be determined by the specific features of the merger.
Merger Projects Example
If any of the above issues resonate with you and your business and you would wish to explore your options please feel free to drop me a line in confidence – firstname.lastname@example.org
i2i Business Solutions, Management Consultancy
email@example.com twitter @davidlaud
Have you ever found the need to offer up a tweet of desperation, or Facebook post of frustration when a company fails to deliver on its promise or has caused you a problem?
I know I have.
At the time of composing the message it can prove to be cathartic, setting out your ire and pointing it at the target you can get it off your chest, even in 140 characters.
But how does the company deal with your complaint? For me that is the true measure of a good organisation, its ability to respond. Did they get back to you swiftly, accurately noting your comments and responding appropriately? Or did they respond in their own sweet time and offer up an auto bot placation to hope you’ll go away? Worse still are those who just fail to respond leaving you to boil and find a way to escalate the issue with added justification.
If you’re running a business, any business, you must consider the way in which you can handle potential negative feedback. The rise in popularity of Tripadvisor has taught many restaurants and hotels that negative reviews can directly impact future business and positive feedback offer a reassurance and drive customers toward you.
With so many of us now connected on social networking platforms and becoming increasingly comfortable with the medium as a method of communication we cannot afford to overlook their impact.
These are the key tips for offering excellent customer service on social networking platforms;
• Make your company twitter and Facebook accounts clearly visible on your website
• Actively engage with those who “like” your Facebook page and “follow” you on twitter
• Monitor the social networks for references to your business and keywords associated with it;
o This can be done via Google alerts by setting up the keywords and having any reference e-mailed to you. Note: This can build in a time delay so should not be relied upon for real time responses.
o Use a social mention monitoring site to manage the references and keep up to date by having the alerts function activated.
o Sites worth considering; SocialMention.com, mention.net, social oomph, hootsuite, twilert.
o Take a look and see which suit your needs, twilert is good as it is simple and low cost and enables a free trial to assess the effectiveness for your business.
• When you receive a negative comment whatever you do don’t become defensive or aggressive
• Offer multiple channels for communication, tweet but take it private so DM (direct message), e-mail, phone or text.
• Respond quickly and consistently, if you don’t have an immediate answer let the customer know that you’re working on it.
• Don’t patronise or engage in chat that would be considered “too personal”
• Above all ensure those who are charged with handling frontline matters on social media understand the rules and are chosen for their interpersonal skills and client care focus.
• Don’t allow third parties to present themselves as “helpers” or “customer support”. Self-help through technical forums can be beneficial but taking that one step further exposes your business and brand to potential risk of damage through unauthorised comment and actions.
Its common sense, you may think, but just consider your own experience and how the big organisations often get it wrong. Mostly customers want to know they’re being listened to, offered a channel to communicate and be allowed to express a view. Of course not every complaint or query will be justified but by offering a sympathetic and proactive customer response via social media can significantly reduce the negativity and in many cases reverse the position entirely. If you’re not aware of the conversations on social media you run the risk of missing opportunity and being subject to unwarranted bad publicity.
If managing your customers via social media is something you want to explore in greater detail drop me a line.
David.firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @davidlaud
i2i’s Managing Partner, David Laud, recently contributed to a discussion on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour concerning the increased use of technology in the home and its impact on family privacy.
Click the link below to hear the clip
This brief discussion covers a growing domestic problem and highlights the need for parents to stay up to speed with social media platforms and the exchanges children are having.
David is interviewed by Radio 4’s Jenni Murray and joined by Ruth James who runs a blog to help parents with teenage children. http://survivingteenagers.co.uk/author/survivingteens/
Working as I do with professional firms I’m often asked or challenged on the true effectiveness of twitter and other social media platforms. For the purpose of this blog I’ll focus on twitter as it is the most frequently quoted cause of confusion, frustration and anxiety.
Yes, I did mention anxiety. Managing partners, Managing Directors, VP’s & CEO’s are more than aware of the phenomenon that is twitter but few can put their finger on what it is doing for their business.
In the beginning it seemed simple. Create an account, charge the marketing team with tweeting about the wonderful services on offer and sit back and wait for the results. And wait they did, the wind whistling through the trees whilst tweeters tweeted in an increasingly desperate fashion hoping upon hope that someone would tweet back.
Aware of competitor firms growing large follower networks and seemingly becoming the popular point of contact the business owners call the marketing team to account. “Where’s our ROI?” “Show me a spreadsheet of time and cost vs return.” “Why do Bloggs & Co. have five times the followers of our account?”
In a panic and under pressure the marketers fail to deliver the key financial justification for continuation and are forced to concede defeat.
Ok, perhaps an extreme example but the story will have a ring of truth for many. The demand for results, analysis and business owner frustration that the firm is failing to match others or capitalise on this new medium is a very common experience.
What is the answer? It’s not as simplistic as suggesting that having an account and sending the occasional tweet will eventually deliver results but time is a factor and it takes more than you might think to build a truly effective twitter channel.
Here are a few suggestions for those grappling with twitter and losing the fight;
Managing the expectations of the management team and business owners is all important. It can be hard trying to convince an analytical driven leader that they need to invest resource in something that can be quite so hard to quantify. As a marketer I fall into the camp of wanting to measure marketing activity and in all circumstances you should strive to analyse the impact of your efforts. Twitter apps are available to measure any number of actions but don’t get lost in analysis. Keep the focus on the big picture of building the business brand and connecting with your network.
Traffic visiting your website through tweeted links will be one clear indication of reach as will comments or feedback from network members.
As I’ve referred to before by way of analogy, twitter is very much like a broadcast channel. Decide on your audience the type of output you want to produce and the viewing figures you’d like to generate. Remember very few of us would want to tune in to a channel that is 100% or even 50% advertising so keep the balance fresh and entertaining.
If you would like more specific help with developing your social media strategy or simply making your existing activities more effective please drop me a line.
David Laud – i2i Business Solutions LLP e-mail email@example.com