Pensions firms will they attract and educate or just extract?

Rob Gardner RedingtonRob Gardner of Redington has just thrown down a challenge to the Pensions industry. click here. His quote (below) is in response to the success of Auto Enrolment.  Auto-enrolment is handing a whole new batch of customers to pensions firms.  Will the firms lean forward and seek to help these customers with great products and advice that help them secure their retirement.  Or will they just take this new crowd of customers and work out how much money they can extract from them.

 

 

Rob puts it differently in his article in Pensions Expert

For the first time in decades, we have a captive audience of pension savers. We could do what we have always done and hope some of it sticks. Or we can take up the challenge and recognise that the workforce of today will want to engage in a different way.

We could simply direct employers to the Pensions Regulator website, or we can start to develop communications fit for a world where Siri and Alexa capture the imagination of a new breed of savers. On the whole, the population lacks both the confidence and knowledge necessary for financial security. 2017 must be the year we really start to address this.

Redstart Financial EducationAs well as being a pensions investment consultant and co-founder of Redington, Rob is campaigner for better financial education (Redstart) so we can all create a more secure financial future for ourselves.

Attract don’t Extract

attracting customers employees shareholders

I have spent all my working life believing that when organisations serve customers better and seek to help people, then they do better than organisations who just want to extract money from people. When I started work in 1979 it took me some years to realise that my view was not always shared by those whom I worked with.

I worked in marketing in food and drink (initially biscuits, then chocolate and then soft drinks). I saw my role as being to help the organisation to

  1. find out what matters to customers
  2. make products better by creating things that solved problems for people
  3. ensure products were profitable
  4. ensure products were available in the right places
  5. run marketing campaigns to let everyone know about them.

As a result, we would get more sales and customers would keep coming back.

Now 38 years later, I still think business is that simple. It is simple to understand. The challenge is to work with the people, the finances and the products to do it. This is the primary role of a business owner, a marketer or a CEO. This is what will attract more customers, grow profitable sales and maximise value for shareholders.

We were frequently told our job is to maximise shareholder value. For the management team that meant hit the quarterly numbers and ensure the company could pay dividends.

Maximising shareholder value

For me, maximising shareholder value means being more attractive, more visible and more available to more customers. But this costs money, so I kept running into people who were worried about adding cost to products without a guarantee of extra sales and were sceptical about the benefits of marketing spend when profits were under pressure. So for others maximising shareholder value was about cost control and financial management. The customer could easily get lost in these financial discussions.

Sound financial management and cost control are essential for success. But quite quickly financial discussions can start to view the customers as a target that we should extract more money from for the benefit of the shareholders. The discussions are about capturing loyal customers, seeing how far we can push up prices, how low can take the product quality. This mindset is an extractive mindset and not an attractive mindset.

Industry disruptors

What I have observed over the intervening years is that the best businesses are those that have the best reputations. This is linked to the most enduring growth and profit performance. They all start with great products that solve a problem for people. The are dedicated to better products. This is particularly true of industry disruptors

  • Easyjet disrupted European air travel with better flights (and cheaper ones) they made it easier to book and easier to travel. (Maybe they are becoming more extractive now they are more corporate)
  • First Direct created bank accounts where every customer is left feeling totally taken care of
  • Hiscox created insurance that pays out when you need it, with great claims handling and protects what you need
  • Uber created taxis you cn get hold of when you need them with no effort
  • Miracle Gro created gardening products that make it easier to
  • Dorset Cereals reversed years of cereal manufacturers engineering cheaper products with cheaper ingredients
  • Hotel Chocolat now fill our high streets with chocolate shops where Thorntons used to dominate
  • Redington did it for pensions investment management and have helped trustees to reduce and eliminate pension fund deficits

The attractive mindset knows that the business can only grow by attracting more customers.

Align shareholders, employees and customers

There is a commonly held belief that the interests of customers shareholders and employees are at odds with each other. This suggests there is a conflict between them

  • Shareholders want to give the customers less and charge them more
  • Employees want to work less and get paid more
  • Customers want to pay less and get more

This conflict does exist when you have an extractive mindset. My experience is the best businesses do not suffer from this conflict and the reason is that have an attractive mindset

Better products sell more and customers are very happy to pay higher prices for them. Prosperous growing businesses are fun places to work and attract better people. When the business seeks to attract more customers and seeks to attract better staff, this results in a virtuous circle of growth. When a business is working out how to extract more money from customers and get more for less from their staff, the business enters survival mode.

This blog and all my future posts are about observations on how this works, when it works, examples of it working and lessons we can learn from them. These lessons of the attractive mindset can be applied to business organisations, charity fundraising, political campaigns, club memberships or any organisation that exists as a group of people trying to get things done.

This is a hybrid of a campaign for better business and a series of practical insights you can use to make your organisation or business perform better.

I hope you will join me for the ride.

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More Human … its amazing how many people disagree with the idea this is desirable.

Steve Hilton, More HumanI have just finished reading More Human. This book written by Steve Hilton and published last week. Steve Hilton was an adviser to David Cameron from 2006 to 2012 (and was caricatured as special advisor Stewart Pearson in “The Thick of It”). It is not often I feel compelled to write a blog about a book I just read, so this book has clearly had a big impact. The last time I wrote a blog about a book was when I read Nassim Nicholas Taleb on The Black Swan.

So do get a copy and read it now.

 

Steve Hilton analyses and explains things that have frustrated me for many years about the way business, politics, government, schools, healthcare and many institutions operate against people rather than for people. He shows how institutions and bureaucracy frequently frustrate and damage the people that they set out to help. He discusses how leaders have the very best motives to help people (there is no conspiracy to harm people) but often feel trapped by the way things work and believe they are doing the right thing in the circumstances. He describes how staff in airlines, civil service, social services, schools and many places can end up behaving in ways that are not human, even though they are almost certainly caring and loving with their friends and family.

The central idea is that we have lost touch with what it means to be human. The institutions and bureaucracy we have created do not treat people as human. This has affected everything: the food we eat, the schools our children go to, the growing inequality, the lower engagement with politicians, the hospitals and healthcare services and we use, our inability to eliminate poverty and they ways we bring up our children.

Yet, the world is full of examples of how when people get together to make things happen at a human level, then great things do happen. How is it that we cannot harness this more effectively?

I cannot do his ideas justice in two paragraphs, you have to read it.  At first you may find some of it seems fanciful and impractical. But if you find yourself thinking that then I would urge you to read on. Steve Hilton diagnoses many things that are wrong and the fixes he suggests are radical. The ideas are not classically left-wing or right-wing. Many of the ideas require a change in what we find socially and culturally acceptable, not just a few short-term policy fixes.  It is amazing to me how many people disagree with the idea that being more human is the way forward.  (See tweet from Alan Duncan)

Steve Hilton concludes that to make something happen needs a large number of people who are committed to be being More Human actually in positions of power and leadership . He invites us to join in and have a go and run for office.

Is there anything we can do in business today?

Whilst much of this is in the political arena, this need to be “More Human” also affects business and there are things business can do within the current economy and politics.

I believe that when we set out to help customers solve a problem or satisfy a need rather than just focus on how to extract more money from customers, then we create a better business. And this will be a more human business. By that I mean we enjoy more growth, make more money, are a happier place to work, create more jobs and build sustainable long-term value.

This is the difference between being a value adder and a value extractor. Value adders want to help customers. Value extractors work out how to get the most money from them. The interesting thing is that all big innovations that really transformed industries and markets involved helping customers solve a problem, not just making more money from customers.

So EasyJet challenged the European Airlines like BA who were all value extractors. First Direct and MetroBank challenged the value extractor banks. AirBnB are challenging the hotel chains. All these game changing businesses focused on the people’s real needs and problems and enabling us to do things we wanted to do as people.

There is now a change happening in the food industry. The supermarkets were value adders who provided what people wanted, created wider availability and delivered better value. They have become value extractors driving prices up through pricing, confusing promotions and local dominance. But now they are looking vulnerable to many smaller businesses that help customers in more relevant ways from discounters to local food producers and retailers.

If you are working in a business with a value extractor mindset and you think there is a better way to get growth by helping customers, it is not easy to get people to see it. But there is a way. I explain the thinking and the approach in this paper.

Steve Hilton definitely fits my definition of being an attractive thinker (and doer). I filled out the form in the back of his website under the button “Run for Office”. Looking forward to see what I get back.

So the election pollsters got it wrong? What does that tell us about how we should use market research?

Party lea

 

Ben IpsosThe polling business has had some cause for self-examination following their failure to predict that the Tories would get 37% and Labour would get as little as 30% of the votes in the recent general election. And there has been plenty of debate about this. See this article by Ben Page of Ipsos Mori.  What I wanted to do in this blog post is to draw some practical observations about what business leaders and marketers can learn from this, where we should use market research and what to be wary of.

But before looking at the implications, what went wrong?  

There has been a lot of debate and discussion.  I particularly like the assessment made by Dave Penn click here (@davidpenn1) and Keith O’Brien click here (@keithobrien) and discussed by Mark Earls (@herdmeister) and Phil Barden (@philbarden).  They argue that pollsters have failed to absorb and react to the implications of Daniel Kahneman’s finding that decision making is governed by two systems in the brain.

  • System 2 is the rational conscious analytical, slow, considered part.  This is what is measured by traditional market research and polls.
  • System 1   is the subconscious, intuitive, emotional, gut instinct part that is fast and essential to our ability to get by in life.  This is not easily measured by market research polling.

Since polling concentrates on system 2 rational thinking and behaviour, it can misread what people are actually feeling and fails to predict what they will actually do.

Political commentators seem to miss this point about system 1, when they debate the order of questions, the methodological differences between phone and online polls, the sampling error.  Politicians don’t get it  with comments like Vince Cable complaining that people misled him on the doorstep and a sense among the losers that voters were confused or misled or afraid and this explains why they were so foolish to not vote for them.

Lord Michael Ashcroft

Lord Ascroft has commented that Lynton Crosby’s team seem to be doing something different and they knew they would win.  Even Lord Ashcroft is curious about how they did that?

Can we rely on market research?  Should we use it?

Inevitably the measured answer is “it depends”.  I have long noticed that there are only really three business questions that market research is used to help with.  These questions are

  1. What should we do?
  2. Are we doing it?
  3. What will the customer do?

I would argue that market research is helpful and reliable for the first two and quite hazardous and misleading for the third one.  The industry promotes products and services that help top answer all three questions.  I would suggest that the industry has not come up with a satisfactory approach to answer the third question.  the reason they sell a lot of product to answer that question is that business leaders have an insatiable appetite for the answer to the question “What will consumers do?”  Executives like to manage risk and market research is used to justify decisions.

What the pollsters error teaches us is that research is not yet a great indicator to understand what people will do.  Some like Dave Penn are using neuroscience and behavioural economics to pioneer new techniques to try to overcome this problem.

What can we use market research for?

Lets look at the three business questions that market research is used for.

1.  What should we do?

Whilst consumers find it tricky to accurately predict what they will do and they are not good at imagining products they have no experience of, they can tell us a lot about their lives, their problems, their needs, their frustrations.  Also we can observe their actual behaviours.

As business leaders we know that we have to offer customers things that help them address needs and solve problems e.g. feed the kids when they come home from school, get breakfast on the way to work, communicate with my friends.  We can watch what people do, we can find out about frustrations and problems, we can measure what really matters to people.  We can find this out through personal experience and observations or we can use formal market research.  So

  • Usage and Attitude studies
  • Observations and interviews in store
  • Panel surveys and interviews
  • Consumer workshops and group discussions

This is called exploratory research and if it is well designed it informs our plans.  Do not expect consumers and customers to imagine possibilities that we have not shown them.  That is our job to create and imagine that.

2.  Are we doing it?

Business leaders are suckers for measurement.  we want to know if things worked, we want to know about the customers experience, were they satisfied, will they recommend us.  This is another area that professional market research is brilliant at. So

  • Brand tracking
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Net promoter scores

These all help us see how we are performing.  Provided we did the work properly in the “What should we do?” part and we are measuring things that matter to our customers, then this is really valuable.

3.  What will the customer do?

This is where it all goes wrong.  It is what business leaders most want to know.  The question rings out, “have you researched that?” and executives feel they have to go and that.  But much of this work holds out false promise.  the worst possible question is

“Will you purchase this product in the future?”

The reason for this is simple. As people we are very bad at predicting what we will do in the future.  This is mainly because we do not know what our priorities will be in the future.  It is hard to see how market research can help us overcome that.  But it is also because of the influence of the unconscious system 1 on our decision making.

My own approach to concentrate all the effort and work on questions 1 and 2.  if we get that right and do that well, then the products and services we offer to customers will be attractive to them and enough people will buy them.  Asking them if they will buy them does not give us a better indication.  Lord Ashcroft understands this and proclaims his polls to be only a snapshot.  However even he must wondering about the quality of his snapshots in 2015.

Read this article about  Attractive Thinking to see how to answer questions 1 and 2 and avoid the need to use research to answer question 3.  This is about coming up with a plan for growth that you are confident will attract more customers.

Top 10 books that changed the way I do business

A client (David Edwards from UL) asked me yesterday for some advice on what books he should read to develop his product marketing knowledge.  This prompted me to reflect on which books have had the greatest influence on me.  All these books have had a material effect on my approach to creating growth strategies that everyone is convinced will work.

Product marketing is about more than marketing, it is about attracting more customers.  Over the years I have found very few marketing text books that were really helpful and stimulating.  But many books that have influenced the way I think about marketing and attracting customers.

None of these books give a simple answer straight out of the box.  They are all thought-provoking and will help you to move your thinking forward.  If you want easy answers then look elsewhere, if you like a challenging thought-provoking read, then take a look.

My top 10

The science and laws of marketing

How brands grow

Start with Byron Sharp.  He has taken the pioneering work of the late Andrew Ehrenberg and made it accessible to everyone.  This is about why it is more important of get more customers, not just focus on customer loyalty.  It is about why light buyers matter so much.  It is why the 80:20 rule is wrong.  It is based on years of research into how people actually behave and not anecdotes and armchair thinking about marketing theory and customer loyalty.

 

 

Byron shows us why evidence matters and how to bring science into marketing.  Byron shows you that there are 10 laws of marketing and why you cannot ignore them.
Watch his TEDX Talk here

The Text-Book

marketing byron

This is the only marketing textbook I would recommend.  It takes the laws of marketing as explained in How Brands Grow and tells you how to apply them to the business decisions you need to make to develop a marketing plan that will actually work.

It is written by whole team at the Ehrenberg Bass Institute of Marketing Science and has some good case studies.  It is aimed at university students studying marketing and strategy.

This academic work is known and been adapopted by global brand leaders like P&G, Mars, Unilever, Colgate and Google for some time.  It has only become accessible to everyone else in the past 5 years.

Leadership and innovation

Find your light bulb

Mike Harris shares his experience of creating totally new and game changing brands by taking a radical approach to providing service to customers in conservative industries.

Find Your Lightbulb draws from Mike’s experience of creating game changers in banking (First Direct and Egg) in telecoms with Mercury and in internet security with Garlik.

This book is about leadership and driving extraordinary ideas through your organisation and creating somethign that will attract more customers.

 

Behaviour and psychology

Daniel Kahneman Thinking Fast Thinking Slow

Daniel Kahneman reveals why and how people’s decisions and behaviours are not entirely conscious or rational.  He discovered that we have two systems in our brain,  System 2 is the one we all know about, it is conscious, rational, slow and cautious.  System 1 is actually the driver of many decisions, it is unconscious, instinctive, fast and very importantly, we could not function without it.

This book helps you understand why people buy, why emotion matters, what triggers a purchase and you will think differently about how to attract customers when you have read it.

Advertising and marketing communications strategy

IPA Peter Field Les Binet, The long and short of it

This report analyses the results of 998 marketing campaigns.  These campaigns were all submitted to the IPA Annual Effectiveness Awards.  They were all assessed on the basis of the results and the effectiveness rather than subjective critieria like creativity or design

This report updates an important study called Marketing in the Era of Accountability. It tells you what worked and what did not work so well.

 

 

This highlights and confirms the importance of increasing market penetration (i.e. strategy speak for “getting more customers” ) and the role of share of voice in building market share.  They also discuss and demonstrate why generating emotional response to campaigns is important to get value for money from your marketing

Looking to the future

Black Swan Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Improbable events

Nassim Nicholas Taleb shows us that looking to the future is a bit of a mugs game.  The most likely thing to happen in the future is an improbable vent that you cannot predict.  So stop worrying about it.

His writing is dense and a bit inaccessible, he is a mathematician and ex stock trader with a big brain.  But what he writes about is important and has implications for strategy and practical decisions.  I wrote about what we should do about this in 2008 in this post.

 

 

My conclusion is we should spend less time worrying about the future.  We should spend more time strengthening our ability to withstand unexpected shocks.  Read here

Social Media

Penny Power, Know me, like me, follow me

There is increasing evidence that digital marketing and social media are attracting a disproportionate share of advertising revenue as these new media have become more fashionable “must haves” in your marketing plan.

Penny Power takes a different approach and shows us what social media is really for and how to use it to build a following and create a network that will help you and your business and even how the network will help each other.

Penny’s approach echoes the whole Attractive Thinking ethos.  It is about attracting people not broacasting to them and capturing them.

 

This book is a classic, it may be 7 years old, but it is not out of date.  It reveals some fundamental truths about who we are, how we interact and what that means for your business, brand and marketing plan.

Strategy

Good strategy, Bad strategy, Richard Rumelt,

Richard Rumelt has studied many strategies and the book has loads of examples.  This makes this very practical and well grounded.  Richard invites us to look inside the business for what we can do and what we are good at.

Rumelt dispels popular misconceptions about strategy – such as confusing it with ambitions, visions or financial goals – by very practically showing that a good strategy focuses on the challenges a business faces, and providing an insightful new approach for overcoming them.

 

Remember a strategy is merely a set of actions designed to achieve a particular goal. This book will bring you back to what really matters, so you create a plan that will work

Getting recognition and being recommended

Key Person of Influence, Daniel Priestley

This book together with the KPI programme showed me a whole buch of stuff that is known by entrepreneurs and not so well understood or taught in large corporate environments.

Daniel Priestley highlights five steps that are essential if you and/or your business are to gain recognition and be recommended.  Daniel has talked with thousands of entrepreneurs and gained insight into the problems they have to overcome.  The KPI method is an effective way to overcome them.

If you want to develop your career and be secure in your ability to attract customers or employers, then read this.

He has followed this up with another book called Oversubscribed how to get people queuing up to do business with you.

Avoid being misled by common sense

Common sense, Duncan Watts,  Everything is common sense until you know the answer

In the 2001 election, William Hague created the Common Sense campaign for the Tories.  It did not work.

“Why is the Mona Lisa the most famous painting in the world? Why did Facebook succeed when other social networking sites failed? Did the surge in Iraq really lead to less violence? And does higher pay incentivize people to work harder? If you think the answers to these questions are a matter of common sense, think again.

 

Common sense is one of the most dangerous ideas that pervades general thinking and our decision-making.  Yet science nearly always demonstrates that many ideas that were common sense were plain wrong.  (e.g. sun goes round the earth).  Duncan Watts will help you fine tune your antennae to detect common sense ideas that are misleading or just plain wrong.

And another 5 books

Inevitably I found it difficult to nail this list down to 10.  But the list above is my top 10. Here are my next 5.

  1. Viral marketing, The science of sharing.  Shows what goes viral and why
  2. Switch, How to change things when change is hard:  Argues that we need only understand how our minds function to unlock shortcuts to switches in behaviour.
  3. Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age:  Does what it says on the tin
  4. Marketing Manifesto:  The booklet from the Marketing Society on what marketing leaders must focus on to increase their effectiveness and impact  download here.  I helped the team to create this book.
  5. The One Thing You Need to Know: This helps you discover the question you need to answer, get the right answer and then get everyone else to agree with you.  You will be better at pitching within a corporate environment.

Understand what really motivates us

box-header-home

This weeks blog from Guy Watson of Riverford Organic farms is one of the best pieces of attractive thinking that I have seen for some time.  It is prompted by his reflections on the election aftermath.

He accurately describes the human condition.  This condition is why I believe that business organisations which set out to help customers solve problems (value adders) do better than those who set out to extract the most money from customers (value extractors).  Three statements that stand out for me are

  1. What I find so depressing … is the apparent ubiquitous cynical belief that appealing to personal greed is the only way to get anything done.
  2. Ultimately we all want to feel good about ourselves and at work this falls broadly into three areas: feeling we are learning and getting better at stuff, feeling some control over our lives and feeling a sense of purpose.
  3. My plea .. is to have a little faith in people; we’re not as shallow, selfish or as dumb as you seem to think. Show some trust, give us some hope and we might even surprise you.

If you take this thinking and apply it to attracting more customers it takes you to a very attractive place.  (N.B.  We also like their veg)

Re-blog of post from Guy Watson www.riverford.co.uk

I believe that given half a chance, most people, most of the time, are smarter, fairer, more generous and capable of more empathy than our institutions give us credit for. I found both the election campaigns and the result hugely depressing without really understanding why; with the exception of the Greens I feel no more aligned with the policies of the losers than the winners. On reflection I realise the reason for my gloom is a conviction that the institution with the most cynical view of our behavioural motivations is the modern Conservative party.

I’m guessing that, as someone already personally rich, I will be richer under an unfettered Conservative government; but I don’t expect to be happier. What I find so depressing about modern post-Thatcherite Conservatism (and only marginally less so about post-Blairite Labour) is the apparent ubiquitous cynical belief that appealing to personal greed is the only way to get anything done. Considering the almost complete lack of evidence to back up this assumption, it has gained extraordinary traction in Westminster and the City over the last 30 years. In the real world, where businesses have to compete by getting the best out of people, it has largely been abandoned as a piece of failed, ideologically driven dogma.

For the most part, we are emotional beings responding to much deeper, less tangible but more powerful emotional motivators; ask anyone in advertising. Ultimately we all want to feel good about ourselves and at work this falls broadly into three areas: feeling we are learning and getting better at stuff, feeling some control over our lives and feeling a sense of purpose. To believe that ‘carrot and stick’ management is why a nurse will care for a patient, a parole officer will struggle to support a young offender or why a programmer would write exceptional code is crass to the point of incredulity. I suspect it is even more threatening to public services and well being than cuts and austerity.

Both hope and cynicism, given enough voice, can be self-fulfilling prophecies. My plea to Cameron and his team is to have a little faith in the people they lead; we’re not as shallow, selfish or as dumb as you seem to think. Show some trust, give us some hope and we might even surprise you.

Guy Watson

Why the ski industry needs better products to attract more skiers?

On Tuesday 5th May, I gave a short talk at Listex on how ski companies, tour operators and resorts can attract more customers.  Listex is a forum where the ski trade meets to discuss business development and why customers and suppliers do business

The talk discusses how the ski  industry has focused on keeping its loyal customers, but now needs to recruit new enthusiasts into the sport.  The sport is at risk of its current baby boomer customers retiring from the activity and not replacing them with younger blood.

Here are the slides with the transcript of the speech attached to each slide in the notes.

Attracting more customers

Attracting more customers

 

Here is the transcript of the talk

The idea for this talk was promoted by two articles that I saw in Planetski last week. The first was a quote from the 2015 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism which stated that visitor numbers in ski resorts have been declining year on year for 5 years in all the major ski markets. Even France and the US which had been doing better are now in a 5 year decline. The second story was from Phil Smith of Snowworks in Tignes. Phil reported he had enjoyed a great season and things are looking up. In fact skiing is so addictive, that people will always want to come skiing and there is nothing to be concerned about. How can both of these things be true?

The subject of this talk is how can we attract more people to skiing, whether as an industry as a whole, as a resort in particular or for your own business. If numbers are down, this is a matter we need to address.

For those of you I have not met yet, I founded Differentiate as strategy consultants to help CEO’s and business owners to bridge the gap between the insights they have about their customers and the creative decisions you make about developing products and creating marketing plans to attract customers. I used to be a marketing director at Pepsi and since I have consulted with global brands like Mars as well as high end B2B service providers in Finance, Law and Technology. I am also a director at Henry’s Avalanche Talk teaching skiers how to stay safe and have more fun off-piste. This involves avalanche awareness and off-piste equipment training.

My aim today is to prompt a debate about within the ski industry about the need for game changing new products and services that will attract more people to skiing and get some lapsed skiers to come back to the sport.

I will talk about the subject in three different sections.
First I will discuss why the numbers of skiers are down
Second I will talk about a principle of good marketing. I will discuss the debate about penetration vs loyalty and show why it is essential for good marketers to focus ion increasing market penetration. Or in simpler language, attract more skiers to take part.
Third, I will discuss why having better products is essential before discussing better marketing. I will show some tips on how to start the process of developing better products.

So are the numbers really going down? This report from Crystal shows estimates of the numbers of British skiers going on holiday over the past 5 years. Whilst there was an expected drop with the recession and a bad snow year, this is starting to look like a trend. Numbers are difficult to get here, but this is a trusted source.

The 2015 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism looked at all visitors to ski resorts in every country across the world. So this includes locals visiting the resort as well as people on longer holidays. What is interesting to us, is that the alps has shown a consistent decline over the past 5 years. There is growth in Asia, but everywhere else is down. So why might this be happening.

Skiing is often thought of as a younger persons game, just for fit people. Well in my experience, you need to be fit, but you don’t need to be young. When I am in ski resorts, I increasingly see large numbers who look more like this group here. A lot of us were recruited into skiing as young adults in the 1980’s and 90’s. This generation of Baby Boomers and GenX have fuelled the growth of snow sports, by joining in the then choosing to go skiing more often each year. But some of this group mare getting less able as they get older. And I am not convinced the sport is recruiting younger adults to replace them.

And younger people have a far greater choice of things to do than we could do in the late 20th Century. Exotic adventurous travel options have exploded, from Asia and America’s back packing to surfing to kit surfing, mountain biking, charity and physical challenges, yacht racing. All these things are competing for the adventurous travellers pound. Many of these activities are more accessible and less expensive than they were due to cheaper flights and the internet helping people discover ideas about what to do.

Another element in the mix is that sometimes people have bad experiences when they go skiing and it puts them off, especially if they are on the first or second trip. This research by the ski club measured net promoter scores for tour operators and resorts. This was done among 15000 skiers and they found that for some the experience was not good and they would not recommend it. This variability will be putting some people off.

So that covers my first point and offers some reasons why the numbers are down. I am sure there are other reasons you could come up with, but this is a start.

My second point is to discuss the marketing debate around Penetration vs Loyalty. There is quite a fashion for loyalty programmes and CRM. Now these are all useful to a point, but we must not lose sight of the fact that business only grow when they attract more customers. This was established as proven fact by an early marketing academic, Andrew Ehrenberg in the 1960’s. His work has been followed up by Byron Sharp who published a book on it in 2010. Study after study has shown that the difference between bigger businesses and small businesses is not how loyal the customers are, but how many customers they have. It is not possible to get growth without increasing your market penetration or in other words attracting more customers.

A second study conducted by the Institute of Practitioners in advertising has confirmed this. This study looked at 1000 entries for their marketing effectiveness awards. The winners were selected for the business results and cost effectiveness, not for their creativity. And 95% of the award winners had set as their objective to increase market penetration.. Only 5% of the awards went to campaigns that had set loyalty as their campaign objectives. Loyalty programmes did not win effectiveness awards.

So this is my second point, No-one ever achieved significant growth in their business without attracting additional customers. We have to attract more skiers if we are to grow the industry.

Now my third point is about why the best and easiest way to get more customers is to create better products, we cannot just rely on better marketing. It is better products that attract customers first. And as shown by Michelle in an earlier presentation, most great marketing campaigns either draw attention to product improvements or use product improvements as a tool to communicate the brand value and the brand attraction.

I will start by asking you how you view your customers? Do you see them as a target to be lassoed into your business and then you must find ways to attract as much money as possible from them? Are you like this cowboy looking to entrap and ensnare customers? I call this approach value extractors.

Or do you see your job is to find out what customers need and want, to find out what would really help them and then develop something that delights and surprises them. People buy things when they have a problem to solve or a need to address. If they see you offering the perfect solution to that need, if you offer the missing piece in the jigsaw, then all you have to do is let them know about it and then they will just buy it. I call this approach value adders.

In my experience prime value extractors are banks, insurance companies, utility companies, mobile phone operators. These businesses exploit our reluctance to switch providers. So they focus on how much money they can charge and how little they can do to help to ear that money. Whereas big successful branded companies like Apple, Google, Unilever P&G, Mercedes, Mars, they all know we have the freedom to switch, they cannot trap us so they invest in attracting us with better products.

Now all the big game changers in every industry are value adders. They are people who put … better products before better marketing.

So what are the characteristics of better products? What makes a product better? Here are a selection of brands and products that have all shaken up their industry when they launched. They each looked at their markets and said, “there has to be a better way”, “we can make the customer experience better”, “we can make it quicker, easier, better value”.

Easyjet challenged legacy airline carriers by making it easier to buy the tickets and removing all the complex terms and conditions that were designed to trap fliers into spending more money. Fridays speeded up property conveyancing to help people get their homes more quickly, Netflix ensured we could watch what we wanted at any time and made it easy to use, Paypal made it possible to transfer money and easier to pay for things online.

So these are characteristics of game changing products and services, I am sure you can think of some more.

And last week I saw this guy present the game changer in power supply. This will disrupt the energy supply industry. Elon Musk used the money he made from selling Paypal to invest the Tesla car, but he is now going further and has just launched the Tesla PowerWall. He looked at energy supply and climate change and said we have to do better. He noticed the sun provides more energy than we need. Solar panels are getting better, the problem is it does not work at night and we had not found a way to store energy from the sun.

This product is the first battery than you can install at home to plug the gaps when the sun does not shine. Read more here http://www.chrisradford.net/using-better-products-not-better-marketing/

The phrase he used repeatedly is “It just works”. This is I believe the ultimate attribute of better products. Iron out the glitches, find the disruptions, improve the customer experience, re-engineer the product, then you will find the game changer.

So how do we develop better products? Where do we start? The first principle is to start with the problem or need the customer has. No-one ever spends money without a problem to solve or an occasion to sort out or a need to fulfil. When you go to the supermarket, you do not have a list of products, you have a series of occasions and needs to fulfil. There are kids coming home from school, meal times to feed, people coming round, clothes to be washed etc etc. The start point for product development is understanding these problems and needs.

What might these problems be for skiers and ski holidays?

The first one is that we all like to spend time with our family in a nice way and are looking for ways to do that.  Skiing is a great way to do this.  People also love to spend time with friends and an activity like skiing is a great way to do it.  But you will notice that skiing is not the only answer to these problems.    But ensuring ski holidays  address this need in the best way is one way to develop better ski holiday products and services.

The second problem is that it is often a bit grey and gloomy at home in the winter. Many of us are looking for ways to escape the gloom, get some sunshine, get out doors and cheer ourselves up in the winter. Again, skiing is great for this, but it is not the only way to do it. This is a powerful driver for ski weekends as well I think.

The third problem that skiing addresses, is that increasingly we are looking to push ourselves a bit harder, we are looking for a physical challenge. Again skiing is a great answer, but not the only one. Other adventurous sports or charity challenges can do this equally well.

So that covers three problems and needs that people have that ski trips can address. But what are the things that stop people going skiing, what puts people off. This will provide some insight into developing ideas for better products and services.

It was hard to find research on this, but I tracked down two studies. The first is a report from the Ski Industries Association in the US, this looked at reasons regular skiers did not go in any one year. The top reason reflects the fact that skiing is a social activity and they said they had no-one to go with. They also cited that other activities sometimes seem like a better option. A significant number thought they were just getting too old for it. This is that Baby Boomer generation who are opting out of skiing. The last point was a fear of getting injured because of the consequences in the aftermath and the following months.

The second report I found was published by the University of Edinburgh and looked at PE students and teaches and what put them off going skiing. They raised quite a few points but this slide starts with the cost of the holiday and importantly the cost of acquiring the clothes and associated equipment. The sport is difficult to learn and this a big psychological hurdle. Some complained that the slopes are getting too crowded these days.

So these are examples of insights that can support and help product development and can help in the creation of better products.

So please remember “no-one ever achieved significant growth in their business without attracting additional customers”.

Customers are looking for something that solves a problem …

Our job is to solve it for skiers and prospective skiers and we need to provide something that is better than the alternatives.

So in this talk, my aim was to provoke a debate about the need for a game changer in products and services for skiers. This is the key weapon to attract more customers into the sport, into the industry and into your business. I have talked about why the numbers of skiers are declining, I discussed the need to increase market penetration and not just get more customer loyalty. The best way to this is to develop better products not just rely on better marketing. The start point for better products is to understand what problems and needs customers have that skiing holidays can address. Our job is then to develop better ways to solve these customer problems.

You can find a copy of this presentation and talk on my blog on ATTRACTIVE THINKING at www.chrisradford.net.

If you are interested in doing some research into customer needs or turning your insights about customers into better products and better marketing, then please do get in touch
You can Sign up at : chrisradford.net, you can follow me on Twitter : @chrisradford10 and I always welcome connections on LinkedIN

Contact: Chris Radford chris@differentiate.co 020 8432 9772

Tesla is disrupting the power industry using better products not better marketing

Tesla Powerwall

This is possibly the best example of attractive thinking applied to product innovation that I have ever seen.  It has bigger potential than any project I have contributed to.  This will be “a product that customers love”.

Elon Musk (founder of Tesla cars) launched three new products yesterday.

  • The Powerwall – a home battery linked to solar panels
  • The Powerpack – an industrial battery for commercial and factories
  • The Gigafactory – manufactures the batteries, this is an open source replicable design

Watch this video, Elon Musk explains it better than I can. Look not just at what he says but how clearly and naturally he presents. (BTW I often don’t watch videos as I find they take up too much time to say very little, but this one is worth the time)

What did I learn about creating better product from watching this?

This is not a not a new battery, this is a challenge to the whole power industry. The market opportunity for these batteries is not the size of the battery market. It is the size of the power supply industry.

Power supply companies would never have come up with this idea. It is so far away from their frame of reference and looks like a threat to their established stream of profits.

  1. A great product solves a real problem that customers have. Reducing carbon emissions is one, but the potential to remove all the unpleasant infrastructure associated with power generation and distribution is another hugely attractive feature.  For each of us there an opportunity to save money and detach ourselves from the utility company’s ever increasing charges.
  2. The top attribute of a better product is “It just works”. He uses this phrase several times. It is clear there is a lot of technology under the hood. But it seems that all that technology is about making it easy for the user.  Working overtime on the “it just works” will help us create better products
  3. Design matters, it is a part of the “It just works” The Powerwall will be an attractive feature of the home, it goes on the wall, it takes up no space.  It also looks good, unlike any battery I have ever seen before.  Design is function here.  This picture shows it located next to the car.

Tesla Powerwall

What did I learn about giving a speech from watching this?

  1. Be yourself, Elon Musk stumbles a little, but none of that matters because he is talking about something he believes in, he looks at the audience and he smiles. He has clearly rehearsed every detail, so the presentation is consistent with the product “it just works”
  2. Simple language – he uses no jargon, he use short sentences and short words.
  3. Use Graphics and photos not words in your slides. The images each reinforce a simple point that is hard to solely express in words.

So how much marketing will this product need?

I suspect it will need just two things. The first is simple.  Just create publicity to make sure we know about it. The second is harder.  Create the distribution so we can buy it.

But what this will not need is clever persuasion, or special offers, or loyalty schemes, or other marketing tricks to try to sell products that are not exactly what people need or want.

This is a stunning example of why we need better products not better marketing

This is my new standard to aspire to for creating products people love to buy.

It’s pensions freedoms day. Time to disrupt the industry?

Pension Wise, pension freedoms

There has been much discussion in the press and the pensions industry about George Osborne’s new Pension Freedoms that come into force today on April 6th.

The debate fluctuates from how the freedoms could create a whole series of new mis-selling scandals to a broad welcome that people are being given more control over their own pension money, rather than being told by government what they should and should not do.

The pensions industry generally welcomes the move, but the discussion seems focus on what others (govt and customers?) can do rather than on how the industry can change in ways that would help customers. The debate revolves around what the public and the government might be doing wrong, rather than whether pensions companies can develop new products to provide what people need.

I believe these freedoms are very welcome, they provide a trigger for change, it is a real opportunity for the industry to create new products that will help customers and transform this business. Until the industry focuses on what it can do to help customers rather than talking about why customers should save more or governments can provide advice and regulation, the public will not be properly served. This post discusses and analyses the opportunity for the pensions industry to develop new products

First: what are the concerns about the new freedoms?

The expert commentary largely revolves around three serious concerns. These concerns add up to a serious worry that the public could be worse off.

  1. If people withdraw all their pension pots in one go in one year they are still subject to a 25% tax which will be a windfall for the treasury but at the expense of the public’s ability to create income for themselves in the future.
  2. There are not enough quality advisors available to help people decide what to do and be sure it is in their best interests. And for many the cost of advice is simply not affordable. the government is offering free advice, but this is very limited in scope and seems to be fraught with implementation problems.
  3. Annuities are still the best option for some people as they ensure they do not run out of money. But they have have been criticised for being poor value. They have a bad press and may be dismissed by people for the wrong reasons and people will end up worse off.

Clearly these are all risks. Problems will happen to some degree.  There are things the government and the industry can do to minimise and mitigate these risks. But do these problems add up to an argument that these pension freedoms are a mistake? I believe it is not a mistake, because the move to giving people pension freedom was the only way the government could break a system in which a restrictive tax regime had been exploited by pensions firms who offered products that delivered poor value. And importantly since the products on offer no longer provide an adequate income in retirement, something had to change.

Second: Pensions industry is too focused on itself and not on customers

The Pensions industry seems to operate with three observations about the general public

  1. First, people do not save enough for their retirement needs. This is largely motivated by a desire to have things now rather than be prudent and save. The implication is that people are being foolish.
  2. Second, that saving and investing for income are complex matters that can only be grasped by professionals, this is made harder to understand by taxation complications. In addition products are generally complex and difficult to understand.
  3. Third, everyone’s situation is different and we all need personalised advice.

Now some of this may be true in some cases. But are people really that irrational that they ignore their future needs?  Are people all so different that everyone needs bespoke expensive advice?  It is distinctly possible that the problem is the products are too complex and unattractive rather than customers’ foolishness.

Why is that pensions and investment products are so complex and impenetrable to the average person?  I think it starts with the purpose behind pensions products.  The products are designed to make money for the provider and pass on the risk to the customer.  Most pensions firm products that have a cost structure that guarantees income and profit to the pension firm and leaves the customer with all of the risk. This structure and risk share is very off-putting to customers.

Third: it is time to disrupt the industry

Pensions is one of the few industries that has not been disrupted by insurgent newcomers. It is dominated by established players. Many industries are being disrupted by people creating better products that help customers. e.g.

  • EasyJet offered an easier way to book airline tickets at a better cost
  • Google are transforming the advertising and media businesses by making it easier to access for smaller businesses.
  • Apple and Samsung have pretty much destroyed other mobile phone makers with products that do what people want (and do much that people could never imagine they wanted)
  • Amazon are working their way through most retail industries with simpler easier lower cost customer service.
  • Airbnb are transforming hotels and travel.

There is an opportunity for someone in pensions to provide both accumulation and decumulation products that are designed to help customers first rather than be designed first to secure an income for the asset managers and product providers and only give secondary thought to how the product helps customers.  A few early thoughts are that a new better product would

  • Be easy to understand
  • Be managed online
  • Have fair and transparent charging (including risk share)
  • Be segmented to satisfy the majority of the population’s needs
  • Not need independent expensive financial advisers
  • Would be endorsed by the regulator

When someone does this (when not if!) the population will return to investing in pensions, ordinary people will be able to exploit the pension freedoms and be more more secure in their retirement. Whilst the current paradigm is maintained, then many will either avoid pensions, will make mistakes and will be poorer in retirement.

How to design such a product?

start by reading this article on AttractiveThinking

What Makes a City Attractive?

I borrowed this blog title from this video on How to Make an Attractive City?

This video presents an excellent example of “Attractive Thinking”. The producers have used one of the most important techniques in understanding what makes things attractive to people.  The video is all about using the insights to turn cities into places that people love to live in and to visit. The producers at The School of Life have identified the six characteristics that define cities where people love to hang out.

These six characteristics are what I would describe as the Power Drivers. By which I mean the most powerful attributes that characterise places that cause people to choose one city over another.  So what are these things

  1. Not too chaotic yet not too ordered. We like symmetry and order, but not too much. The best cities often have ordered buildings, squares and layouts. But not overwhelmingly mono in style. This is an ordered chaos. e.g. Paris, Rome, Bath, New York
  2. Has visible life. Whilst people claim to like privacy, we actually like to be around others and see other people enjoying themselves. We congregate in squares and streets where things happen. We do not visit sterile suburbs or anonymous business parks.
  3. Are compact. Cities are big but they have parts of cities you can get around easily by foot or public transport. These parts are not too big. They are broken up into squares and public places. People live in densely packed areas but have public parks and squares. The squares are just the right size whereby you could recognise and see someone across the other side
  4. Have orientation and mystery. Cities are big but they have places with lanes and streets where you can walk and get a bit lost and make discoveries. Alleyways feel homely and intimate. There is something to discover. We need wider boulevards to allow for mobility and fast access. But it is best when these are combined with warrens of streets
  5. Scale. Many cities make people feel small as the buildings and the transport roads dwarf them. Often the biggest buildings are devoted to large corporations and financial firms. These are not things people love. The most attractive cities have limited most buildings to 5 or 7 stories high and maintain regular sizes in any one street. When there is something bigger it is related to what matters to people, theatre, church, museums sports etc.
  6. Make it Local. Create individuality and use local materials not just another skyscraper of office tower that could be anywhere. Think of the stone in Edinburgh and Bath. The Portland stone of St Pauls, the style of Venice.

There is more in the video

The point I wanted to bring out, is that to make a product attractive to people, to make it into something people will love, you have to know the things that are most important to people. Some of that you can find out by talking to people. But some of it relies on your insight and imagination. More on discovering Power Drivers later….