Category Archives: marketing

You can have this one for free…

Over my 12 or so years working in market research I have come across the odd brief that aims to understand key drivers of customer loyalty, or conversely how to halt customer churn.

Here’s my answer; and you can have this one for free…

Don’t piss your customers off…

Respect their time…

Create a culture that is about helping them with their issues, not make them worse

It’s not rocket science.

Here is my story…

This morning I received a text from Virgin Mobile Australia saying that I am coming close to my agreed credit limit. Weird. So I went on-line and discovered my account was at some ridiculously high amount. Checked my data charges and they were all good. So it must be something in my call charges. I have never reached my limit, so I wanted to find out what was going on. At this stage I am still open to the fact this could be my problem. I am on a new plan so I’m not sure how it’s all working out. Maybe I have made more calls than I normally have, although I am not sure I have.

So I call the customer service team. My experience with the Virgin Mobile customer service team in the past has been frankly terrible. Appalling. Hair-pulling-frustratingly crap. You get the picture. But there has always been light at the end of the tunnel via their very responsive and most-excellent social media team. The person (or people?) who handles their twitter account has helped me out on more than one occasion, or at least been a sympathetic ear to my issue.

But just once I’d like to call their “customer service” team and not be frustrated enough with their handling of my issue. To not be forecd into asking their social media guys for help. Just for once for them to listen to what I need, and be able to deliver it.

I’m not sure why I had any basic expectations with this call, as they’ve never been able to help me, but yes – I have a 20 minute plus phone call that instead of just answering my question (“is it actually me who has made all these calls or is something gone awry in the system”, “Am I on the wrong plan?”) I get to talk to two members of their team who have not been enabled in any way to help me.  In fact, they get me so angry and frustrated that if I could walk away from Virgin Mobile right now I would.

It’s all good and well to have a great social media team to monitor what is being said about your brand and help customers out if needed, but hey, here’s a radical idea – why not create a service culture that means that things don’t have to be “escalated”?

I am singling out Virgin Mobile Australia here as I am a customer – an unhappy one, and my experience is still a fresh and ugly wound . But I have these same experiences with a whole lot of other service businesses and I’m sure you do too.   Frustrating and annoying.

So I sit and wait for someone to call me and tell me why my bill is so high this month – who knows? Maybe it is my calls? Maybe it’s not. But the fact that no one can tell me until my bill is created in four days time seems a bit stupid. Especially as they send out a message telling me it’s high. If you don’t want me to ask why it’s so high or you can’t tell me, don’t send the flipping message! Is the message designed to hep alleviate what they call “bill shock”?  Trust me, I am already shocked but also now frustrated and really, really angry!

So yes – a simple story to help stop churn.

So service businesses of Australia. If you want to stop churn…Get your service culture right. Offer us a great product. Don’t piss us off. Be great to us instead. If all that fails, your sexy new marketing campaign won’t turn me around. In fact, whenever I see it it will just remind me how disappointed and cross with you I am.  There, I just saved you about $200,000 in research costs, and god knows how many squillions in a fluffy new ad campaign to try and make me feel good about you.

(Right now I am looking at a box from Zappos that says “powered by service”. I’d like a little bit of that culture right now. It’s a great line and from what I hear they deliver to that.)

No amount of free pies will make me happy right now Virgin...



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Guided Tour

Yesterday while walking back from Ruschutters, I passed through the Cross. I moved to Sydney in 1989 and the Cross played quite a prominent role in my early time here. For the first little while it was clubs. Site and Soho Bar and some others whose name I can’t remember. Later when I left my job to go back to school, I worked part time in McDonalds on Darlinghurst Road. Not one of my happier periods, but none-the-less, it paid the bills and I finished my HSC thanks to money from flipping burgers.

So, walking around there again, some twenty years (FARK) later, it was very weird. Some places bought back memories of mad capped nights and laughter. Others were less happy and reminded me of a time when I was actually feeling a bit lost. Shops had changed from dry cleaners to cafes, mixed businesses to florists, and some spaces had just disappeared altogether – the whole streetscape unrecognisable. For the most part the walk was about happy memories. Out enjoying a new city with old and new friends, dancing, drinking and loving life. It’s incredible how something small can jolt something out of you that you had forgotten. I wondered if any of the cool young people sitting in cafes would care for a guided tour of the place – what it was like twenty years ago and how it had changed.

There are some brands that have that “memory-jolt” effect on me. Fanta is one. I chose Fanta as a kid, not coke. I had the Fanta yo-yo. Another  is David Jones. I associate DJs with my great-grandmother, and being a teenager and having ice-chocolates there with friends after school. I used to work on the David Jones account before I had Fin and I always thought Nandie would be pleased about that. Sportsgirl is another that I have a lot of memories for.

Now, all of us have these brand memories, and like my little walking tour, they bring back good and bad memories. Brands with a lot of history sometimes don’t appear to be very interested in what’s happened in the past. Sometimes it’s because there aren’t the resources to revisit the past and document it. Other times there’s not an interest in the past, and it’s about reinventing a brand to suit the current “owners”. Sometimes there’s a gold mine sitting there in the archives waiting to be discovered.

This stuff sits around in corporate memory and it’s either carefully managed, or left neglected. Yet it sits in our brains as real memories and can be activated at any time. This stuff can be powerful. It’s pure emotion. It can be activated by a simple walk around the block, or it can be activated by the brand itself, reminding us of what we loved, when things were sometimes good and happy.

I wonder who the brands are that are doing a good job of this? There must be someone out there using social media to their advantage here – discovering and recording memories that their customers have of them. At the end of the powerhouse museum exhibition about the 80s, there was a little spot so you could record what had been “jolted” in you through the show. It was great to be able to say “Yes! I was at that dance party. I was there!” Do any brands have the same facility to record what you remember about them?

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Nothing good started from wanting to be big

OK, that’s not true, but hear me out.

I go to this shop in Newtown and I always leave annoyed because of the woman who runs it drives me nuts. No matter what I say to her – you know, the normal polite customer/shop-keeper chit-chat – she says something so contrary it’s sort of comedic. “Nice day outside ” will turn somehow to something about how shit Sydney Council is. An enquiry if she’s still stocking some little snacks Fin loved turned into a few corkers – such as…

  • Australia is in recession and Europe and the US are in Depression (I had nothing to say back about that one…)
  • The problem with Macro (a chain of organic stores that was sold to Woolworths) was they got too big…(my response was “Yes, so big that he was bought out by Woolworths and made a killing”)
  • etc etc

Anyway, the last thing she said that got me really thinking – annoyed, but thinking – was “Australia just doesn’t have the population.” We got to this point some how after a long fraught “chat” about the size of the organic market in Australia and why an importer has stopped bringing a range of baby snacks in from the UK. I had mentioned how great it was travelling and having organic baby food available pretty much at every supermarket you went to. Well, that set her off. “We just don’t have the population in Australia for that.” She went beyond organic baby food and pretty much slung the “not enough people” argument net over the reason for not launching anything interesting or cool.

A lot of people trot that line out. We just aren’t big enough. Australia just doesn’t have enough people. There isn’t enough people to make that idea work.

That got me thinking about a few things – and mainly about things I’d seen in New Zealand. I used to quite like going there for work as people seemed to be up to a lot of interesting stuff.  Not just the small and quirky brands that seem to pop up all over the place there, but the big mainstream ones as well. None of this interesting stuff seemed to be stopped short by “Well, I dunno, we’re a flipping small country – we better stop here.” Maybe because not having many people is a given. They are small. They move on. They launch cool stuff. I think I drink a Phoenix beverage a few times a week and thank a kiwi for launching here. Phoenix is popping up all over the place – and not just your “artsy inner-city” cafes. Why hasn’t anyone done anything that good here yet? Oh that’s right…we don’t have enough people. Not sure who is drinking Phoenix then.

Here there seems to be some sort of hope that one day there will be a whole lot of extra people to buy these things that people won’t make now because there isn’t enough of them. Working with a few companies over there I don’t think I heard the population argument pop up to shut a new idea down once. Why do I hear it so many times here then? Is it that our friends across the Tasman are a little braver or bolder than us?

I’m not saying that all Australian brands are victims of the “we are too small” curse. The first that pops into mind is Aesop. Another is Dumbo Feather. And there’s a raft of other folks who have no doubt reflected on our neat and small population and launched anyway.

I feel for some big companies that have such huge sales expectations placed on them for any new launch, that they need a “mass appeal” product. But these launches seem few and far between. I can’t think of anything that has come out recently that has set us all on fire – but I can think of a few small ones that have set some of us alight, and we’ve got behind them and become very loyal customers.  Holding out for the big launch looks a little like sitting on your hands holding out for a day when we double in size and then we can breathe out and launch all the cool ideas sitting around on desks, archived away in boxes, generated in work shops, filed away for “later”. Holding out for the “big launch” feels a little like waiting for Godot – absurdist and circular.

So why do we have this attitude and why does it feel New Zealand doesn’t? Or am I delusional and NZ has the size issue as much as we do? It just seems sometimes like “size” is an easy excuse to be a bit ordinary. And that my friends, is very sad.

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Embracing the grey

During the Bill Henson retrospective at the AGNSW some time ago, he and Edmond Capon had a “conversation” on stage one evening. The two things I remember from that night are…

  1. Edmond turning the conversation around and arond so that I felt like the session turned into a bit of an “all about Edmond” evening
  2. Bill Henson saying something so sensible and resonating that it stuck with me like glue. When asked why he felt his art was so successful, he spoke about how he was interested in the big themes (he said these were stuff like life, death, love, lust etc) and that he just wasn’t interested in art that referenced art – he found it dull and self-indulgent, and thought that his stuff resonated with people outside the “art world” because they could see their own passions in his work.

I am wildly paraphrasing here and probably if I looked at a transcript of that evening he likely never said anything like that. But at the time it stuck. I had been doing my own reflecting on the art world and what it meant to me. I have a degree in art history, yet have never worked in the arts. Yet when I got a bit of a glimpse inside that world, it seemed so self-serving and dismissive of what people outside that world are turned on by art-wise it made me more than a little annoyed. So I loved that a major artist was standing up for the “base” reactions of the everyman, and saying he could understand why an average punter would be so BORED by art that just stared up and into it’s own arse,  because he was bored too.

So why am I posting this you wonder – well, I’M NEARLY BACK AT WORK, and have been popping into the office and chatting with people there to see what I can get up to when I return NEXT WEEK. And this has begun to stir the old thought processes up a bit. The wheels are chugging slowly; there has been dust and cob webs blown away; the lightbulb is flickering like an annoying flouro tube, and before I knew it, I was walking along and thinking about stuff in the old way I used to. Well, to be honest, the thinking never stopped, but now the thinking needs to get a bit more focussed.

Get to the point, you are probably thinking. So I will.

This thought of Bill Henson came back to me today as I was walking home back from a meeting, and I made the connection with what I do. It’s taken me a few bloody years – but the way I see it is this. We have a terrible habit in market research to speak in absolutes. The time I have been on leave I cannot count the amount of ridiculous tweets from people saying that in the future the only qual we will be doing is on-line. Sort of like the whole quant versus qual debate that was raging when I first stared in research. Sort of like the group v depth debate that consumed us all in 2000. And don’t even get me started on the fuckwits that keep claiming the focus group is dead and we should all be about ethnography. You see, these debates all happen inside our industry. No one gives a flying fuck outside of it. We speak in absolutes; it’s black and white and never the two shall meet. Are you qual or quant? Are you “new research” or “old”. Are you with us or against us? The funny thing is the people that pay our bills don’t really care how we do it. They just need their questions answered, their problems solved – and if they are lucky, get their loins stirred by the way a lovely piece of research can get everyone in the room passionate about an idea, a customer, a company, a possibility.

I am not saying that the navel gazing the industry does though is a waste of time. It’s healthy to think about where we are heading; how technlogy is impacting on what we do (and our relevance) everyday; how some of the things that we do aren’t helping our clients in the long run. But what I do find a waste of time is the polemicists that demand you have to sit on one side of the fence. Maybe it’s because we are researchers and we are taught to give a tight story – that we can’t have any grey areas; that we need to remove the chaos. It certainly makes for a catchy soundbite when you broadcast to your twitter followers some pithy idea you have – but in the long run it just sounds vapid and lazy.

So what am I saying? (It’s clear at the moment that I have a lot of trouble with the tight story…)

  1. Our clients don’t care really about the “old research” v “new research” debate, or whether we feel the death of the focus group is nigh
  2. Our clients care about outcomes and the stories we come back with from the field (wherever that field may be)
  3. What gets them passionate about what we do is to do with the “big stuff” – painting them an evocative picture about what their customers really care about is the key to us doing a good job

What I am not saying is that methodology doesn’t count. I am DEFINITELY not saying that. Methodology is the bedrock as Katie Harris so righlty posts over at Zebra Bites. But chucking arrows out of your quiver beacuse it doesn’t suit your “crazy-bag-lady-man-screeching-on-a-corner-about-the-death-of-old-research” etc ideology seems a bit nuts.

So on my return to work I promise to embrace the old and the new, the digital and the analogue, the qual and the quant (and the other stuff we do) and play in the grey areas…as long as they are the right tools to help to unlock cracking insights.

And what happened with Insights since I’ve been away. It’s like a dirty word in some circles…I dunno – you go away and have a baby…

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I believe the children are our future…

An interesting tweet from Tom Ewing (@tomewing) has been rolling about in my mind.

It has made me think about a few experiences  have had with “young people” over the past ten years of working in the same firm. I started there in my late 20s, but now I am clearly the old guard; pushing 40, senior role, blah blah blah. Here are some observations.

  1. I’m not sure if this is just the type of young researchers we have been hiring, but there is a desire by about 90% of them to have a 9 to 5 career. Good on them. Market research is a means to an end. A job they hold down to pay bills. The future of the industry for them is about as exciting as the future of the Wedgwood factory. This is not a “bag Gen Y” observation – for a start, I loathe the whole Gen Y labeling system, but rather that the majority of young researchers treat their job, well – as a job. The future of the industry they work in is of vague interest, but not a conversation they want to help shape. And it should be noted there are a bunch of researchers in their 30s and 40s who are like this too.
  2. A young-researcher-future-leader we did have who worked for us perhaps wasn’t supported as well as he should have been, as no one really knew what to do with his skills. He was digital when everyone else was analogue. He was turning left when the whole place was hardwired right. Everyone loved him and appreciated his passion and enthusiasm, but no one knew what to do with him. I’d like to think we would now (this was about 7 or 8 years ago), but back then the best thing was for him to head to a place that could harness his passions (and at the time that was outside the MR industry). I see on LinkedIn he is now “Head of Projects, Europe” for a new media company. He is still working outside of consumer research, but he is the type of guy who I’d love to have back in our organisation. (Simon – if by some random chance you are reading this – we fucked up. But looks like it worked out the best for you anyhow!)
  3. So back to the 10% or so who give a shit. Where is their platform to tell and talk to us about how they see things? Internally organisations tend to be quite poor at setting forums for researchers to “navel gaze” at where we are heading, and the noise about the industry tends to be generated by the same old voices those who need to be heard and seen to have a view via conferences, PR etc. The big risk is that bright and passionate people are needed everywhere. And I’ve seen a lot of these bright and passionate young researchers move in other directions as what they have is a valuable and desirable commodity – passion, curiosity, commitment, intelligence, and drive. Working with them is a pleasure, sometimes a pain in the arse (the little upstarts) but never dull. How do we get these “kids” more involved in shaping the future of research?
  4. The cynic in me though has always seen a lot of talk about the changes and challenges in the industry, but there is still nothing like just getting on with it.  Making it up as you go along, perfecting the theory by working on a real project, delivering good work by creating something that worked for your client and their problem. The real bright stars out there should be engaged as much in this sort of work as talking about where we are headed.

This post is a little foggy with no conclusion or answer, as I shift thoughts about in my “sickness head” but that little tweet has got me thinking…

(Tom Ewing has done a post about this as well which can be found here)

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And now for something nice…

Excited because this Thursday evening Mark Pollard is coming into our office and sharing with us a bit about twitter and what newbies can get out of it.  

Mark put up a post saying he wanted to do these sessions, and was looking for a venue.  We jumped at the chance of getting him in. We have a big group of our staff hanging around after work, and some of our clients are popping in, as well as other peeps who are interested in finding out a bit more.  I’m really excited about getting more people in our workplace on thinking more about how SM can be used in their day to day roles (beyond Facebook) and how it also impacts our clients biz.

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Feral Sandpit

There is a weird arse feral mood sweeping twitter today and all seems to stem from an event at the Hilton about twitter. Sure, there was media hype, and lots of claims that it was the first of it’s kind when it clearly wasn’t, but JESUS CHRIST, can the back biting and bitchiness get any nastier?

I was asked at the last minute to go along (Mark Communications – the organiser – is part of the same group as the company I work for) and was a bit surprised that I was on the panel table when I arrived – but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do – morning sickness or no morning sickness!

So, here is what I got out of the morning…

The majority of the crowd there had been on twitter for less than three months (some not using it at all just yet). There was lots of interest generally in how twitter is impacting the media and the gathering of news information. Interesting that a very new user to twitter (please someone help me – it was one of the trainers from Biggest Loser) was first concerned about security and how it all works (but thinks it’s a great way to connect with people who watch the show or read her books). This event WAS NOT for people who are part of the “twiteratti” or any of the people who lay claim to social media – yes, the whole lot of it – in Australia (ie: those who know all there is to know about SM  and certainly don’t like the idea of anyone else telling them about their experiences either). I also got to meet a few very nice people (some who I knew on line and got to meet face to face). Everyone is a winner! 

The panel (which I was on) was 100% ego-free and did not push any agenda.  We just answered questions for Tim Burrows of mumbrella, and any that came our way from the floor.  The audience I felt wasn’t all “agency” types as some of the doyennes of the SM scene said it would be (and to be honest – who gives a flying fuck if it was – twitter ain’t limited to a narrow group of people).

So now we get this from Andrew Ramadge on (SBS aplogies – actually ot this site), and lots of nice and “real funny” jokes on twitter. Check out twitter search on the event (#beachmeet) and you’ll see a bunch of aggravated, bitchy “leaders” of the social media scene in Australia being generally catty about the morning.   

Guys – the sandpit is big enough to all play in.  You are coming across like stupid spoilt little kids.


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