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Brand building options in a post-pandemic world

The world has changed forever.  Companies that were just getting used to a business environment where the internet had reduced once proud brands to the status of commodities, by price-comparison, ‘auto-switch’ and peer-review websites, now face a Global pandemic, financial crises and the potential terminal loss of customers.  To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “it was the worst of times, it really was the worst of times”.

Organisations that re-open their doors post-pandemic, may well have a very different worldview to the one they started the year with.  How it will pan out remains to be see, however, we can speculate…

My view is that Marketing will polarise between two extremes.  Before the internet, and certainly before Covid-19, there were essentially 4 marketing positions organisations could offer in the market.

The ‘Rip-Off’ brands were already in the process of being weeded out, peer-review sites and Social media were steadily eliminating them, but bargain brands had done well, as they seemed to offer good quality at a reasonable price.  With fewer, leaner, more price conservative customers emerging post-lockdown however, even these may struggle.  I see a world where the Primary driver will be a conservatism, a desire to avoid or eliminate risk.  In such a world, customers will go for either one (or perhaps a creative mixture of both) of two positions.

We have long known that in the customer’s mind, there is a clear link between price and quality.  The customer will allow an increase in price if, and only if, there is a corresponding increase in quality.

The interesting thing is that we know what price is (to two decimal places, e.g. $34.12), but what is Quality?

‘Quality’ is whatever the customer says it is, nothing more.  ‘Quality’ exists only between the ears of the customer.  Finding out what the customer thinks is important is the key to quality and therefore to success.

We can expect ‘cheap and cheerful’ to always find a place.  Companies can embrace the Proposition-flattening, commoditizing nature of the internet and offer a range of products that are unexceptional, generic and yet priced at a point that will gain significant traction in the market.  Such offerings will yield very low margins and so will require;

  • High volume sales
  • Efficient, cost effective and large distribution networks
  • Smart, cheap (but still effective) marketing
  • Extremely low cost-bases

It will not be much fun working for these companies, and it is not without risk (there is only one cost leader in any segment and the price wars as companies seek this position can be an economic blood-bath), but at the right ratio of price: quality, many companies will do well.

The other likely winning position is perhaps more sustainable, and that is High-End Brands.  Does anyone doubt that, when the Global lockdown ends and we return to something closer to normality, that Harrod’s and Selfridges in London will again be full of shoppers?  Will Rolls-Royce, Aston-Martin and Ferrari still sell cars?  Will Prada still sell expensive bags to ladies?  The answer, in each case is “Yes”.

Customers that emerge from the pandemic will want to do business with those they trust.  Trust and security will be the only things that matter post Covid-19.  If your product seems ‘OK’ and is really cheap, the trust is not as significant because the downside of failure is so minimal.  For everything else, for anything that requires a more substantial commitment from the customer, the need for trust is paramount.

The reason Big Brands are so successful is long debated in the business media but essentially it comes down to Trust.  People trust brands, they know what they are getting, and they trust the brand to deliver its benefits reliably.  The old maxim in IT used to be “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”.  Whilst that particular organisation may have lost its way in recent times, that level of trust is what customers will seek.

So organisations choosing not to go down the loss-leader/cost leader route, need to invest heavily in their branding and they need to engender trust.  Fortunately, this may not be all that difficult.

The phenomenon of ‘Behavioural Economics’ suggests that many, perhaps most purchase decisions are made emotionally, not rationally.  Our brains look for short cuts in the known and familiar and instinct and gut feel are far more important that most customers realise.  Even the most expensive of purchases often (usually?) have a heavy emotional component.  Think of your last house purchase.  Now perhaps you had a big spreadsheet and a long list of criteria, and perhaps you scored each property you considered and then bought the one that scored highest.  My bet is you viewed a certain property, fell in love with it, imagined yourself standing in the kitchen and then made an offer.

So, it will be with your customers post-pandemic.  They will be looking for partners, for brands, for someone to trust.  The re-emergence of awareness that the customer experience is important, along with the phenomenal power of Social Media can be powerful enablers.  Organisations that build their brands around the customer experience, that have intimate knowledge of the customer, his hopes, his dreams and his fears and which use customer-centric Branding strategies, fuelled by engaging Social Media can yet rule the Post-Pandemic world.

The choice is stark;

Be the cheapest

Be a trusted, customer-engaged High-Brand, or

Go home

Choose wisely.

Featured

Welcome

Welcome to Mills Consultancy.

My name is Fred Mills, I am the founder of Mills Consultancy.  I have a B.Sc(Hons) Degree in Microbiology and Biochemistry and a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degree.  I also hold the Diploma from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and have been elected as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (FCIM)

I have a wealth of experience in Pharmaceuticals,Medical Technology Assessments and a wide range of other industrial sectors

Additionally, I founded,set up and ran Appleby Brewery, a real ale brewery in Cumbria for four years, so have great experience to help others looking to start up a brewery or expand an existing one

We are a training and consultancy firm specialising In the following.

Consultancy

Setting up a micro-brewery

Sales

Marketing

Key Account Management

Health Economics

Training

Consultative Selling Skills

Marketing

Executive Coaching

Feel free to contact me at

fred(at)millsconsultancy(dot)com

Publications

The Sum of its Parts – How conglomerates and complex businesses can actually leverage value

Sum of its Parts Book Cover

This is my first book. It was written after a two-week Corporate Branding Session for a very large and complex client Business.

Too often, company mergers and take-overs (both friendly and hostile) disappoint. The synergies described in the takeover prospectii seldom emereg as the conjoined entity often gets subsumed into in-fighting, Civil Wars and endless politicking.

Drawing upon one of my favourite Management Mantras “The enemy is out there, not in here”, this book shows how even very complex businesses can align culture, processes and systems behind a single compelling vision to create real value from their merger, rather than wished-for but never-realised synergies.

Available in Kindle or Paperback format here.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sum-its-Parts-Conglomerates-Businesses-ebook/dp/B085XK3WSW/ref=sr_1_33?dchild=1&keywords=the+sum+of+its+parts&qid=1600445369&sr=8-33

Cx – Managing the Customer Experience

CxX – Excellence in Customer Experience Management

Creating Enduring Value with World-Class Customer Experiences.

Course Introduction

The rise of the Internet, of price-comparison websites, Peer-review websites and especially Social Media has transformed the business environment globally.  Traditional points of differentiation have been eroded by search, tap and click.  Social Media and peer-review have combined to drive the customer experience as the primary arbiter of strategic differentiation.  

In the Post-pandemic world, the Customer Experience has become more important than ever.  Customers are wary and cautious, they are more price sensitive than ever, in the face of a Worldwide recession, no one has money to waste, every penny spent will need to provide an excellent return and, increasingly, this means, excellent Customer Experiences.

To win under these new rules, organisations have no choice but to become truly customer focused.

The Customer Experience (Cx) is the last strategic Battleground.  Organisations that deliver excellent Customer Experiences will thrive in this new world.  Those that do not will see their businesses collapse as negative reviews go around the world in the click of a mouse.

This training programme focuses on what it takes to build the culture, the processes and the relationships that will lead to long-term growth and financial sustainability.

So many organisations say they ‘put the customer first’ but to do so requires a significant cultural and systems change for most organisations.  Cx is a must for survival, but it does not come easily.

Leaders are role models in planning, communication, coaching and employee recognition. Their efforts result in increased employee loyalty, greater innovation and improved customer experiences. This Excellence in Customer Experience Management training course covers customer service management responsibilities, from the most fundamental tasks of hiring, training, coaching and team building to quality assurance and leadership skills. This challenging and highly participative programme will focus on creating and managing effective teams, dealing with difficult customers, understanding behavioural styles and proven leadership strategies.

This seminar will highlight:

  • The True nature of Value, how it is created, how it migrates and how it is destroyed.
  • “Buy-Ology”, the psychology of Purchase and what happens inside the customer’s mind.
  • The Social, Post-Pandemic Brand, how to create compelling Brands that customers trust and refer to their friends and peers.
  • How to craft, communicate and deliver compelling Value propositions that truly resonate with customers.
  • How to utilize proven best practices for measuring and monitoring customer satisfaction
  • How to streamline customer interface operations for optimal service levels
  • How to successfully utilize interpersonal skills to supervise and motivate employees
  • How to empower, motivate and retain frontline personnel
  • How to use Social Media to engage with customers and have meaningful, profitable dialogues.

Course Objectives

At the end of this seminar, you will learn to:

  • Understand the true nature of value, how it is created and how it is destroyed
  • Know the mind of your customer, understand how to be compelling and persuasive
  • Create a Brand which occupies an important position in the mind of the customer
  • Create and Communicate compelling, irresistible Value Propositions
  • Understand the Moments of Truth in the customer relationship and how to manage them for optimal results

Training Methodology

This dynamic, 5-module Excellence in Customer Experience Management training seminar is highly interactive and encourages delegate participation through a combination of group discussion, role-play exercises, videos, case studies and breakout sessions. This training seminar will include benchmarking best practices to model world-class customer service excellence. The comprehensive training course manual has been designed to be practical, easy to use and facilitate learning. Delegates will walk away from this seminar with the skills, confidence and motivation they need to develop a world-class, customer-centric organisation.

Organisational Impact

As a result of this workshop, organisation will get;

  • A more productive and streamlined customer service operation
  • Focused and motivated customer service leadership
  • Increased customer retention and revenue growth
  • Reduced personnel turnover and increased teamwork
  • Improved intra / inter departmental communication
  • Increased communication abilities and interpersonal skills

Personal Impact

As a result of attending this workshop, delegates will find that they have;

  • Improved management performance by learning techniques to empower, motivate and retain customer service personnel
  • Enhanced leadership and communication skills required for career advancement
  • Increased confidence in their abilities to work professionally with difficult or upset customers
  • The insight to adjust their own temperament style to become more versatile, adaptable and highly successful
  • Up to date techniques and methods to help them provide world-class service
  • Improved time management skills and increased productivity
  • A thorough grounding in how to use Social Media to engage with clients and drive productive dialogue around the organisations products or services.

Who Should Attend?

This course is suitable to a wide range of professionals but will greatly benefit:

  • Department Managers
  • Marketing Managers
  • Sales Managers
  • Customer Service Managers
  • Team Supervisors
  • Frontline Customer Service Representatives (CSR)
  • Account Managers
  • Field Service Representatives

Seminar Outline (This is an online Training Course)

Session One

Creating lasting, compelling value

  • Why is the Customer Experience suddenly such a big deal?
  • What is Value?
  • How is Value Created?  How is it destroyed?

Session Two

Inside the Mind of the Customer

  • Behavioural Economics
    • We don’t think the way we think we think
  • Buy-Ology – what happens in the customer’s brain when he says “Yes” and how can we encourage this?
  • “Some of the people, all of the time” – Segmenting your markets in human terms (Customer personas)
  • Customer Personality Typing, what they like, how they like it and what they respond to
  • The Science of Persuasion

Session Three

The Customer Experience

  • Mapping the Customer’s Total Business Experience
  • Managing the Moments of Truth
  • How to add value not cost or complications

Session Four

Communicating the proposition

  • The ‘Emotional’ pitch
  • Creating Rapport
  • Questions and Listening Masterclass

Session Five

The World of Social, Customer Engagement and Reputation Management

  • Using Social Media to engage with customers
  • Finding an authentic Online ‘Voice’
  • Values, Mission, Vision and your Corporate Culture
  • Proposition Building B2B
  • Proposition Building B2C
  • Campaign Planning
  • Reputation Management
  • New trends in Social.

The Customer Experience – the first casualty in a crisis

Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash

Covid-19 has brought a great many things into sharp focus. One side-effect of the global lockdown has been that people around the world are re-evaluating their view on various things. Suddenly, the important people are not movie stars or ‘Insta influencers’, but rather, nurses, pharmacists, refuse collectors.

Part if this global re-think has been responses to much loved brands.

As the number of retailers open has diminished, leaving only a handful of outlets open a number of interesting psychological shifts have taken place.

Consumers are learning to live without the ‘must-have’ items that seemed so important, as recently as early March. That take-away coffee en route to the office, the fine restaurant for the anniversary dinner, the fast-food treat on a Friday evening, all have become unavailable and suddenly are distant memories.

One might think that those organisations left open would be doing very well, but the truth has often been that weaknesses and flaws in their customer experience delivery systems and processes have often been cruelly exposed by the shutdown. A combination of skeleton staff and anxious, stressed customers all trying to access inadequate customer service systems has combined to leave a customer base that is evaluating its (previously blind) loyalty to certain brands, after experiencing service failures and overwhelmed systems.

The feeling is that organisations which have noble mission and brand statements about the customer being ‘the heart of everything we do’ have been exposed as insincere. The knee-jerk to the crisis was cut costs, make job cuts or furlough staff (where available) and provide the bare minimum service. Very few ‘customer is King’ organisations are covering themselves in glory and so-called ‘Customer-centric’ Brands have had their bluff well-and-truly called as costs cutting and service withdrawal became the priority for many.

The customer will emerge from this crisis with trepidation and will be very risk-averse. Ordinarily Brands could cash in on this phenomenon because Trust is one of the major assets of a good brand, but the overwhelming of the customer support systems we are seeing in crucial areas (e.g. banking, online retailers, healthcare etc), has eroded trust in many cases, in it’s place is hatred or, at best, indifference.

Now the customer experience is more important than ever. Customers are feeling stressed and many have them have a lot of time to dwell on things they may otherwise have regarded as trivial, senses and sensibilities are raw, feelings are very close to the surface.

There is a feeling amongst many that ‘I have been loyal to you all these years, where are you now I need you?’. August reputations are in the firing line, customer support systems have been stress-tested to destruction and Brand equity is, in some cases, being eroded at almost visible levels.

Customers have long memories, very few brands are emerging well out of this crisis. It is time for brands to up their game.

Customers don’t think the way they think they think!

Yeah, you might want to read that title a few times.

There is always a strange paradox encountered by anyone who has to deal on a regular basis with customers, and that is that customers simply do not behave in a way which is logical, even reasonable often.

Why is this? We conduct careful Market Research and Customer Satisfaction surveys, respond to their findings, strive to improve our performance and, well, nothing!

The answer may lie in the new science of Behavioural Economics.

The simple fact is that we, none of us, actually think the way we like to imagine we do.

A wonderful book by Daniel Khaneman* outlined the idea that we have two systems of thinking, System 1 and System 2. The system we all imagine we use, using logic and reason, comparing alternatives and coming to sound, rational conclusions, is System 2. Our customer satisfaction surveys, Market Research studies and marketing messages naturally assume this is the preferred option and are geared very much to System 2 thinking (and consequently give System 2 results)

System 1 is rather more driven by emotion, intuition and gut-feel. Your brain (good as it is) is overwhelmed and bombarded with information all the time and, as a consequence, is constantly looking for short cuts. The actual processing of a thought requires significant resources of energy and oxygen and it is your brain’s job NOT to be ‘right’, but to be ‘right enough’ and efficient. Consequently, it predominantly utilises System 1 tactics in its daily life.

So the purchase decision, the re-purchase decision, loyalty to a supplier and compliance are all driven by emotional factors and the employment of System 1 thinking which requires tactics of chunking, deletion, rules of thumb and habit etc.

Consequently, customers will often tell a Market Researcher something they believe is the ‘right’ or ‘expected’ answer and then actually do the complete opposite (as a case study, consider how many General Elections throw up actual results that are quite different to the opinion pools published earlier in the campaign.

So, to provide a quality customer experience (surely the primary goal of any Enterprise in this social 24/7/365 ‘always-on’ world), we need to understand that the customer is not a rational robot, (also he is not an intentional liar), but rather an emotional, unpredictable creature whose behaviour and decision-making is based on short cuts, rules of thumb, the practice of habit and what I like to call ‘Commercial Inertia’.

The role of the new Marketing is to understand this and start designing compelling propositions (and customer feedback systems) that reflect this new reality. If you are a leading brand, your job is to compound the habits of your loyal customers, if you are a new entry, your job is to break those habits and install new ‘short cuts’ for customers.

We shall post more on that later.

  • Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman D, Pub Penguin; 01 edition (10 May 2012)

Did Sales Training get it all wrong?

I recall, in the dim and distant past, my Sales Trainer grilling myself and the other Sales Neophytes in the Wonders of ‘Needs’ versus ‘Wants’ and how selling on ‘Wants’ was foolish and guaranteed to end in ignominy, whereas selling on “Needs’ was surely the way to go.

I took me many years (you could say it has been a rather slow-burner), but I am starting to wonder if, in this age of, 24/7/365, price-comparison, peer-review, ‘likes’, ‘follows’ etc etc etc, we didn’t get it EXACTLY wrong! (At least when Marketing high-end or luxury brands).

Consider this. If you had to travel from your office in, say, London, to New York on Business, you would NEED a flight, but you might WANT a Business or First-Class seat.

In order to drive to my office from home, I NEED a car, however I WANT an Aston-Martin DB9.

The ‘compare and review’ properties of the internet have commoditised the ‘Needs’, the explosion of Social Media, Insta-influencers etc etc has led to an outburst of aspirational purchase desire or, to give it it’s old-fashioned name ‘Wants’.

As we start the third decade of the twenty-first Century, we have progressed significantly up Maslow’s Hierarchy and, for most of us, ‘Needs’ are either satisfied or at least within easy price-comparison reach.

What we were all seeing as we did our Christmas shopping recently was an obvious, and sometimes frantic, expression of people looking to fulfil a seemingly endless stream of ‘Wants’

Perhaps it is time to re-write the Sales Training manual. We may have gotten it wrong all those years ago.

Customer Experience, the last Strategic Battleground

In this 24/7/365 ‘Always On’ world in which organisations now have to operate, it has become harder than ever to compete in pretty well any market.

Traditional points of differentiation have been whittled away by a perfect storm of Price Comparison and Peer-Review websites (think what TripAdvisor has done to the service delivery of the hospitality market), Auto-Switch websites (for example comparethemarket’s “Auto Sergei’ service) and the behemoth that is Social Media.

As a consequence even Brands which have been household names for years are becoming commoditised by the onslaught of Review, Price Comparison and Switch.

The effect of Social Media are perhaps the most powerful and ubiquitous of them all. Paradoxically, Social Media offers not only a solution to this Brand Erosion but the chance the rescue and redeem a Brand.

Customer Service and the Customer Experience, for so long the ‘poor man’ of the Marketing Mix is back. Not only is it back but it is now THE game.

The Customer is King, his experience determines his reality and the driving impact of Social Media makes the Customer Experience the ONLY strategy worth pursuing.

It used to be that if you gave a customer a good experience, he would tell an average of 7 people about you. These would be mostly close associates. Conversely, if you gave a customer a bad experience, he would tell an average of 22 people. Bad but nowhere near as catastrophic as what would happen today.

Interestingly, in. the old model, people tended not to really heed the advice or opinion of strangers. That has changed and how. Readers will be familiar of the following scenario:

You are looking to book a hotel for your holiday. So you visit a peer-review site such as Tripadvisor.com. You find a hotel that seems to suit your needs, it has 100 reviews, 98 give it 5/5, 2 give it 1/5.

Which reviews do you read?

Do you book this hotel?

This is the power of the customer experience.

In order to deliver a truly world-class Customer Experience, organisations need to re-align with their cultures and their systems to deliver compelling value and great customer experiences. Value is a moveable feast, it can be created, it can be (easily) destroyed, and it migrates from one business model to another.

In order to deliver lasting value, organisations need to align their cultures, processes and systems so as to deliver consistently great customer experiences (‘Moments of Truth’).

There is much being written right now about Digital Transformation but very little about the fact that this transformation MUST be centred on the consistent delivery of friction-free customer interactions (Zero Moments of Truth). If we go to the trouble of aligning all our disparate processes and digital systems to suit corporate needs rather than Customer Experience Improvement needs, we will have blown our last great chance of competing in the modern world.

Money Matters Workshop

Money Matters

This is a highly interactive training workshop designed to give non-financial managers a solid grounding in the principles of finance and how it relates to them. It is based on a team-based board game which we have deigned from scratch where teams compete with each of other in a marketplace. Their success (or otherwise) is recorded and financial statements are prepared. As a consequence, delegates are able to easily see and draw a link between their actions and the financial statements.

This is a board game, there is no computer ‘Black Box’, every consequence of the decisions each team makes is mapped clearly on their boards and they transpose this directly to their financial statements.

Delegates learn in a fun (but competitive!) environment the direct effect of their actions on the financial statements and how they can make strategic decisions to alter their financial outcomes.

This is ideal for Managers and staff who need greater awareness of money and the organisation’s finances and how they work.

By the end of this workshop

Delegates will understand their organisations Financial statements and will realise their contribution to it. They will be able to read Balance sheets and Profit and Loss Accounts and will be able to make clear decisions on how they impact both.

Who would benefit from this training?

Managers and others who are not financial experts but who would benefit from a better understanding of corporate finance and how they can impact it.

Day 1
 Module 1 – Business Basics
Introduction & Welcome
Finance basics
Profit & Loss Accounts
Balance Sheets
Working Capital
Introduction to the simulation
Planning
Month 1
Month 2 
 
 Module 2 – Looking forward
Price setting
Fixed & Variable costs
Breakeven Analyses
The Market 1
Cash Flow Forecasting
Publish P&LMonth 3
Sales Forecast
MarketMonth 4
Sales Forecast
Market
Working Capital
Share Price 1 
 

Day 2

Module 3 – Strategies for value creation

Financial Ratios
Gearing
Acid Test
Return on Sales (ROS)
Return on Net Assets (RONA)
Gross Profit
EBITDA
Strategies for success,
Cost Leadership & Differentiation
Month 5 (Cost Leader or Differentiation?)
Sales Forecast &MarketMonth 6
Sales Forecast& Market
Month 7
Sales Forecast& Market
Month 8
Sales Forecast& Market 

Module 4 – How I create Value
How I affect RONA
Action Plans,
what will I do starting tomorrow?
Where do I make a difference?
Summary & Close