We cannot predict the future, so how to look forward?

I am going to this dinner and talk with the Real Time Club.

Everytime I go to one of their events, I come away with some great insights about the current business environment and what is changing, so we can plan for the future. For example In previous events I learned about

  • The Spinnaker project aiming to recreate the human brain with a giant computer
  • Google’s view that London is the number one location for technology startups after Silicon Valley,
  • The nature of artificial intelligence and how the world will be transformed by it
  • The deficiencies of IT education in schools in the UK and an alternative vision

Read more about the next event click here  and  click here

This event is about the nature of risk and how it is changing as a result of persistent market instability and the technology revolution. This makes predictions far less reliable (if they ever were) and requires us to look at underlying trends. It has massive implications for pensions planning, the culture of dependency and future employment patterns. This will affect decisions about your business or the kinds of jobs you might want to get.

Hear from Professor Ian Goldin, Director of the Oxford Martin School, who will provide a stimulating introduction to the major changes in society and technology that are likely to take place over coming decades, looking at the implications for businesses and individual choice, highlighting the hazards associated with prediction and the need to understand underlying trends and whether these trends will continue.

If you are interested, then there is only 1 day left to buy a ticket. I just bought mine


I will report back after the event

Is growth ever solely due to brilliant advertising?

Obviously not!  So why do marketers sometimes claim that it is?

 John Lewis Christmas Ad boost sales

This headline was in Marketing Week this week.  It has led me to a bit of a rant!

John Lewis Christmas Ad boost sales

Scene from John Lewis Christmas Ad

Contrast this headline with the headline in Retail Week whihc has a more operational focus.

John Lewis Christmas sales hit £734m as it plans to open 25 stores by 2023

The difference between the two headlines as they approach the same story is stark. Marketing Week make an assertion about the role of the advertising that is hard to prove or to be sure is correct.  Retail Week reports some facts and real news.

Marketing Week talk about the great results and imply they are down to the famous ad as well as mentioning the mobile communications campaign run by John Lewis and the role of online sales in driving outstanding sales performance.  The Marketing Week article makes no attempt to understand the relative contribution of the advertising to the growth.  It does not look at whether or how the advertising contributed to growth and how that fitted in with the rest of the business mix.

Whereas the Retail Week headline sticks to a few facts and goes on to discuss the different contributing factors that might have driven the growth as well as discussing the retail group’s expansion plans.  (John Lewis do believe the advertising had a role to play, but this is far from the whole story)

I fear this headline is symptomatic of common behaviours by marketers.  Making these claims can damage the reputation and credibility of marketing as an activity.  It certainly distracts marketers from their main task to help the organisation achieve profitable growth by meeting customer needs.

But the damage goes further as the headline implicitly dismisses the contribution of the work by thousands of John Lewis staff that has produced this growth.  It seems probable that all those customer service staff, the buyers who got it right, the long term effort to build the store groups reputation, the instore display building, the website builders, the delivery teams, the store managers, etc etc. each had something to do with the growth.

When marketing parades itself as the driver of growth rather than as a team player this does not help marketers or the business.  Marketers should act as facilitators that help the organisation deliver what customers want, as well as producing marketing communications that explain the offer to customers.

So what is the point of this rant?

This rant is another way to discuss the fundamental truth that high growth profitable businesses must have 4 characteristics in play.  They must

  1. offer something customers want in a way that is distinctive
  2. communicate the offer in a visible manner to all its target customers
  3. deliver the offer reliably every time
  4. and have basic economics that work

I suspect the the reason John lewis did much better than Debenhams and House of Fraser is because John Lewis were addressing all of these four points in a moe powerful manner.

  1. Customers believed their stores had more things that people wanted with better customer service at an attractive price.
  2. The cumulative effect of their marcomms over the years as led customers to expect this
  3. The experience instore confirmed that this would be true
  4. They have a business model that works

The more marketers discuss all the reasons for growth, not just their wonderful advertising, the more credible they will be with everyone else and the more influence they will have on the direction of the business.

EGL event announcement










The past 12 months at Differentiate we have been busy redeveloping our service and crystallising exactly how we help our clients. I think we are now have something that is even better and makes sense. The themes are around.

Turning insights into products and services customers love to buy
Building a plan everyone is confident will work

We will be sharing our insights on how to do this at this at a special event on 17th September 08.30 to 12.00 in Central London. There are more details here


This will be a highly interactive event (more like a Differentiate workshop). We have attracted some great speakers so you can expect more insight. We will share more about the event over the next few weeks.

What can you expect on the day?

  • Interviews with business leaders who have done this for their businesses. These discussions will be informal and offer the chance to ask questions and explore the issues. Some have even offered to share what did not work and why?
  • See case studies on what works showing the techniques deployed by EGL’s
  • Network with other business leaders, both informally and through structured sessions. (if you have experienced Differentiate workshops before, you will know that we like to keep things interactive)
  • Explore best practice methods, Over the past 2 years we have talked to a lot of people and used our insights to reinvent the Differentiate approach to strategy consultancy. We will discuss these as well as top tips from the speakers.

Tickets are £30, but we have a limited number of half price £15 slots during August. use the promotional code when registering on the eventbrite page


We will be sharing as much as we can on this over the next few weeks.

It would be great to see you on 17th September

MADE festival – The “Davos” for Entrepreneurs

I am going to this entrepreneurs and business growth event tomorrow.   Described as The Davos for Entrepreneurs, it makes a bold promise.  But there is a great line up of speakers.

Business growth event MADE festival

I am hopeful it will attract alot of real people who doing real stuff rather than just advisors and pundits.  It is always great to meet more business people who are working on practical ways to grow their business and come up with new ideas.

Also it does not cost £700 or £1200 like some of the talking shop conferences.  It costs £50. Continue reading

Why are your colleagues not convinced about your plan for growth?

Whilst your brands and products have been growing steadily you know this is not good enough to accomplish the business long term goals. So you are looking for new ideas to step up and accelerate your growth. As a result, you have spotted an opportunity for your brand or business to get more growth.

It becomes obvious to you that the business should pursue this opportunity. If you don’t, you know the business could get left behind. So you come up with a plan to capitalise on it.
You do your research and planning and may even hire some great agencies or others to help you. Together you come up with growth initiatives that will work. You have done your homework; you have great numbers to support the plan. But when you pitch it to the business, some colleagues are not convinced. They seem a little sceptical. Report any intimidating behavior in a professional setting to maintain a good workplace environment. Some seem enthusiastic but don’t really get behind it. Employees who have been unfairly terminated should consider hiring a wrongful termination lawyer to fight for their rights.

Then even after you have convinced the board, you find you struggle to get the product development or the operations or the sales teams fired up to deliver it.  Why does this happen, Continue reading

HBR discussing Internal Entrepreneurs

This article seems to be describing some  “Internal Entrepreneurs”.  and how they thrive


Whether it is from within a company or as a new start up game changing ideas are driven by Internal Entrepreneurs who start with clarity about something customers want (or need) but cannot easily obtain.  Then whether it works depends on the implementation skills.  An idea without implementation remains just that – an idea.This article is a fascinating insight into different ways that these skills have been deployed at different times.  My own experience is working with Internal Entrepreneurs who work in corporates to create growth.   Continue reading

Get beyond conventional theories of growth – Use more science

Science has revolutionised every discipline it has touched; now it is marketing’s turn.  All marketers need to move beyond psychobabble ….. or be hopelessly left behind”
Joseph Tripodi – the CMO, The Coca Cola Company
How often have you heard that “Existing, loyal, heavy users are more important than light users and brand switchers?”
It is common sense.  It makes sense that a heavy user accounts for more sales than a light user then they are more important buyers.  It is also said to be much more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing customer.  So to grow we should focus our efforts on getting the loyal customers to buy more or buy more often.  This group offer easier pickings for more growth.
The problem with this argument is that it is a theory built on anecdotal evidence and hypothesis.  But it is not based on any empirical evidence of how buyers behave and which types of buyers contribute the most to brand growth. 

This post brings some science to analyse this theory.  What science does is to use empirical evidence to discover patterns that repeat themselves.  This validates or contradicts the theory.  Then we understand what actually happens, not our own projection of how it works.  We can develop scientific laws.  It is surprising how little marketers refer to scientific analysis.  But maybe the tide is turning.
Andrew Ehrenberg pioneered bringing science into marketing.  He started this as long ago as the 1960’s using scientific research to explore patterns of buyer behaviour.  Read about Ehrenberg here.
One discovery he made is that bigger brands always have far more buyers than smaller brands.  Buyers are also a little bit less loyal to the smaller brands.  The difference in brand size is almost entirely explained by the different number of buyers. Bigger brands have higher penetration. Differences in levels of loyalty are small.  

There was further evidence of this truth revealed in an IPA report called “Marketing in the Era of Accountability”.  Les Binet and Peter Field used the IPA Effectiveness Awards dataBANK to identify the marketing practices and metrics that truly increase profitability create growth.  Campaigns that aimed to increase penetration were more than twice as likely to report very large improvements in sales and profitability

                                                Target to increase
                                     Pentration  %            Loyalty %
                         Gold               21                        2
                         Silver              20                        6
                         Bronze            18                       3
                         No Medal         41                      89
This has important implications for us as marketers.  Focus on loyalty and persuading existing customers to buy more is not the best way to grow a brand.  Customer behaviour and attitudes mean that ‘loyalty’ does not work as might be expected.   
This means there is the right and the wrong way to use customer loyalty schemes and other types of ‘relationship management’.  This means we need to assess all marketing programmes based on their ability to attract more buyers and increase market penetration.  To keep it simple.
Increasing penetration is the most important objective to get growth
But what about creating customer delight so that we keep our customers?  Surely this is important.  Well it is.  We also need to distinguish between buying customer loyalty with promotions and schemes and creating loyalty through customer delight.  Buying loyalty will not contribute much to increasing penetration.  Whereas creating customer delight, builds advocates who recommend our products.  A powerful way to increase penetration is to create word of mouth referrals.  So customer delight is a tool to build penetration and attract more buyers.
Despite the evidence, Ehrenberg was often ignored by marketers and sometimes dismissed or criticised for trying to bring the rigours of science into the creative world of marketing.   Fortunately for us all, his great work is now carried on by the Ehrenberg Bass Institute for Marketing Science.
If you want to see why understanding the science of customer behaviour is important.  Please watch this video of Byron Sharp explaining his view at a Tedx event.  (it is also good fun to watch)

For us at Differentiate, we want to bring more science into the art of marketing.  Bringing science into marketing is not about supressing creativity.  We know it is important to be creative and have great ideas.  But we believe these ideas will be so much more powerful if they are founded on how customers actually behave and the facts about how brands grow.  We have been using this evidence to design our processes so that we bring a more robust approach to create better strategy.   We find this is more convincing to the business team.  This helps us to help you create new products and services and messages that the whole business will support and get excited about.

We will develop this theme further.   For the moment we leave you with the thought that we should all
Bring more science into the art of marketing 

The search for the obvious – being both obvious and right

“It is the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say ‘It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’ But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?” 
― Isaac Asimov, I, Robot

Great insights can seem obvious to us when we hear them or discover them, but were often so hard to spot before we saw them.  On a number of occasions we have revealed to our clients the most important thing that customers want from their products.  This has been the result of substantial consumer research and management workshop activity and data analysis.  When we explain the conclusions,  the effort and expense in coming up with the finding can seem strange.   the insight just makes perfect sense to everyone, especially with the wisdom of hindsight. 
I once received this remark when making the statement that the most important thing about weed killers is that they kill the weeds.
“How much did we pay you to come up with that Chris!”
N.B. There was more to this insight, and this was not the differentiator, but that was really proprietary to the client, so not for sharing in a blog post.  However the differentiators were similarly simple and obvious with hindsight.
Another example is something that we discovered about estate agents.  It is easy to think that since the estate agent is paid a % of the house sale as commission, they are motivated to get the best price for their clients to maximise their income.  Seems obvious and true, but do the analysis, look at the real motivations and talk to estate agents and you discover this is not true.  In reality they are most concerned that the sale goes through so that they get some commission.  The bigger risk for them is the sale falling through and the longer it takes to complete the transaction the more likely the sale will fall through.  So actually they are focused on the speed of the transaction.  What this means if you have a service to help estate agents, then supporting transaction speed is critical. We found this out in a client study.   Freakonomics also reported on how this works for estate agent clients and used an empirical approach to get it right.  They explain in this video.  or you can read in this post

Many insights about what drives purchasing have an element of the blindingly obvious about them.  The best insights are easy to understand.  However they are often not so easy to spot if your vision is clouded by some existing conventional wisdom or common sense about the market.  In fact it often takes uncommon sense to discover them.
Once we have simple clear insights, we can use these to develop products that will work and the whole business will understand that they will work.  As we all know, insights and ideas seem hard to come by.  But discovering these insights is still easy compared to engaging the business to implement the resulting plan.
Simplicity and clarity are valuable tools to engage the business.

What distinguishes more effective marketing teams from less effective teams?

I was reminded of some important insights about the reputation of marketers and how to get the business to be customer led whilst attending a recent marketing society event.

The event was to launch a campaign to boost the reputation of the marketing function amongst the financial community in “The City”.  The society has asked Nicola Horlick to spearhead this campaign for free.

She is clearly enthused about the idea that marketing drives growth and is fundamental to profitable success.  It was fascinating to hear this from a successful fund manager.  What was particularly interesting though was to learn from 24 CMO’s and senior marketers at the event how they saw the current reputation of marketers and what could be done to improve it.

You can read a summary of this on the Marketing Society blog.
click here>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Please feel free to contact me to find out what was discussed.

Things do seem to have moved forward a bit. The CMO’s reported situations from quite a broad spectrum.  Some reported investors and financial directors having too much faith in marketing!  (When we did our research, we found patient tolerance of marketing was about the best that could be expected) .

Some CMO’s described a more balanced situation, where marketing is recognised as necessary but not always appreciated.  There also remain financial directors who struggle to see the justification for many marketing activities.   Where marketing is well regarded it often has broader responsibilities including influence over product development and profit accountability.  Where marketing is more marginalised, it can be confined to marketing communications.

But it seems our original insights remain true.

  1. Marketers are highly regarded for their ideas and creativity, but can lack strategic and commercial credibility.  Marketers can be seen as spending too much time talking with themselves and their agencies and not enough time learning from and convincing the business.
  2. Successful and influential marketers make a disproportionate effort to communicate with the whole of the business.  They do it more frequently.  They use business language not marketing speak.
  3. Many of the most highly regarded marketers are not marketing specialists, but business leaders and entrepreneurs with a full commercial approach. e.g. Stelios, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson,
  4. At the heart of these successful leaders is powerful customer insight, often not drawn from market research but by talking with people.
  5. Marketers must work at creating quantifiable measures to assess effectiveness.  These measures must be accepted by the business.

There was one thought that came up time and time again.
“Successful marketing teams talk with the wider business team more often than less successful marketing teams”
This is because these discussions develop marketers credibility and help them learn more about the customer and the business capabilities as a result.

We have more detail on our original research, the Marketing Society lessons and other published research   Contact us to get some reports

Complimentary workshop
We have a Marketing Influence programme to help your marketing team to understand this and adapt their behaviour.  Contact us to discuss a complimentary session with you and your team.

Better Strategy

This is now the title of our ezines.  We have also included this phrase in our logo because we believe it more accurately describes the best work we do for our clients.  This thought came about when I was reading a book by Richard Rumelt called Good Strategy/Bad Strategy – The difference and why it matters.  He really brought home some simple truths about strategy and helped us focus on why the search for competitive advantage is pivotal to creating successful strategy.  If you haven’t read it.  Just click on the image to go straight to Amazon and order the book or the Kindle version.

Reading this book reminded me that for us strategy is not about visions, goals and aspirations.  Some strategy work can get confused with the company mission and goal setting.  For us better strategy is about creating a plan of action (which is designed to achieve specific goals).  So we included the definition in the blue circle below as an image on our new website as a valuable reminder to us.
We have also updated our short paper to describe how you can discover your competitive advantage and develop A Plan of Action that is designed to achieve your goals.  This is called The Growth Game.  We use a metaphor of seeking competitive advantage in sport and show how this translates into business decision making on growth strategy.  If you have not had a chance to read it, you can download it by signing up here