2020. A year that changed us or a year that revealed our true selves?

It is New Year’s Eve as I write this and there is no party this evening, so I started reflecting on the year before I move on to plan for 2021. A few thoughts came to mind

Time to move on

2020 was the year I resolved to move on from my strong preference for Britain to remain in the EU. The 2019 election and Withdrawal Agreement really decided it. The recent Brexit trade deal concluded it. One of my big reasons for Remain was that the disruption was not worth an uncertain benefit and certainly not for a future that might be worse. But now we have done it. We must make it work. The EU will move on without us and probably in a direction we would find difficult. There are opportunities and the disruption of trying to reverse the process could destroy the country.

Never ever give up

Now might seem to run counter to what I just said about Remain. However, the inspiration for this comes from my work with Anna Maxwell and the new pharmaceutical company www.maxwellia.com. Anna and the team have had countless challenges thrown at them by potential investors, the potential for lack of funds, the regulator, potential competitors, yet Maxwellia has ended the year in a much stronger position and poised for a groundbreaking new product launch in women’s health. Most people would have given up. Not Anna. Congratulations. The investors and the team believe in Maxwellia because of this determination.

With reference to my points about Remain, I am not giving up, I am moving on to what is best for the time being.

Is there a new normal?

In many ways there clearly is a new normal, we are wearing masks, we have been conditioned to avoid close physical contact, we have had to get used to much less social contact (absolutely none on New Years Eve!). But has this changed us as people. Has it changed what drives us? Many say things will never be the same again. I am not so sure about that. What we have seen through the pandemic and Brexit that the products, services and ideas that flourish are those that solve a problem for people. This is Attractive Thinking and this is how it works. Read about it in my book click here

My own self catering business flourished once the restrictions were removed. People had been cooped up and they were desparate to get away from their four walls and go somewhere else. We had a product that solved that problem. Look around you at the businesses that are doing well. They have understood what their customers’ problem is and they found a new way to solve it. In our case, it was offering flexible cancellation policies that did it.

Speak out for what you think and believe

Not getting out as much has given time for some other things and I found the confidence to say things as I believe them to be. This is nerve-wracking since people may not agree with or may not like it. But I have been astonished at how many people do want to listen and do support things as well as disagree sometimes. I stuck my neck out at Kingston Rowing Club on safety matters. They retaliated and made me safety advisor. Which has been challenging fun and frustrating. But speaking out has made it easier for people to follow, to debate, to challenge, to comply and support the club. I also launched a new Podcast on risk management called Safety is Freedom. Safety is Freedom defines an attitude and an approach to risk management. The podcast explores the subject of risk management and decision making through the experiences of successful people in adventure sports, business, finance, medicine, healthcare, military, aviation etc. Safety and Freedom are mostly seen as opposites, but is that right? Find the podcast click here

Ironically I have not done much posting on this blog, but maybe I can change that for 2021

Now I am going back to the first thought. Time to Move on. 2021 beckons. I might hazard a few predictions in the next post.

Happy New Year

A rallying cry for marketers to get back to the basics of why people buy stuff

I will be speaking at Impact 2020. The Market Research Society annual conference together with David Penn and Danny Russell. #mrslive #mrx

Here is the headline for the session

Bonfire of the Vanities: Time to Consign Behavioural Economics to the Flames?

Does BE tell us anything about making brands more attractive, resilient and sustainable over time? Or is it just a ‘box of tricks’ for short-term kicks? Join David and Chris to explore its limits in research.

The programme is available here

I will be using some themes from my recent book Attractive Thinking and this blog introduces the subject and explains that Attractive Thinking is a rallying cry for marketers to get back to the basics of why people buy stuff. #mrslive #mrx #attractivethinking

Attractive Thinking is a rallying cry for marketers to get back to the basics of why people buy stuff. People only buy things when it solves a problem or a need that they have. People do not buy brands because they like them or because of a brilliant marketing campaign. They buy things because it will help them in some way, solve a problem and address a need. Usually, this is both emotional and functional.

The central premise underlying Attractive Thinking is that the purpose of a business is to solve a problem and address a need for their customers in a way that will make a profit for the business while providing them with great products. This is what enables a brand and business to thrive.

The evidence for this comes from the work of Ehrenberg, Sharp, Field and Binet (amongst others). Ehrenberg showed that it is market penetration that matters not customer loyalty, attracting more customers is what drives growth, not trying to hang to the ones we have through incentives. Sharp showed us that the marketers’ job is to get their brand noticed and remembered. Marketers must make their brands iconic, memorable and recognisable. Customers have a weak and transient relationship with most brands. they like the brand for as long as they need it and if they notice it and understand how it helps them. It is a bit like our relationship with our friends. the ones we see and spend time and are rewarding are the ones we like the most. Field and Binet showed us that the most effective way to spend marketing money is to split the investment between brand building (creating an emotional connection) and brand activation (stimulating people to buy). All these observations are related to each other.

When we understand this we know the marketers’ job is to create something that solves a problem for people, then make sure they know about it and make it recognisable and easy to buy

Behavioural Economics has a role to play in doing this more effectively in that it offers to tools to deliver some of the tasks mentioned above. But it is a tool to help with these tasks it is not a set of marketing tricks that can help us create growth from nowhere. If we can use it to get noticed, to be remembered, to help people understand what we offer, to reach more customers, then it can add value. But if we try to manipulate people to be loyal to buy things they don’t need, then we are spending money inefficiently.

The answer is to recognise the drivers of successful businesses. They all have the following things in place

  1. A value proposition for their customers that is relevant and distinctive
  2. The communicate this with sufficient power
  3. They make sure they deliver it every time and every day
  4. The business has basic economics that work

The method to achieve this is to keep coming back to five fundamental questions that drive brand strategy. If we have good answers to these then we will get growth. When we are struggling it because we are not addressing one or more of these questions properly.

  • Who are our customers and what is their problem?
  • How can we solve the problem and stand out?
  • How do we create a product or service that delivers this?
  • How do people find out about it and where do they buy it?
  • How do we engage our shareholders, colleagues and customers in these tasks?

Looking forward to a lively debate with the audience.

Marketers must learn how to talk about the brand to their colleagues

Pepsi, Coca Cola, marketers, marketing, drinks cans

Marketers have long argued that their voice should be heard in the boardroom and the CMO should be seated on the board to champion the cause of the customer throughout the business. This is the right thought. But then a senior Pepsi marketing executive goes on the stage at a swanky event in Cannes and says this about their customers

“They have this mindset of somebody who likes to live out loud – they’re more likely to clap at the end of a movie, cheer out loud at a sporting event,” he explains. “We’ve gotten very deep with understanding our consumer, which has been one of the big unlocks of really being consumer-first and consumer grounded in everything we do. “We want to really celebrate them and help them live their lives more unapologetically and feel these moments of unapologetic enjoyment with them.”
Source: The Drum 19th June 2019

This is precisely this kind of deep consumer nonsense that damages the credibility of marketers and it is why we are often not heard properly. The statement is at its best hard to understand and sounds totally detached from reality and especially when it is made at a fancy event in Cannes.

I used to work at Pepsi in the 1980’s and 1990’s we knew that the drivers of brand growth were easy to understand and hard to execute

  • Product and package innovation to make the product more relevant to peoples needs
  • Distribution and visibility at the point of sale to ensure people could buy it
  • Share of Voice in media to keep the brand in people’s minds
  • Brand icons that people would recognise
  • Sponsor pop stars to get attention and memorability
  • Run the Pepsi Challenge to position the product as a challenger and get trial
  • Instore pricing and promotion to get attention
  • Recognise that 70% of our customers also drank Coke and work out how to get their attention more often

If we talked about these things to the business team, everyone understood and agreed they were priorities. They sound business-like. The whole team worked their socks off to make it happen and market share almost doubled in 4 years as a result of their work.

Later in my career at our consultancy SYNESIS, we did research into how marketers could gain influence around the business. We found that the most effective marketers did three things.

  • Spent more time with the business understanding what the business can achieve, listening and selling their ideas and less time with their agencies
  • Spoke in a language that was clear businesslike and everyone could follow
  • Showed they understood the financial impact of their decisions and actions

It is frustrating to see these lessons are still not being understood in some of the world’s biggest companies. I have seen a lot of other debates that show lessons are being learned about how marketers need to act if they are to be taken more seriously. The Marketing Society does great work on this subject click here 

This is a subject that will be at the core of my book Attractive Thinking – The five questions that drive brand strategy and how to answer them. this is due out on 1st November click here

Attractive Thinking book cover by Chris Radford

Water Companies have very different prices by region

Updated with response from Wessex water CEO

This is a simple story about a monopoly that seems poorly regulated by the government. Regional water prices to domestic households vary by 70% between areas.

We discovered this because we own a self-catering holiday home in Swanage. We also own our home in Teddington and have been trying to work out why our water bills in Swanage are so high compared to Teddington. I have discovered that Wessex Water charges a 70% higher price than Thames Water.

It transpires that whilst Thames Water charge us £2.57 per m3, Wessex water charge £4.38 per m3. This is 70% more than we are charged in Teddington. We challenged Wessex Water about this and they said yes that is correct and there is nothing we can do about it. They are a monopoly and they can charge what they like.

They tried to deny that they were a monopoly when on the phone, but they confirmed that we have no choice and have to buy water from them. In my book that is a monopoly.

Wessex Water also operates a complex pricing charge with standing charge plus a rate. Thames Water just charge a rate.

I am wondering if you think this kind of discrepancy and charge is justified? It seems to me that Dorset residents are being heavily overcharged for water by a local monopoly that was established by government.

I have written to the press to alert residents of Purbeck to this situation, I have contacted the company, the local MP, Ofwat, and the Competition and Markets Authority.

Response from Wessex Water CEO Colin Skellett –

which is very thorough and very helpful. Interestingly, as customers we have always found Wessex to be very helpful.

Dear Mr Radford

Thank you for your email about the difference between charges for your properties in Wessex Water and Thames Water. You are right that the charges are significantly different, and I understand your concerns. The variations reflect differences in geography, the level of investment required, efficiency and service levels.

Let me start by assuring you that Wessex Water is efficient – it is consistently rated by our regulators as one of the most efficient water and sewerage companies. We also provide high standards of customer service and environmental performance. For example, it is now 40 years since Wessex Water had to replace any restrictions on customer use of water and we had no customers affected by the “beast from the east” storm earlier this year.

Our charges are higher because we serve a largely rural area for water supply. The more economic urban areas within the Wessex Water region are served by Bristol Water and Bournemouth Water companies. Thames Water has the benefit of serving a largely very dense, urban population.

On a per customer basis, compared to Thames Water, we have to operate and maintain more than double the length of water main, seven times the number of service reservoirs and water treatment works and five times the number of water pumping stations. Because of the density of population, Thames Water treatment works are on average nine times larger than ours, with resulting lower unit costs.

Quality regulations over the last 20 years are particularly focused on the improving standards at coastal treatment works and the environment at sites of particular ecological value. We have a large coastline and many sites of ecological value, which means that we have had to invest more per customer than Thames Water, which is more urban and has no coastline.

We continually seek to deliver services more efficiently and to keep bills to a minimum. We have recently submitted our business plan for 2020-2025 which, despite record levels of investment, will result in charges decreasing in real terms up to 2025.

I hope this explanation is helpful.

Yours sincerely
Colin Skellett
Group Chief Executive

My reaction and response

Dear Colin

Thank you for taking the time to explain and to do it with so much care and detail.

So my summary is that it costs more to distribute and supply water in rural areas and because we have regional water companies that cost is taken by each water company and therefore passed on to their customers. There is no national adjustment, people in rural areas pay more for their water. It is a political decision based on the way the industry is organised.

I will raise this with the MP’s concerned, but not as an accusation that Wessex Water is a rip-off. More that water is very expensive and the cost is unevenly distributed.

I can confirm we have always had good service from Wessex and that Thames is less good and less responsive when we have asked for help.

FYI suggestions about your service – not a complaint
Our only significant experience with Wessex was when we had a very large water bill (£995 in 6 months) and in response, you delayed seeking payment and you came out to test our meters and installation in general, to see if we were paying for someone else’s water. In the end, we concluded we had some problems with a water softener and toilet cisterns and maybe had suffered at the hands of some extravagant guests in our house. Our usage has halved since we corrected these issues.

Your engineer helped us as much as he was allowed to by your protocols. and we checked all the external fixtures and checked that the house had no leaks by testing the meter in different ways. He did a series of checks to make sure we were not paying for the neighbour’s water. Under pressure from me, he gave some suggestions as to where we might have had leaks in the house and what might do. But I ran up against the usual thing with suppliers whereby the supplier is reluctant to help beyond the limits of their legal responsibility.

So my suggestion is that when the engineer comes out, if there is any way they can be encouraged to advise on how to get problems fixed inside the house as well as outside, then that would complete the service. I realise that the installation in the house is a customers responsibility to pay for.

The other big difference would be to make it much easier to see how much water I am using. 6 months is a long time in which we can waste a lot of water and run up a large bill. If we had been alerted earlier then we would have acted earlier. Trying to read the meter in the street on a regular basis to check usage is unrealistic. Plus the numbers on the meter mean nothing to me, so even if I looked then I would have no idea what was happening.

If you could fix that then I think customers would really feel like you were trying to help. It might also conserve water. And if it really costs £900 a year to supply the water to my house then this is now a large bill that we need to pay attention to.


To attract customers – be available in all channels

Robert CrowderLast night I was having a discussion with Robert Crowder who is the chairman of SkiClub GB and owner of Crowders Nurseries and www.crowders.co.uk.  We were talking about retail and the role of e-commerce for garden centres in particular.  Robert reminded me of such a simple truth that to maximise growth opportunity it is essential for the product and service to be available in as many channels as possible. Especially channels that are growing like e-commerce.

Being in the right channels

This morning Robert sent me these quotes as follow up to our discussions.  This is from today’s trading update from the Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership:

Charlie Mayfield John Lewis“Although we expect to report profits up on last year, trading profit is under pressure. This reflects the greater changes taking place across the retail sector. We expect those to quicken, especially in the next 12 months as the effects of weaker Sterling feed through. We will now accelerate aspects of our strategy. This will involve a period of significant change, investment and innovation to ensure the Partnership’s success.”

Continue reading

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.

Disrupt, produce, fulfil – boosting productivity

From time to time I go looking for events where I might learn something new and get a different perspective.  I also try to combine going to these events with meeting a friend, so we can discuss the subject.  The LSE provides some great events and attracts interesting speakers.  I try to avoid famous politicians as they tend to only say what we have already heard.  I look out for people with expertise and something to say.  Especially if it is about something I know little about.

Timothy Massad Chairman of CFC

Timothy Massad with President Obama

Last night I went to hear Timothy Massad who has been on the front line of the U.S. effort to combat the financial crisis and reform the international financial regulatory system. He was appointed by President Obama as Chairman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and was formerly as Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability at the U.S. Treasury. However, President-elect Trump will replace him as is customary with a new president.

Continue reading

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.


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.

Finding purpose – what’s the point?

Iconic Shift Mike HarrisLast week I was fortunate to be at one of Mike Harris’ ICONIC SHIFT mentoring events. It was motivating to be with an inspiring bunch of entrepreneurs covering industries from healthcare, pensions, financial services, fashion, food and business services; especially when each entrepreneur is aiming to challenge the way things are done in their industry and turn their business into a game changer that that delights customers and disrupts an industry.

Mike shared with us his model of high performance leadership drawing on his experience of creating game changing businesses in current account banking with First Direct, fixed line phones at Mercury Telecoms, credit cards at Egg and internet security at Garlik.
Like all the best ideas, you get a lot from them the first time but then you get more on the second, third and fourth time of hearing them.

But the real reason for this blog is that during the event it finally dawned what really bugs me, and I want to do something about.

Setting goals and purpose

Business owners and business leaders want to maximise shareholder value. It is an explicit goal of all public and of many private businesses.  But the irony is if the leader makes this the primary goal they will be less successful at achieving it than if they start with a bigger purpose that helps customers in some way.  Why is this true?

Value Adders vs Value Extractors

Starting with a focus on creating shareholder value will lead you to what I call value extractor strategies. These strategies are effective at maximising the short term revenue extracted from customers.  They are tempting, it appears a much faster way to hit this yera’s profit targets.  But in the process you engage in a stressful relationship with customers.

Value Extractor Cowboy, Differentiate

The value extractor tends to view their customers in the same way this cowboy regards his cattle.  They are there to deliver a source of income and to be reined in with the lasoo.

So for example, customer acquisition is done with value incentives and offers which lead to contracts that trap customers into buying more than they need. Mobile phone companies and utilities are expert at this. Energy firms leave us stranded on inefficient tariffs, mobile phone operators use tariff complexity to confuse customers into buying services they don’t need.

In consumer product and food companies it is a lot easier to shave a bit of quality and bank a £m on the bottom line than to perusade the finance director that the product quality improvements will deliver more revenue by attracting customers.  So business leaders are tempted to shave product quality to save money in the short term.

There is another way that delivers better results than this.

Value adders continually improve the product and service and find ways to go beyond what customers want because they know this will attract more customers in the long term.  By going beyond what customers want and they stay ahead of their customers and competitors.

JigsawI always think value adders are more like this cartoon character fitting the last piece of the jigsaw to make things just right.  they are supplying something that solves a problem for their customers and design it to fit.

Leaders who deploy these strategies know that if they offer something attractive to customers that really helps them, then they will come back for more and even more importantly tell their friends about it.

Value adders also create businesses that are more fun to work in as well as delivering better value to customers. Value adders believe businesses must engage all the participants not just the shareholders. They must engage the customers, the employees, the management and the local community as well.  And we have seen many examples of this.

  • Hotel du Chocolat transformed chocolate retailing with superior product quality and design whilst Thornton’s value engineered themselves into an empty market space between their high street stores and value products in supermarkets.
  • Galaxy reshaped chocolate products in the Middle East by bringing superior quality and design to everyday supermarket products
  • The most over-used example is Apple who reinvented mobile communications whilst Nokia made lower cost mobile phones using the technology they already had.
  • Miracle Gro has entered new market categories through it’s determination to make products that make gardening easier for everyone.
  • P&G have taken the excess margins out of skin care whilst delivering superior products with Olay.

What distinguishes these firms was a purpose beyond shareholder value

These firms created a purpose beyond money and this created better shareholder value than the ones that start with maximising shareholder value as the goal.  This is still business not a community or some higher purpose or campaign.  It is simply about helping improve people’s lives in a small but practical way.

These businesses also end up as the most rewarding to work in, deliver great shareholder returns and always experience the most growth. They deploy VALUE ADDER strategies that help customers, improve the products, enhance the customer experience and as a result grow by attracting more customers.

I know this idea has been discussed in many places such as by Jim Collins in Good to Great.  Collins talks about this from the perspective of the CEO and the mission.  But my take on this is that the principle can be adopted for every brand development, every growth strategy and every business.  What frustrates me is how many people still don’t seem to “get it”.

So every time I experience a value extractor business whether as a consultant, manager, advisor or as a customer, a voice inside me pipes up and questions why do they do this?  Don’t they realise there is a better way?   I don’t like it when people are not doing the best thing for their business. It is bad for customers, bad for staff and bad for shareholders, bad for growth.

SO WHAT NEXT – I will be less frustrated and take action!

I realised this week, I need to stop moaning about this and stop getting frustrated. I should do something about it.

My whole consulting service is devoted to helping value adders. So I need to work with more of them to create more examples of how this strategy works.  I have seen that value adders want to turn their products and services into things people love to buy.  That is what we do at Differentiate, so we can help.

So I set my own 10 year goal to help 10-20 business leaders transform 20 products and services into something that helps to make customers lives a little better.  It is much more satisfying to make customers smile than to extract money from them.  And I need these examples to get the message out there that value extraction is not best strategy for anyone, certainly not for customers, but not for staff and shareholders as well.

Clarifying purpose

It is an immense relief to have clarified my purpose and know the reason to build Differentiate in the next 10 years. I plan to share the bumpy road of experiences through this blog, my Google+ and my email list.

If you like this journey and want to explore it with me, please subscribe for blog updates (top right) or stay on my email list or sign up for email updates on the Differentiate website.  You can also follow me on Google+ and Twitter.

If you are even more interested in this, I am creating a group who will meet every two months to shape and develop this path and ensure we succeed.  Call it a non exec role, an advisory board.   If you are interested, please do get in touch?  More on that later.

Where do I get great advice about branding?

There is much talk about branding. To me, some commentators seem to make it more complex than it needs to be or the discussion seems divorced from the realities of why customers actually buy things.

This post is to share my thoughts on creating great brands

Great brands offer products and services that customers want to buy, because great brands solve real problems that customers have. My approach to brand strategy is based on helping marketers first create things that customers want to buy and then market them to customers in a way that makes it easy for them to buy from you.

The more relevant and attractive your brand is to customers, the easier it will be to market it and attract more customers.


There are a number of seminal works that guide this approach and prove it is the most effective way to build a business and a brand.

Mike Harris – Iconic Brands (my business mentor) shows us how high performing businesses always have value propositions that are strong and sufficiently differentiated, communicated with sufficient power, completely and consistently delivered AND basic economics that work. The brand management task is to create that value proposition and build a plan the business is convinced will work.

Byron Sharp – How Brands Grow shows us that the biggest and most successful brands only get growth when they increase market penetration. Growth cannot arise by selling more stuff to the same number of customers (empirical fact). To grow you have to get more customers. This is because customers have repertoires of choices. The brand manager’s job is to put the brand in repertoire. Brand loyalty can be a misleading concept.

Peter Field and Les Benet in Marketing in the Era of Accountability and The Long and Short of It prove that building your reputation in the long term is more profitable than getting sales through short term promotion.

The Marketing Society UK – I worked with the society to create The Marketing Manifesto. This work demonstrates that delivering this is not just about creating the customer proposition and the marketing plan. It is about engaging the internal business in your mission and winning support for the plan from within the business. Without this the plan will fail. Successful marketing teams always focus on three different areas.

  1. Create and pursue a purpose – successful businesses have a purpose that goes beyond making more money. This purpose must include creating profitable sustainable growth. The brand is there to helps the organisation deliver this purpose.
  2. Championing customers – this means get your insight, shape the customer experience based on insight and find creative ways to engage customers and go beyond what they expect
  3. Mobilise the organisation – this means collaborate and communicate with colleagues, bring the voice of the customer into the boardroom and most importantly quantify and measure.

The 5 step EGL framework

A brand manager’s task is to build products and services customers want to buy and create a plan that the organisation is convinced will work (i.e. deliver profitable growth). There is a lot of theory talked about this but we bring it back to 5 questions.

PINPOINT – Who are your customers and what problem do they have that you can solve?
POSITION – How does your brand solve it better than others?
PERFECT – What is your story? How do you design a product to deliver this?
PROMOTE – How will customers find out about your brand and how do you make sure it is the right place so they can buy it when they need it?
PITCH – How do you convince customers, the board and the business this works for them?

EGL workshops introduce these ideas through case studies and then go on to provide a practical framework to apply them to your business. The workshop is a combination of lecture content, a 5 step framework and workshop session where teams create a plan for their team and their brands. This is grounded in evidence and what works as well ideas and imagination.