Big Data, Small Attention

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The challenges of collecting and managing vast amounts of data have been discussed in great detail and everyone is in agreement that it will happen. We don’t know how companies and their partners will do it, but they will do it. However, are we overlooking a key facet of using data for marketing and governance purposes that is quite literally staring us in the face?

Let’s take a scenario of big data in a Corporate looking after business customers, B2B for simplicity sake. Now let’s consider that we know the human side of the equation really well. We have the customers profile, associations, historical patterns, opinions, shoe size, favourite colour and an array of metadata that says “we know you better than you know yourself”. So, we get to work on the Human to Human communication and are prepared for the psychographic discussion that allows us to provide the ‘answer’. Social Media will play its role in getting the message to the DNA, sorry the Client, and we are in married bliss in a Client Relationship, ding-dong, ding-dong!

Big Data will also bring even more communicators and innovation will bring us more applications, so the use of human-to-human (H2H) data will proliferate. This is where we get to the challenge…how will the Human absorb volumes of data? Email, Tweets, IM’s, App bulletins and every other ping-type announcement that will flash before the user with more data and more links than ever before. Will we have to take the retrospective step to simple browser search queries for the Human to be able to cope?

My thoughts are that we need to focus on the day in the life of a Human, a modern Human, to assess how they meet their social and work needs using data and how we make it easy for them. If the Human solution is too difficult, we will not have advanced Big Data other than proving that we can collect, store and correlate massive points or data. If we succeed the step forward could be as dramatic as the use of steam in industry.

Getting the most out of your Workforce

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So, you are in a meeting room and you are doing some foundation brainstorming on how you are going to grow the business and create the scale of profits that you enjoyed 5 years ago. Simple objective, the whiteboard is wiped clean, you have probably picked up a Black, Blue or Purple marker and have taken a sigh and said the single inspirational word “Right?”

The interesting ‘brown paper’ exercise is a common approach for getting ideas, but as you start to call out the boxes and herring-bone to ideas, are there any early boxes that include the word ‘Employee’? or a similar workforce word? If you think as employees as an overhead rather than an opportunity then you may be missing a vital thought in your storming process. Yes, people are solutions rather than ideas, but putting this resource on the board early is important.

I have lived through many reduction processes, where resource has to be taken out of the business as it is no longer giving the level of contribution that the company wants, but try to look through this financial aspect of the workforce and ask yourself a question, “If our employees could find a solution to some of the problems we have, would you think of them as an Asset or a Cost?”  This is the reason why I always think that despite being competitive and getting to transformation cost improvement, you need to maximise the return from your people. Are your Talent in the right jobs? do your employees understand what you are trying to do? are you empowering them? are you using them in the ideation process?

Now, go back to the whiteboard, pick up the Red Pen and add a new box!

PS. If you need some help with this, drop me a line, in black, blue, purple, green or red!

Time to re-think your professional workforce strategy?

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Workforce strategies have changed with economic cycles for the last 3 decades and each time we have settled in to a ‘norm’ that lasts until the next iteration or trend. We have seen the movement to offshore, a balancing of contractor resources and the challenge of the full time employee, especially in Corporates and Government organisations where pension funding has reached critical concern levels.

In addition, the National Press has given a significant airing to the ‘Zero Hours’ contracts and the fact that they may be unfair to the employee. However, we need to take a high level view on recovery and the role of resources and the prudence of managers.

Resourcing strategies are very intimate things. They should be designed to your company needs, for the company that you are, in the market that you operate, with the risks that are inherent in your business model.

With professional skills, is it time to re-think your workforce strategy and business model?

I’ve lived through multiple cycles of down turn and prosperity and the panic of reducing cost at short notice is often a symptom of poor foresight somewhere else in the business. The panic of having to look for cost savings points immediately point to labour reductions as it’s a fixed cost on your books and the easiest (although sometimes the most expensive) and quickest to implement.

A savvy CEO wants to have a predictable business; forecasted growth, resources on demand and needs a focus on core skills that the company sees as part of its competitive advantage. Everything should be manageable.

The resultant HR Directors response is one of balancing the retention of talent, churning staff to keep the company fresh and hiring a fine balance between contracted labour and full time employees. However, are we reaching a position where business growth and decline could act so swiftly that our traditional resourcing models are unable to keep pace with the business? Can they afford to hire full-time professionals if they are not part of a core competency or they cannot gain a return on investment for a significant proportion of the year?

This is where you need to think to the role of the Consultant, who comes in to deliver expertise, not staff management (an important distinction), and for shorter periods of time, rather than fixed terms that you would see with Contractors, Sub-Contractors and Interim Managers.

It may be a subtle difference, but the maturity of the company and senior sponsorship is essential for such a change. Traditionally, Consultants are associated with senior managers and hired directly by them. The Consultants role doesn’t change, but to procure multiple short-term skills requires changes in practice lower down in the organisation.

‘Zero Hour’ contracts were mentioned above and you probably associate this (and accept it’s benefits) with lower level skills and competencies. The Consultant would in effect be zero hour, as they will be bought in for specific competence and professional insight. When they are not needed, they are released.

For some professionals this model is already accepted i.e. The Legal Profession, where you have an enquiry or an assignment and the professional charges you by the clock. The bigger you are, the more opportunity to hire full time to provide basic services. The difficulty is in affording 100% internal professional skills during times of austerity.

For small to medium sized companies in recovery mode, looking for growth and requiring professional skills, Consulting is a serious alternative to hiring, an injection of value add and ideal for short-term impact. For Corporate Mid Market and above, it will be a balance. Larger companies may still want the injection of skills, but after meeting a self-build threshold or in traditional consulting areas where skills do not exist in the company.

So to summarise, the value of maintaining a full complement of professional skills in your organisation is a risk to sustained recovery, which CEOs and HRDs may look to mitigate with consulting models. It is essential to understand your business model and to assess which skills are core to your business for 365 days of the year and those that you should bring in on demand.

The approach doesn’t take away the need to good forecasting as consultant availability will be subject to multi-client activity and agreeing timeslots/activities in advance makes for good management and outcomes.

Marketing Communications and the Future (a view)

For readers, the following thought has been drafted to help with a discussion on the Marketing Communications of the future

I tried to break this down into the simple components of the Marketing Communications function. Essentially the Message encode-decode bit and then overlaid what has been happening in the enabler world and the customer world.

To set a scene let’s go to a future +25 years out from now and I will give my personal predictions of things that may come through as scenario’s. Who knows what technology will be available and prevalent, but we might be able to picture the day-in-the-life of the Marketer and the Consumer, as well as everyone else involved in the loop.

25 years ago, which was only 1989, I was using a portable Apricot computer on a dial up modem, with a corporate email service and limited applications such as Wordperfect and Lotus 123 spreadsheets. I had a Mobile Phone, but the engagement with Clients was minimal at a technology level. It was very much a ‘print and post’. The process of communication was well known and used and target marketing understood, even though it was heavily dependent upon Inbound and Outbound telephone marketing, all sorts of mail shots and the usual Customer events. B2B and B2C Marketing Comms was developing at that stage to understand what the Customer wanted and evolving the alternative routes for them to create the relationship that we wanted. Above-the-line advertising was in its prime but mainly for B2C and seldom B2B unless you were a very big player.

Today, we have more targeting around the profile of the Customer, with the complexity of re-distributable material that can enhance your access to the base, but with an added challenge that you need to control messages which can be virally uncontrollable. So, the ‘today’ take out for me is that we haven’t yet learned how to master the tools that we have in use and the Consumer is getting more savvy than they were. We are data rich on both sides of the Seller-Buyer equation. However, in relative terms we are still information poor…but aspiring.

So, 25 years on, which will feel like 50 years of advancement, we have an opportunity and a challenge. I am comfortable with technology and especially the impact it will make on consumers, but I am also a pragmatist. I think that advances in the coordinated application of technology features will allow Marketers to open up new forms of communication with the ‘market’ than ever before. Marketers should be prepared for change.

Social Media has to settle into a pattern with the Consumer but the options available for interfacing with them will multiply, merge, then multiply again. Hopefully, with more Open platforms, using multiple tools will allow you to see the Consumer and Market dynamics, but the Consumer will be able to see the options too. Open platforms will also calm the big player-one method approach and inspire innovation and collaboration. Technology will create the Marketing Communications toolkit.

Here are some of the traits that I believe (just my thoughts!) you will see in the Consumer, Markets and Suppliers with which you will have to grapple.

  • Small Screen versus Big Screen versus Screen on demand (The latter being my bet for handling the new complex consumer). Mobility will still have its part, but don’t just think of Mobility being small device.
  • Pinpoint narrowcast profiling versus Viral broadcast
  • Knowledgeable Consumers
  • Immediacy of transactions and how the Profile wants to transact
  • Increased Collaboration to live your life and high levels of independence
  • Decentralisation of where people live and more reliance on Screen-based technologies.
  • Consumers creating their own marketing opportunities
  • Consumers as Advertisers of their own content
  • 3D printing conceptual information and holography
  • Consumers will want to ‘Find’ an answer on demand, not ‘Search’, but we should expect this to be automated
  • Consumers lives will be more chaotic, so will need convenience providers to help them trade ‘time’ for money or favours
  • Applications will be more Consumer-centric rather than Consumers being driven to SM alters. Consumer will want to have ‘My Life’ on a screen which will help them coordinate their lives.
  • Big Data will be transparent, but Big Information will be the focus for Consumers.
  • Be prepared to pay-per-view the Consumer directly to listen to your Marketing Communications as a shared model with the Tool provider. A new ecosystem will evolve.
  • Attention span will be less, but there will be a rapid Judge and Execution
  • Consumers own Video’s will be routes/channels for your Marketing Communications and tools will become available to make that happen
  • Consumer profiles will be Real-time, but only if they want you to see it (intense Privacy laws)
  • Consumers will use SaaS to build their life style tools.
  • Consumers will demand/expect very high Content quality and highly intuitive.

To sum up, as Marketing Principles go, it’s a Consumer or a Customer and you will have a Product and a Message. Your opportunities will increase to create and maintain a buying relationship, but be prepared to be part of the Customers life cycle, one by one.

Growth Strategy and Customer Service

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So, the Politicians, the Press and market commentary Pundits will tell us that 2014 could be the year for continued recovery and a much sought-after increase in company fortunes.

This is the year for Growth.

Developing the options for Growth is quite straightforward even if we have to go back to base marketing principles. Using Market Analysis models, options can be presented of where growth could come from and then your decision is one of inorganic or organic growth, with or without some form of partner. Talking with a group of SMEs recently and taking them through business planning principles, I positioned the old concept of the ‘leaky bucket’, which in a traditional business environment means that you fill up the bucket with new revenue but at the same time observe revenue leaks through customer attrition and price erosion. Murphy’s Law will dictate events.

Growth is good, but smart Growth is better.

What really concerns me is when you go through the effort to win business and then lose it through the performance in your deliver and service to them. But before we point the finger of blame, everyone in a company is accountable for Service Excellence; it is just that some parts of your organisation are more responsible for it than others. The rhetorical question I have behind this challenge is why are we more competitive to win business than maintaining it?

As a Consumer and Management Consultant I can’t help but notice that doing the basics in delivery promises and after-sales service appears to be slipping. Through the 90s and 00’s there were significant steps to develop the need for customer excellence. Phrases like ‘Right First Time, Every Time’ spawned a myriad of programmes to reshape the behaviours of employees and managers and redesign processes to eradicate failure. Then came a movement to right shore to lower costs economies customer things that could be completed on the phone or on a PC and at the same time supported by a move to ‘intuitive’ websites. By the time the 2008 financial meltdown came, companies were already transforming costs and designing their organisations to do more with less. But, at what cost?

The UK Customer Satisfaction Index, which monitors consumer feedback across multiple sectors in B2C markets tracked steady growth in Satisfaction up until 2012, then it plateaued. The average peak being 78.2% Satisfaction. To July 2013 most organisations had seen a 1 point drop in their rating over the year. Now, there is a high end to the result range and there is a low end, but if we are looking at a cross section of the ecomony, the potential for 22% dissatisfaction is quite harrowing. As Service is delivered by your organisation and is not impacted by your Competitors, it’s like taking a pick axe and making your own holes in the ‘Bucket’.

The key linkage on satisfaction is whether a Customer will retain its relationship with you for the longer term and will they advocate (recommend) to buy from you next time. We can draw equal analogies for B2B markets, but if you are in these segments you may want to look at your own Satisfaction and Leakage results to see what the extent of the challenge might be in comparison.

So, let’s have a look at the case for Growth again, where all the hard-found monies will be spent in stimulating markets. You get all your employees excited for the extra push, but forget to secure the revenue base in your existing model. Growth will usually come at a discount on profit contribution. Your existing base would usually be richer in contribution. Add one final cost multiplier to the equation. Popular view across Marketers across the internet would suggest that the cost of a new Customer acquisition is 6-7 times that of retaining an existing Customer.

Growth is critical for economic recover and history will prove that we are great at innovating and communicating. However, this time let’s take a look at the whole end-to-end business model, define the changes and drive the whole organisation in one direction to deliver to the expectation of your customer offers.

Have a nice day.

Auld lang syne…a chance to reset your direction

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This is the last Post of the year as I get ready to celebrate Christmas and the New Year.

I have always tried to take an extended holiday in December to get some quality time with the family and to allow myself time to reflect on the year and where I am heading. It is a special time of year where others in the business world also try to do the same. Even if you are working over the holiday period, you get the sense that it is a ‘different’ time in the year than any other (sounds corny, but please read on…)

For us in the Northern hemisphere, the shorter days and the absence of natural light is adequately compensated by bright lights and jingles. In the marketing world they call it ‘involuntary attention’. Whether you want to take in the ambiance or not, it gets to you. It is a time to think of others less fortunate, those who are distant from you and those who are no long able to celebrate with you. But what it is is a moment in time, where your body and mind knows that a closure on an event is about to happen. The 365 days click by one after the other until that last minute on 31 December… “HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!”

If it has been a bad year you think and hope for a better one, your healthy resolutions kick in and it really is a fresh start, albeit in the mind. But being in the mind is good, because this is your conscience for positive emotion and motivation

This time-out moment gives us an opportunity to call closure on something, to create, to invent and to start anew for the fresh year ahead. This is your moment and a time to be positive too.

The whole world has been trying to recover from one of the most impactful recessions in our short history. Politicians and Senior business people have been shaping and saving to keep companies afloat and now we are ready for a bit of welcomed growth. So my challenge to you, at years end, is think how you might do things differently in the New Year to help with Growth?

Whether you are leading a business as CEO or are lower down in one of the critical functional chains you have an opportunity to ‘think’ differently and ‘speak up’. Ideas are not reserved for people with certain job titles and even if you do not know the solution, you might be able to define a business-enabling question! I am a firm believer that it is not a few people that will draw us back to prosperity, it’s the combined strength of the masses that will deliver us innovation, excitement and growth.

So what should you do?

Just think through the process of how and why you are doing things today. It will be to a ‘plan’, whether it is a written plan or not, and you do what you do based on a set of ‘rules’ that guide you. This is your direction…it’s your reference for doing business. And you will continue to head on this course, unless you pause for thought and reset your purpose. The turn of the New Year is a great time to think and change because you are in the right frame of mind. It also coincides for many companies that they either have just closed their financial year or are in the 3 months running up to it.  A great time to think how your role, your product or a process could work differently to give a better outcome!

If you are already experiencing success and your company has a predictable and successful planned future, the reset of direction may be minimal, but the thinking process will reaffirm that you are on the right route.

So, keep this in mind as you start your new year and instead of just getting back into the ‘same old’ work pattern, challenge yourself and your company!

If you think that your colleagues or bosses would benefit by this article, please feel free to share it with them using the buttons below.

That just leaves it for me to wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

Regards

Dave Dugdale

Ready? Ready, Grow

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The basic Growth model…What you have + What you need = Growth

The question in the Boardroom may be…Where do we focus?

This is a simple approach to the growth question for larger SME’s and companies in the Corporate Mid Market (you probably have a turnover of £10M or more) but whatever you do is complex because you have an existing revenue base and you have a large organisation delivering it for you.

Your Executive Team have decided that it is time for ‘Growth’, but can you execute this level of performance through your existing strategy and plan to make it happen?

Dugdale Consulting can help you focus on the Big Picture.

But only if you are ready?

Click Here to make Contact

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