SPICE UP your strategy !

Most of the time, when I read strategic plans, I’m struck by their triviality. I think : « another bunch of platitudes ».  No specificity. No creativity. No excitement. I don’t want to criticize my friends working in top consultancy firms, or others in megacorporations, but I must say that I rarely found anything vivid in their technocratic strategies.

Time of classical strategic analysis has passed. The world is too unpredictable and the notion of tradtional competition itself is obsolete. And when I see some of my students still pulling out the old 5 forces Porter model out of their bags, I ‘m just frozen !

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Strategic thinking should be supported by new paradigms. A number of entrepreneurs will even argue that you don’t need strategies. They’ll talk about agility and design thinking, creativity and innovation. But these are methods and attitudes. Strategy is about setting directions, making clear decisions and giving sense to action.  Being in a middle of chaos or lost in a jungle doesn’t change anything to that.

As a number of my colleagues, professors and analysts, have been addressing these issues recently, I’d like to point out another way to think of strategies. This comes out of my understanding of a number of cases I have been observing, analyzing and teaching.

Whatever method you used to generate your strategic scenarios, I recommend that you SPICE UP your final option.

SPICE UP is a model I developed a few years ago to understand how you can better position a brand or a corporate value proposition. S.P.I.C.E stands for Sexy, Personality, Intelligence, Community and Emotions. U.P. means Ultimate and Personalization. If you’re strong on all these points and if you can blend them into a distinctive concept, the chance is you can build a strong, great, distinctive story around it !

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Let’s take an example. Apple, the biggest capitalized company in the world, is a S.exy brand. People don’t buy apple products on reason, they just want them ! So much that they’re ready to pay an enormous premiumvs competitors. The brand has a strong P.ersonality, long associated with its founder Steve Jobs. Apple is a company promoting I.ntelligent solutions for intelligent people . They created an extremely strong C.ommunity of users and ambassadors. Apple plays constantly on E.motions. Finally, Apple means for its. fans « the U.ltimate choice ». And they engaged very soon in product design that would entail P.ersonalization.

So, it’s time to SPICE UP your strategy and create more value than ever ! 

Be inspired !

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FINTECH, the new playground for marketing professionals

My team and I put together the Fintech Marketing Hub inspiration days this last week (http://www.fintechmarketinghub.org) and I got inspired by a number of young Fintech entrepreneurs who are challenging the banking and financial services industry. The Solvay Fintech Marketing Hub is an innovative independent world-class lab specialised in the marketing of tech-based financial services. We launched it 2 years ago with the support of a major actor in the finance industry.

A number of you may not be aware of the huge development of this new branch of finance. Fintech becomes a sector competing with traditional services like banking. It’s made of startups allowing customers to access a service (payments, investments, crowdfunding, peer to peer lending…) with no intermediaries. Banks are worried. Some are not conscious of the danger of cannibalization. Some others now realized how fast they could be replaced by these new players and are moving towards collaboration with them. But it’s the same clash of culture as we saw a few years ago in other industries.

As marketer, I’m most interested by detecting and understanding the new challenges appearing in these businesses. One of the goals of the Fintech Marketing Hub is to help Fintech entrepreneurs to address these challenges in the most agile way, train them and also advise them so they can be more successful.

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Let me first restate what marketing means today.

For a long time marketing was restricted to a support function aimed at just generating more sales. Then, it evolved as a set of techniques aimed at delivering value to customers and generating satisfaction. This led to the emergence of customer-focused corporate cultures, solution-based products and services, customer care programs and the like. This is called demand-based marketing.

Now we entered a new era, a time when marketing is at the heart of the entrepreneurial process. Detecting opportunities, practicing creativity as the source of innovation, setting up new business models leading to market creation. We call it innovation-push and it’s the new game of marketing.

This new game means new rules but we don’t know yet what these new rules are. We must invent them day by day. Of course we have new buz words like « agile marketing », « content marketing » or « digitalization » but most entrepeneurs I meet ask me basic questions like « how can I recruit more customers ? », « how can I make my customers loyal ? », « how can I build trust in my brand ? », « how should I price my services ? », etc. This is reinforced by the fact that most Fintech managers are coming from the IT or the financial worlds and lack marketing knowledge.

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That’s why Fintechs are an ideal field to invent marketing of the future. Marketing of the past is easy to grasp ! Just google « marketing plan » and you will see dozens of templates, book references or articles that will inform you about what was (and still is) usually done. But it is of no use here !

We face new challenges like :

  • How do we make sure that our product meets a market ? And by the way , which market ?
  • Besides a product, what is the real « value proposition » ? And how should we price it ?
  • How do we differentiate our business vs competitors now and in the future ? Who are the real competitors ?
  • How do we set up a strategic marcom plan ? Target, content, tools, budget…
  • How do we recruit enough customers to reach breakeven as soon as possible ? What are the right customers to go after ?
  • How do we create and monitor customer delight ?

Success of business comes from a smart combination of strategy, marketing, money economics and supply chain architecture. The new Fintech sector now needs to address marketing issues in a professional way. Marketing people can find here new opportunities to show their talent !

Be inspired !

For those interested in knowing more about Fintech, here are some links :

http://fintechmarketinghub.org

https://fintechbelgium.be

https://www.lookandfin.com

https://edebex.com

https://www.easyvest.be/en

https://www.ewala.co

https://www.tricount.com/en/

http://www.ibanity.com

My seven rules for today great marketers

The world is changing. Consumers are changing. Marketing is changing.

However, when I observe some young marketers, I sometimes feel like I’m watching politicians. They enter the profession with a lot of ideals and after a few years it seems they forgot all of them. They are taken by the job. They are prisonners of their ambition. They forget about the ultimate goal of marketing – i.e. creating value and delivering satisfaction – in order to focus on short term sales and profit because they think they will be judged on that !

Besides the fact that it’s futile, this attitude is also pointless and useless in the context of today ‘s marketing. That’s why I want to offer here my seven rules to follow if you want to always be a great marketer.

1. Practice real marketing, not fake marketing
It’s just basic but very often forgotten. Real marketing is the process of generating a long term sustainable flow of revenue thanks to a mix of 3 ingredients : customer loyalty, strong reputation and constant innovation. If you focus on short term sales, you’re not a marketer, you’re a salesperson. If you focus on short term profit, you’re not a marketer, you’re a finance person. Explain that your boss !

2. Forget about models: real life is never as in the models
I’m used to see students and young professionals use models. They feel comfortable drawing matrices, tinkering a SWOT or swinging everything into a business model canvas ! Most of the time, it’s poorly done. It does not have the substrate necessary for understanding the key issues.
Forget about all that. Organize your ideas differently. Create your own model, your own canvas, your own plan. Make powerful analysis based on your own reality. And forget about the 4p’s, it’s just all stuff of the 1950’s !

3. Understand the world and immerse yourself constantly in the society
Great detectives like to smell the scene of the crime ! They don’t stay in their office. They’re in the field. Great marketers also. To address customers’needs and understand behaviors, you need to penetrate the society. Not only your own circle of millenials but also and foremost all layers of the population. Not only your own country or city but also other places in the world. Not only on some days or weekends but at all times. Every 4 or 5 years, take 3 to 6 months to travel around. Open your eyes and your ears and rediscover the world.

4. Be a citizen: responsible, respectful, militant
Marketing today is about being engaged. Brands should mean something else than quality, reliability and seduction. As a marketer you have a strong influence on society. You have the power of words, the power of action and sometimes the power of money. It’s a high responsibility. Use it wisely but use it. Don’t use demagogy to sell your stuff. Respect the customer, respect the product and respect yourself. When time will come to reflect on your life, be sure you’re proud of what you did as a professional.

5. Be sexy but not over-sexy: be genuine and authentic
Marketing is about seduction, right ? Seduction is the process of deliberately enticing a person, to engage in a relationship. But as Tom Martin wrote in Advertising Age                   « …seduction is hard. It requires time, patience, skill and a willingness to give before you get… »  In marketing as in real life, fake behavior may get you short term recognition but will eventually result in some kind of disaster. Consumers were often mistreated and have been too often deceived. They became suspicious. Authenticity is what will make you win the hearts of your clients !

6. Have an immense culture: read, listen, discuss
Complex, paradoxal, ambiguous. This is how our world is now. It makes it hard to understand, even when you rely on the best experts to help you. And most people became so ignorant today that those who are cultivated have a definite advantage when comes the time to perceive reality and find great solutions. Cultural intelligence has never been so crucial for leadership and success. Be distinctive. Spend time, much time, to build and maintain a solid CQ (Cultural Quotient). Read less business books and more essays. Attend conferences, discuss with philosophers and devour TEDx talks

7. Sleep with your customers 
When I started my career in marketing at Procter & Gamble, my boss took me in his office and urged me to take home a full load of P&G products. « You should use your products » he told me. « You should love your products. You should sleep with your products ». He was right. At that time, product marketing was the ultimate strategic posture. Today these times are gone. Marketing is about offering solutions to customers, bringing them the most value, oversatisfying them. To do so, you need to know your clients intimately. So, if he were here today, my ex-boss would say : «…know your customers, love your customers, sleep with your customers… » 

Marketing may be about technique but it’s about attitude and mind openness before all ! A marketing person should be madly curious, a fierce fan of new trends and intensely passionate. S(he)’s the one who will open the eyes of her (his) organization, stimulate everyone’s mind and fight for innovation and creativity of all.

Be aware of your responsibility and be inspired !

Why we should bring the customer back into the boardroom

It’s been more than 10 years since McGovern,Court,Quelch & Crawford wrote an article called Bringing Customers into the Boardroom https://hbr.org/2004/11/bringing-customers-into-the-boardroom. As a founder of the Fondation des Administrateurs, a Belgian association advocating the professionalization of Board of Directors, and as the holder of the marketing Chair at the University of Brussels, Solvay School of Economics and Management, I was doubly interested by the topic.

If we look at the situation today, i’m afraid that board discussions continue to focus more on investments, corporate control, company performance and the like… Strategic decisions are the prerogative of Board of Directors and yet, marketing is still believed by some board members to be some kind of operational function, guided by the outdated 4p’s model. For those directors, strategic marketing decisions (choosing markets to be in, positioning adequate value propositions, creating value through the portfolio of businesses,…) are away from their immediate worries. It’s pitiful and dangerous in a VUCA type of business environment.

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I advocate an equitable distribution of the subjects to be treated in Boards. Strategic marketing issues are as important as financial, social or nominations ones. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not talking about a Board discussing on a new corporate logo or giving intuitive advice on an advertising campaign ! I’ve seen so many of these meetings turning out to be a « discussion de café du commerce ».  I’m talking about (1) being informed on key market trends, (2) reviewing the company positions on strategic market segments, (3) understanding competitive dynamics, etc. The key is to avoid the so called Kodak syndrome and keep alert and agile on the strategic fields. http://oser-performer.com/2015/08/22/oser-performer-50-how-could-your-company-avoid-the-kodak-syndrome/

To be practical, I recommend here after a number of measures that a Board Chairman could take to bring the customer back into the boardroom. After all, marketing is all about delivering value to customers to generate so much satisfaction that they want to be oyal to you.

  1. Invite real customers at a board meeting at least once a year

As Hans Hickler put it in a 2015 excellent article in the Huftington Post,«  Adding customer discussions to the Board agenda is an important part of a broader customer engagement strategy with the board, including the regular review of customer survey results, engagement metrics, segmentation reviews. But nothing beats engaging directly with the customer ! » http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hans-hickler/invite-your-customer-into_b_6693278.html

  1. Create a strategic marketing committee

Besides the usual audit, strategy and nominations committees, etc. we should have one caring for the follow up of the marketing function. Linked with the strategy committee (I recommend 2 members attending both the strategy and the strategic marketing committees), it should watch and monitor closely marketing plans and KPI’s and, as importantly, signal changing market trends quickly enough to the board. Remember that  IBM took nearly two years to realize that Apple was more than some kids playing in a garage !

  1. Include marketing performance KPI’s in the Board dashboard

Financial reporting is about past and present. Marketing reporting is about the future. KPI’s like customer satisfaction index, customer churn rates (https://www.ngdata.com/what-is-customer-churn/) and other relevant metrics may be signals of future performance. But, more than that « boards need a thorough understanding of how their companies are meeting customers’ needs and how their marketing strategies support those efforts https://hbr.org/2004/11/bringing-customers-into-the-boardroom. Board members should be critical and demanding as to the why’s and how’s and challege non specific answers.

  1. Be sure to have marketing specialists on the board

Marketing is as technical as IT, supply chain or accounting. Yet a number of people, even professional managers, still believe it’s intuitive and within the reach of all. Actually, it’s not ! Especially today ! With the emergence of new analytical tools and new metrics, with the development of 360° multimedia marcom and with the advent of sophisticated marketing intelligence systems, marketing is now technically tough to understand. So boards should not be the hostage of a management team informing them about things they don’t understand with a new obscure jargon. Boards should have seats for marketing professionals.

  1. Have a regular evaluation of the marketing talents

Marketing today includes classical and progressive methods. The war for talents is real today and especially for marketing functions. The CMO role is way different from what it was 10 years ago. We need teams who ally analytical hard skills with softer creative skills. We need passion and ethics. We need a deep understanding of emerging trends and proactivity to take opportunity of them in the most agile way. It’s hard to find marketing executives who can manage teams like that ! Not only should we find them but we also need to keep them long enough so they can really influence the business.  Boards should consider this issue as being of the highest priority.

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Marketing and customer matters have been considered by Boards as secundary isues for too long. Today, in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous business environment, no company can consider the future with « sleepy confidence ».

Marketing is the engine of innovation. Its strategic role is to ensure the long term sustainabilty of revenues and corporate reputation. That’s why Boards need to get involved !

Be inspired !


 

10 reasons why business needs creative minds

I have been working a lot on creativity teaching over these last years. As the founder of the Advanced Master in Creativity and Marketing at Solvay Brussels School, I happened to exchange a lot of ideas with my colleagues and friends among which Mark Raison, on the the most famous creativity trainer in this world http://fr.slideshare.net/mark.raison. Here what I got out of all this and mainly the rasons why business more than ever needs creative minds.

Reason 1: All recent marketing hits (Apple, Nespresso, Tesla,….) come from superior creativity, whether it’s market creation or radically new ways to do business

Reason 2: Confronted with technology, new media, globalization and an incredible diversification of supply sources, consumers and business customers don’t want to be just satisified, they want to be excited

Reason 3: Lawyers, accountants, software engineers: that’s what Mom & Dad encouraged us to become. They were wrong. Gone is the age of “left-brain” dominance. The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: designers, inventors, teachers, storytellers...”, Daniel H Pink https://www.amazon.com/Whole-New-Mind-Right-Brainers-Future/dp/1594481717

Reason 4: You can be creative in math, science, music, dance, cuisine, teaching, running a family, or engineering. Any business today should be about generating original ideas that create value.

Reason 5: Nobody has a clue what the world’s going to look like in five or ten years, or even next year actually. If you can’t predict the future, invent it.

Reason 6: The challenges we currently face, from overpopulation to a shortage of natural resources, are without precedent. New problems call for new solutions. New opportunities call for new approaches.

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Reason 7: “There is little to no time allotted for real thinking, brainstorming or experimentation without judgment. With so much pressure to produce quick results in the current economic environment, it may seem like a luxury to walk away from the mountain of tasks to be accomplished but, actually, it should be at the top of the management agenda”, Sandi Edwards, senior vice president at AMA Enterprise https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandi-edwards-21192b5

Reason 8: Today, developing a competitive adavantage, the base for business success and survival, requires innovation and creativity at the strategic level, not only at operational level.

Reason 9: If we still leave businesses and economies in the hand of purely rational people, it will lead to more disasters.

Reason 10: After all, what is life without pep, fun and excitement ?

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Marketing ? Non, Zapketing !

Tout le monde zappe : les clients, les medias, les « marketers »

 Le marketing a été souvent considéré comme un art plutôt que comme une science. Pourtant, le marketing classique est avant tout analytique. Sur base d’une demande issue de besoins et d’envies plus ou moins « fabriquées » et, à tout le moins, entretenues, les entreprises créent, conçoivent et diffusent des produits ou services qui apportent une (vraie ?) valeur, rationnelle ou émotionnelle. En satisfaisant ces besoins, ces mêmes entreprises espèrent fidéliser leurs clients, gage de leur profit et, par là, de leur pérennité. Ces paradigmes ont soutenu les concepts de marketing pendant plus d’une génération mais tout cela, c’est du passé !

Aujourd’hui, tout le monde « zappe » ! Et d’abord, bien sûr, les clients mais aussi les medias qui sautent d’un thème à l’autre dans un climat de pensée unique et les « marketers » eux-mêmes qui passent sans cesse d’une entreprise à l’autre, d’un produit à l’autre, d’une campagne à l’autre…

Nous sommes tous des clients impatients, exigeants et sans pitié

Les constats que nous, universitaires, dressons lorsque nous écoutons les professionnels sont clairs. Les clients, consommateurs privés ou acheteurs professionnels n’ont plus de patience. Nous sommes dans l’univers du « tout, tout de suite ». Les demandes sont des « hyper-demandes » et les besoins émotionnels priment sur le rationnel. Nous sommes tous des clients et lorsque nous ne sommes pas satisfaits, pas de problème, nous n’avons qu’à changer de fournisseur, comme on change de chaîne, parfois juste pour voir, rien qu’une fois…et puis tout le temps, par réflexe…

Le web est là pour nous aider. Il fait maintenant le travail pour nous. Un vrai robot à comparer les offres, les prix, les formules ! Et pourtant, nous sommes saturés d’information… Donc, on ne va plus à fond, on jette un œil, on se fait une opinion, et surtout…on se base sur l’avis des autres (les proches, les amis, les collègues…). De toute façon, on a trop de tout : trop de produits, trop de pub, trop de marques, trop d’info…c’est too much !

Et le marketing dans tout cela ?

 Oublions le passé, c’est le marketing du futur qui nous intéresse ! Mon collègue allemand Christian Bluemelhuber, l’a souvent développé dans ses communications : “Kotler est mort” ! Le marketing de Kotler s’entend. Il a raison ! Nous sommes entrés dans l’ère du Zapketing. Il n’y a plus de marchés, il n’y a plus que des zappeurs. Donc, il faut tout changer !

D’abord les études de marché. Changeons les études : elles sont longues, coûteuses et restent abstraites. Le temps qu’elles soient réalisées, tout a déjà changé. Allons vers le « zapsearch » : une immersion dans le monde des clients, un bain d’humilité, un choc de culture ! Le développement des produits doit résulter d’un bouillonnement permanent d’innovation. Plus le temps de tester, il faut tenter, lancer, récupérer, risquer ! Et parlons au cœur plutôt qu’à la raison. Les marques et les offres doivent être SPICE : S-Sexy, P-pleines de Personnalité, I-Intelligentes, C-orientées Client, E-Emotionnelles. Ne parlons plus de pub, parlons confiance et réputation. Et soyons réalistes, aujourd’hui, les produits sont comme des personnes, on ne reste ensemble que si on y trouve du plaisir ou de l’intérêt !

La plupart des entreprises sont encore inconscientes de la profondeur des changements que nous vivons. Elles pratiquent des changements anecdotiques au lieu de songer à des méta-changements. Si elles ne s’adaptent pas radicalement aux nouveaux systèmes qui se mettent en place, c’est le darwinisme économique qui fera le boulot. Vous, professionnels, devez vous secouer avant que le marché s’en charge…  Le marché ? Vous avez dit “marché” ? Non, c’est vrai, le marché, ça n’existe plus !

Stop thinking that marketing means selling !

I am regularly upset when I hear a number of people talking about marketing as being, at best, a set of techniques aimed at selling as most stuff as possible or, at worst, as some kind of manipulative approach aimed at making as much money as possible. Each time, I need to explain  what a real marketing process is in this new century of creativity and innovation.

So, what should a real marketing process be ?

First of all, marketing is a process operated by businesses, organizations (among them many non profit associations) or even individuals in order to gain control over transactions and exchanges that are crucial for their current existence and their future.

Businesses as well as non-profit organizations can “last” only if they can achieve repeated “wealthy” transactions over the long term.

Wealthy” refers to their ultimate mission, i.e., creating economic value in a socially controlled environment or creating social value while balancing costs and revenue over the long term.

 “Repeated wealthy transactions” can only occur if the marketing process succeeds in generating  satisfaction for the parties (1) during the transaction between seller and buyer, (2) during the utilization of the product / service by the user and (3) in the course of the long term relationship between all parties involved. If, as a buyer/user of a product, I feel happy and satisfied, i will be more inclined to buy again or to recommend the seller to my friends, leading to repeat business. Simple, isn’t it ? Just old common sense !

This leads us to THREE VISIONS OF MARKETING

Transaction marketing

During that phase, the supplier will of course try to convince the potential client to buy (that’s selling) but, more important (s)he will do its best to let the customer leave with a strong feeling of satisfaction (I made a good deal !). This process may include some negotiation.

Usage marketing

The supplier job is not finished. Now is the time to rely on product and service quality to hold the promises. It’s also time to imagine and manage a specific «user experience» aiming at delivering satisfaction  in a context of  immediate consumption or longer term utilization.  Value perceived through usage should lead to customer loyalty and/or  to diffusion of supplier reputation.

Relationship marketing

Customers want more than just a product or a service. They want interaction. They demand respect, attention and care ! It’s key for the supplier to build and maintain trustful long term relationships with its customers/partners/users in order to prepare the next sales. Experiential marketing may help enrich the emotions but more important, real empathy and active listening are keys to success here.

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Marketing is not selling. Marketing is about delivering satisfaction to a group of selected customers so they want to deal again with you. Period !

In order to do so, marketers need the help of all company players: backstage people are supplying the products/services (supply chain), product developers think about continuous improvement and innovation, frontstage employees interact with customers, management is supporting the customer culture.

It’s so important to induce this spirit of “customer first” because today ‘s customers are hard to please, they are less loyal and they are ready to leave you for a detail.

So, it’s good to have a great brand, it’s good to have great communication, it’s good to have super salespeople but, most importantly, you need to deliver !

Be inspired !