Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Is it just me, or...

You know the difference between immaturity and maturity? It's in how you answer 'If you could be anything, what would you be?'

When you're younger, you've got a million fun answers to that question ... astronaut, geologist, rockstar. When you're older, you'd be happy to settle for 'debt-free'.

As I see it now, 'maturity' is about realising that that's not a bad answer. Contrary to what your younger you might think, you're not selling out ... just growing up.

In a way, that growing up is about discovering that although you cannot necessarily become *anything* you want to be, you CAN be and do a lot more than you'd ever be able to list (including things you're currently not even interested in).

In an environment where you can be anything, it's often easier to just  define yourself by what you don't want to be. The older you get, then, the bigger that bag of anti-definitions gets and an identity for 'you' emerges.

I like Coca Cola because I don't like all the other drinks. I watch Rules of Engagement because I don't like Idols. I don't eat peas because ... life's too short for that. Tomorrow, all of this may change: just give me a new softdrink, a new TV show and a potato.

For me, being 28 is also a really weird age: it's like I'm on a rollercoaster, just cruising slowly to a halt while approaching the crest of a steep section. You realise there's still a lot to life (this is going to speed up!), but you're pretty tired about it all and it ... just ... seems so long, and simultaneously way too short.

I mean, wasn't I meant to start saving back when I was 16 if I wanted to retire early? There goes that dream then.

For whatever reason we don't seem to be talking about these things, and I don't know why not. It's not like we don't all go through the same emotions, right?

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Tragic Comedy in Bucharest

This blog post - Exploring the disgusting bins of Bucharest’s historic centre - has to be one of the most simultaneously tragic and funny lenses on life in Romania that I have ever seen. This post is my way of encasing it in concrete (you'll get the reference after reading the post).

If you liked that, then this post from the same blog - Braving the Bucharest-Chisinau Sleeper - turns the dry humour up to 11. I nearly coughed up a lung at “Pipi nu este al meu!” Having also survived the sleeper from Bucharest to Cluj, I can definitely relate.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Why Customer-Centricity May Be Missing the Point

If you've been following this blog you'll have noticed that I've started studying Coursera's Introduction to Marketing course (I highly recommend that you sign up for it if you're interested in marketing). This has gotten me thinking a lot about marketing principles and business ethics, and I've been involved in some pretty heated debates on the Coursera course forums.

The most recent has involved the principle of customer centricity, as it was presented in the lectures by one of Wharton's professors, Peter Fader. TAKE-AWAY AT THIS POINT: it's going to be long post, but this speaks directly to what I see as the new corporate crisis evidenced in many aspects of presumed 'poor customer care'. If you're in marketing this will be of interest, and even if you're not it might be illuminating.

The one thing you need to understand beforehand is a rough definition (mine as I understand it) of customer centricity: 
Customer Centricity is a corporate philosophy (existing in opposition to 'product centricity') that uses detailed information about customers' buying habits and personal profiles to identify which customers have the highest Customer Lifetime Value (i.e. a measure of the total they would be likely to spend in the future with the company) and then tailors product-development and marketing activities directly at this 'high-risk, high-reward' segment of consumers (in order to retain them and attract more customers just like them), while still retaining enough of the other less-valuable customers for overall stability and as insurance if the gamble taken with the first group backfires in some way (e.g. if they change loyalty rapidly). It is argued that this approach allows companies to make smarter marketing choices by optimising their marketing spend and operational processes to extract the maximum value from the individuals who will ultimately be the most valuable to the company in the long run. 

On the face of it, it sounds like a very sensible practise, right? I however have a few cautions/objections to this, which I outlined in my forum post on the Coursera course forums this morning - copied in full below:

Ok guys, first-off a big thanks for turning this into such an engaging discussion. I realise that a lot of confusion has resulted from me trying to unpack an initial gut reaction on a logical level by responding to engagements here, but I think that the point I'm making is highly valid and I'd appreciate one last chance to present it in a more logical manner for you all. Below I'm not just going to take you through a series of Q&A, but rather a progression of realisations that depend on each other. 
Q1: Why do you say that you disagree with Professor Fader when you're not disagreeing with what he says?  
A1: In so far as Professor Fader is arguing for what I will go on to demonstrate is a sub-set of a broader whole, I am not disagreeing with his specific sub-set (which makes sense in and of itself) but rather some underlying philosophies and their ramifications on the customer experience. 
Q2: In what way is customer-centricity as outlined by Peter Fader a 'sub-set'? 
A2: I'd argue that true customer-centricity should be judged from all customers' perspectives. We're using 'customer-centricity' here to distinguish it from 'product-centricity', where companies are focusing on analysing their customers to increase their profitability, but while the central goal remains the companies' wealth and not the customer's well-being the tactic isn't so much 'customer-centric' as it is 'company-centric with insights from customers'. With this in mind, my take on customer-centricity is even MORE customer-centric in a true sense, because I'm concerned with all customers, while Peter Fader's customer centricity (*important proviso below) is a triage mechanism which focuses the maximum resources on attracting and retaining a small group of customers deemed to be valuable and gives them a better customer experience than the rest. 
Q3: Oh dear, so is this just semantics? What are those ramifications you spoke about in a real sense? 
A3: This is where it gets fun. You see, making the leap from VALUABLE customer-centricity (sub-set) to TOTAL customer-centricity (all customers) is as big a leap as the one from product centricity to customer centricity in the first place. Remember that the key point with this latter approach is that you often end up doing the very same sorts of things but with a different initial intention, so the outcomes are different? Small changes at the start - e.g. in 'initial motiviation' make a big difference later on. The defining ramification here is one of consumer trust. Can ALL consumers walk through your store's doors and trust that they will receive the best service from friendly salespeople who will advise them in their personal best interests, or is it rather a case of ALL customers walk through your doors and trust that they will receive the best service from friendly sales people IF they are categorised to be valuable customers, who will advise them in their best interests IF that advice still enables extracting the maximum profit from them later on? 
Q4: Ok, and why is corporate trust important? 
A4: We've already spoken over and over again about how consumers are getting more discerning and they need to be able to trust your brand and your company. If presented with two competing companies and the only distinguishing factor is that the one is trusted and the other isn't, consumers will always go with the one they trust. By implementing a corporate policy which only favours a limited sub-set of consumers based on what will be best for the company in the long-run, a company will at best be at risk of losing their customers' trust and at worst be vulnerable to being accused of hypocrisy (marketing messages tend to make all customers feel that they'll receive the VIP treatment when in reality only the valued sub-set do). 
Q5: So what is the alternative? 
A5: I'm not saying that 'traditional' customer-centricity is a completely bad thing, in so far as it entails actually getting to know your customer base more and figuring out how you can delight them with products which are matched to them. Where it gets to be a bad thing is where you filter out the customers you deem to be less profitable right at the start, tailoring everything only for the richest's needs.This affect is further exacerbated when you use data you gain on your customers (more than some would feel comfortable with you having in some cases) to sell to them at times when they are weak, despondent or less able to make rational decisions, solely in favour of making a sale. I'm going to call it as I see it, and that is manipulation. The real alternative here is a moderated approach: get customers buy-in to share their data with you to deliver services to them which surprise them pleasantly, and keep your focus on ALL customers equally in recognition that customers you'd skip over otherwise now may actually be great later on. Do this so that customers can genuinely trust you, not only confident that they'll attract your attention in a real manner when they exude wealth (whether physically through their clothes or intangibly through the data categories you have on them).
IMPORTANT PROVISO: Why single out Peter Fader?I have nothing against Peter Fader personally - I don't know him, apart from his words in these videos. The picture he has painted with those words in no uncertain terms paints him as an advocate of the limited form of customer-centricity, although in reality he may have all kinds of fuzzy 'be nice to all consumers' philosophies that he just hasn't shared here. I'm happy to allow for that, so when I talk about 'Peter Fader's customer-centricity' it is only as a label to distinguish it from what I'm proposing. 
CONCLUSION: Corporations have for too long run on faulty premises. We recognise on a personal level that the majority of the world is classed as poor, and therefore we are arguing (with no melodrama) against humanity when we want to pursue tactics which automatically benefit the richest people unfairly (i.e. we give them the best service before they even have to buy it from us). Another faulty premise is that permanent improvement is possible. Again we recognise individually that this is impossible, and time and again companies' management are placed under mind-bending pressure to try and deliver improving results in declining economies. Just like there will only be one winner in a race, not all companies can be winners. A final faulty premises is that the data doesn't lie. It does - too often we can see from profiles that search engines build of us based on what we search for (for example) that the picture a sub-set of our data paints about us is completely not who we are in reality, so anybody using that data to target us would make wrong decisions all day long. The bottom line is that if ALL companies switched to absolutely perfect customer centricity overnight, there would still be businesses closing down simply because there is constant competition for share-of-wallet/mind, and we'd just have shifted the goal-posts. Let's take a moment to pause sometimes and ask what will be genuinely sustainable and ethically sound, and what will earn us the unreservedly genuine trust of our staff, customers and suppliers.
Phew, that's it. I'd love to know your thoughts. Sometimes I get the feeling we're so busy trying to make the 'right' decision that we lose sight of our shared humanity and the kind of world we actually want to live in.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

This is South Africa

Usually tourism videos about any country are pretty cringe-worthy, but South African Tourism finally knocked one out of the park. Obviously there's a LOT more to the country than this, but it's a beautiful snapshot of one possible tourist experience (with a twist at the end).

Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Perfect Business Model

Nothing in life improves consistently, no matter how much effort you put into it. Businesses, however, are expected to unfailingly deliver improvement ... better products, more customers, and most of all MORE profit. No wonder there's a vast amount of tension: managers are tasked with 'managing' the impossible.

So this got me thinking, what WOULD the best business idea look like? Here are a few thoughts:

  • It would be a business you could start up with ZERO in the way of input required - no funds needed, no special infrastructure. Just a smooth transition from 'not here' to 'here'.
  • It would obviously require NO STAFF. Staff are a minefield all of their own, with legal issues and sick days and retrenchments and health and safety and wages. Better just leave them out the picture ... maybe do leave room for like-minded individuals to volunteer their own time completely at their own risk. Is that even legal?
  • It will be ultimately FLEXIBLE. Are you making pencils today? Tomorrow you should be able to be selling coffee, or the day after that mowing lawns or stitching up patients.
  • It will be FUN. Yes, this will be a business that you will personally want to get involved in, because you enjoy it and are personally invested in it. However, that is bearing in mind...
  • ... it will be completely OBLIGATION FREE. Don't feel like work? No problem, head to the beach!
  • It will make LOADS OF MONEY. Like exponentially. You'll need to open new bank accounts just to hold all the money.
  • There will be NO RISK. Without this point, the perfect job would seem to be a life of crime, wouldn't it? However, being a criminal is a risky job - there are those police to consider, the back-stabbing from your fellow criminals, and don't even get me started on how unflattering the colour black is.
And ... *end of the road* That's how my thought process always stops, as soon as I realise that you have to HAVE something that other people want. It's right on the label: products or services. People don't give you money for nothing, or do they? Of course, money isn't the only capital worth having ... and therein lies the secret. 

What is it? I'll let you know as soon as I've successfully launched the company and copyrighted it 100 different ways! 

Friday, 23 May 2014

#WhyImVotingUKIP, Not!

I'm not going to say that I personally brought down the UKIP - it appeared from what I've seen that they are more than capable of that themselves - but I will say that it's hugely gratifying to see this awesome story with some hilarious Twitter users lampooning UKIP with the #WhyImVotingUKIP hashtag.

Two awesome examples:

This is particularly awesome because back in August last year I'd written this open letter to Nigel Farage, giving him a piece of my mind, and as far back as January last year I'd already written this piece on the UKIP's scary 'Romgarians'. I'm not saying I personally made the Internet do something awesome now, but I'm definitely a long-standing part of it!

So then, why are you #NotVotingUKIPuntilTheyStartServingFrostedMilkshakesInHell?

PS: In other news, this is what my blog's web-counter was just sitting on. What were the odds I'd be online to see it happen?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Escaping Your Specific Closet

I've never been one to really care about peer pressure, but that's been mostly because I've never let anybody close enough to me to pressure me. I've never looked up to friends, so never felt desperate for their approval ... I understand it's not like this for everybody.

In school I was the quiet kid who fell in love with so many girls - never quite got around to telling them all - that I wasn't distracted by trivial things like friendship. Ok, I'm over-emphasising the point - I did have some great friends, but there were also plenty of times when I was 'between friends' and perfectly fine with that too.

So why that tragic bit of over-sharing? Just because it ties in with this video I'm about to share. We all go through some really confusing patches growing up, and it DOESN'T end in school ... it just keeps going. Why then do we frequently make it harder on ourselves than it really has to be, by trying to internalise some pain, or not having hard conversations we should be having?

Who better to share some amazing insights into hard conversations than this lesbian speaker at TEDx? Trust me, what she has to say will speak directly to you: Coming out of your closet: Ash Beckham at TEDxBoulder

Some key take-aways:

  • "Hard is not relative. Hard is hard."
  • "I think we all have closets. All the closet is, is a hard conversation."
  • "Sure, it would have been easy to point out where they fell short. It's a lot harder to meet them where they are and acknowledge they were trying. And what else can you ask someone to do, but try?"
  • "Apologize for what you've done, but never who you are."

Thanks for that Ash. Another reminder in this plastic world that it's ok to feel.