Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I was wrong, well not as wrong as Ferrari

I have to admit watching over this past few months the sluggish lead up to Singapore's F1, both from a marketing/sponsorship perspective and a logistics and engineering one, I kind of thought the Singapore F1 might run about as smooth as a Ferrari refueling stop.

However from my spectacularly well located seats on the first corner (thanks to Marketing's good friends at ESPN - see pic) I was delighted to be completely wrong about it in the end.

Apart from the sheer animal enjoyment of being that close to that much horsepower and breathtaking technology crammed into a tiny carbon fiber shell, I think for brand Singapore, along with chief sponsor Singtel and all those who threw their hats into the ring with various sponsorship deals and those who took up hosting options, it was a hugely successful event.

There was no other place to be over the weekend then jammed up against tens of thousands of others from the obsessed perennial fans, like the brave lad who painted his body in support of the US and its great hope, Scott Speed (yeah it's really his name), through to the excitable F1 virgins. But it took me to see some of the footage on the box last night on BBC to realise just how impressed the world was with Singapore's F1.

As for the branding, the Singtel stuff was everywhere and while many suspected it had under-leveraged the lead up to the event itself, the livery on the track beamed around the world was extremely important in establishing the telco as a brand name globally. How useful that is depends on how far over the horizon the telco thinks it wants to scale its business.

But the real winner was definitely Singapore. When you live there the continuous claims that it is a world class city with world class facilities and service become a little monotous (particularly if you have been exposed to the other side of that service imperative). But to see that illuminated track snake around some of Singapore's finest features,the organisational planning that had gone into the trackside event and the ease with which it was seemingly pulled off certainly gets you on board.

Yes there did seem to be an absence of long sighted F1 marketing strategy, but then the stands were full and while the sponsors and government did a reasonable job of trying to include everyday Singaporeans in this major event, the reality is F1 isn't a sport for the heartlanders its a high cost sport that demands of its sponsors large amounts of cash and so investments have to be maximised.

Like the Olympics (which incidentally, according to Mediacorp saw less viewers than the F1 among Singaporeans - 780,000 compared to 765,000 for the Beijing Olympics) its largely watched on TV by the people who live closest to it.

So offering cut priced seats and doing tactical ticket sales marketing isn't really practical, you need premium clients who want big hosting deals. That then, according to a number of folk I spoke to over the weekend is why marketing didn't seem tobe omnipresent in the lead up to F1 - a lot of it was B2B and relationship based.

The success of the F1 will do more to market Singapore as a destination for international leisure and business tourists than any of the TVCs produced under the Uniquely Singapore badge because what makes an international destination is a destination that can host the world and the F1 proved Singapore can.

Of course I can't write about the F1 without pointing out where the organisers dropped the ball, ie the beer tents - the lines were crazy (although not as crazy as those strange animal figurines in the beer tent - see pic - does anyone know what that was about?). In fact I was sitting near a bunch of Aussies who swore they would never come back because it was so hard to get a beer.

Thankfully the first few laps served to both drown out their moaning and distract them from what they were complaining about in the first place.

Thankfully my hosts had wisely sat four beers down in front of me before the race began.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The war for talent is over

I recently came upon the following quote in my readings: “The war for talent is over. It has been won by talent.” (You’ll have to forgive me for losing the great mind who made this statement, I can’t seem to retrieve the document in which I read it.)

Indeed, the war for talent has been won by talent. Throughout the world, more and more companies are facing ever-greater challenges of finding the right talent at the right time. The competition is fierce, the consequences terrifying, the salary-bidding accelerating.

In China, the case is even more so. At a recent seminar, I heard Starbucks China’s main man talk about his employees as the coffeemaker’s number one priority challenge. Not the difficult retail-landscape of China, not its complicated logistics, not the competition from local low-cost chains, not the protection of Starbucks’s intellectual property. Finding and keeping qualified employees, that was his number one preoccupation.

Let’s run through this short thought exercise: Imagine almost half of your total customer base constantly on the look-out for competitive products. Imagine your whole customer base needing to be completely renewed every year and a half. Now imagine the strategy and tactics needed to keep your customers loyal in such a heated market situation. The corresponding communications, promotional and loyalty plan budgets are simply mind-boggling.

Well, I invite you to sit back and take in a few of these astounding figures. Over 40% of all current workforce in China is actively looking for a new job. The average job duration for under 30’s in my stepmother city Shanghai is just 17 months. China needs up to 75.000 world-class quality executives within the next 5 to 10 years, with universities projected to supply only 3.000 to 5.000.

Talent in China is scarce and extremely volatile. Finding it is a challenge, keeping it an even bigger one.

But why am I writing about talent, and the challenge of finding and keeping it, in a marketing forum, of all places? Quite simply, because employees are your brand. They live and breath it, they convey it onto your customers at all imaginable (and unimaginable) touch points. And Starbucks’s number one knows this.

Going about attracting the right talent is less and less the mission of only the Human Resources department. The employee base is becoming a corporate, top-level issue, with cross-functional ways of thinking, inspired by an ever more so marketing talk. Getting the right employee candidates to meet with your recruiters is only possible after a thorough segmentation of the employment market: which types of profiles can you expect to find where, and in which concentrations? How do you interact with them, and attract their attention towards your company in the first place?

Once your recruiter talks with them, all interviewees, both the hired ones and the rejected ones, will return to the employment market and talk with their peers. What will they tell them about their experience at your company? And how will that affect your power of attraction?

Once you’ve conquered a candidate’s heart, and he becomes an employee, how do you keep him? Nurture your employees, like you do your customers. Employees don’t tick to only salaries, like consumers consider more than price when buying your product. Build up a relationship with your employee, like you do with your customers, getting to know him, what motivates him, what frustrates him, what will keep him going strong. And then tailor programs to fit these needs: trainings, career path coaching, team building.

Talent has won, so get it on your side.

Catherine Crevels works for the Belgian marketing consulting firm The House of Marketing out of its Shanghai office.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Emotions all around

All over town, it’s emotions emotions emotions.

At a seminar on branding in China that I recently attended, various speakers from the advertising industry defended and promoted the use of emotional bonding in all brand communications. The general message was to communicate with your consumers on a human level about subjects that are relevant to them- creativity, simplicity, power, status.

The audience was overwhelmed with proof of this statement: an impressive overview of best-in-class examples of integrated, holistic campaigns in which the deeper emotional benefits of a brand were central. Nokia connects people, in all possible interpretations of those words. Sony delivers colour, sound, memories, like no other. Nike uncovers the hidden athlete in all of us, encouraging everyone to just do it. Coke spreads happiness and vitality in a bottle through its vision on the Coke side of life. BMW goes beyond the functionalities of a high performance vehicle, and invites us to enjoy the pure pleasure of driving.

Having spent a significant part of my recent past in multinational consumer goods companies, I too remember the value I attached to the emotional positioning of our leading coffee brand: cosiness and human warmth. We expressed these values through any way possible, always reminding our consumers that they were paying more for our brand because it provided them more than a good-tasting drink and a boost to wake up in the morning.

Looking at the examples discussed during the seminar, one could state that indeed, the emotional branding and strong campaigns of these world-class brands are the basis of their success in China. And building on this statement, we can conclude that also in China, emotions are key, right?

For me, this is the real question that remains: is China ready for emotional branding? True, global, best in class brands are successful in China, and these same brands globally play out their emotional card. But does the same apply to smaller brands, or to domestic Chinese brands?

Talking to quite a few people in the industry, and simply walking around Shanghai, observing shoppers’ behaviour, I’ve learned that for many Chinese, quality, price, value and practicality are the main reasons for purchasing a product. True, any international brand name offers status to China’s new and upcoming consumers, but to go as far as to say that they prefer Nokia’s “connecting” qualities over Samsung’s advanced product features is a leap I wouldn’t dare to take.

Going one step back into the value chain, talking to companies building and fostering brands in China, I notice that they are not talking purely about emotions. It’s about channel strategy, building up a sound distribution system, with logistics that keep up speed, delivering a stable brand promise with the same quality throughout the country, tapping into the sales potential of an increasingly large potential consumer base.

When it’s all about growth in a rapidly developing market, the important thing is to be there, and keep up. Emotions are nice, and crucial to a brand’s essence, but it is only really necessary to communicate about them in mature, saturated markets, where consumers no longer decide with their wallets but with their hearts.

Catherine Crevels works for the Belgian marketing consulting firm The House of Marketing out of its Shanghai office.