Last month in an aeroplane on the tarmac of Adelaide airport as I reached for my carry on luggage a passenger enquired of me: “Is your forecast still on?”
It was Jock Henry of the Elders Real Estate network who had been exposed to my projection last year that the international economic boom would turn down at 10.35pm (Australian western standard time) Saturday, 23 August, 2008.
That will be the time of the concluding moments of the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games.I did remind Jock that I had entered a qualification that the timing may be 6 to 9 months out.
On balance the forecast was not unreasonable. January 21 this year was the date of “Black Monday”, when share markets around the world fell around 24%. Two days later, we became familiar with the name Jerome Karviel of Sociètiè Gènèrale and the loss of some $8 billion (Australian).
With inflation in China currently running at some 9% per annum for this calendar year and India enduring 11%, central governments and banks action will be required in both nations. The consequences for other nations will be far reaching.
Therefore, we can expect some further turbulent times during the ensuing 18 to 36 months. Black clouds are gathering on the horizon. However, there is a silver lining for those who take assertive action promptly. Reassessments are needed of marketing strategies, distribution networks, product and service ranges, personnel profiles and above all, the overriding business models that are presently being applied. In a significantly high percentage of instances those business models are inconsistent with the prevailing corporate philosophies.
During the course of this year we have undertaken a number of briefs to work with senior management teams and Boards of Directors to review and refine corporate cultures and missions, to enable them to better address the marketplace environment.
The outcomes have been rewarding and stabilising, encouragingly having fostered greater measures of loyalty and confidence among internal and external stakeholders.
I commend to all the need to act now.
Inertia has its own consequences, many of which are not desirable.
Some things never change.
A lot of businesses and executives get caught up with the challenges of change.
The current dynamic, competitive and volatile market place can be adrenalin pumping, elevating and, yes, in many ways rewarding.
New strategies are formulated, documented and implemented. Complementary, short-term and local tactics are being introduced with the attendant benefits of focusing the attention and actions of frontline staff members. Just to be part of the process is motivating.
New products, services and initiatives contribute to the sense of heightened energy. There is a new story to present, product knowledge to be learnt and competitive advantages to be exploited.
Typically, care is taken to ensure that all staff members are informed, enthusiastic and “on board” as the company “moves forward”. Staff meetings, business development workshops and launch events extend to the prevailing sentiment of importance and progress.
Suddenly, reality dawns. Unexpectedly, unwanted and disturbing statements from existing, prospective and past customers and clients register.
It becomes evident to all within the company that…
* “The one constant is not change, It is the customers’ perceptions.”
The train has left the station, but the customers remain on the platform.
Nothing has changed, for them.
Customer images, expectations, preferences and intended buying intentions are founded on past and often long-standing experiences, references and mindsets.
Clearly, they have been left behind, uninformed, uncommitted and ignorant of any perceived or real new advantages and benefits. Advertising, promotions and point-of-purchase merchandising will not be sufficient to “move the world” for many customers.
Such communication is typically dismissed as being irrelevant, unless and until the customers have been informed, involved and educated, usually over an extended period of time.
Strategic, long-term changes in image, market positioning, product ranges and services are seldom, if ever, time specific events. Therefore, the process of osmosis needs to evolve and with it, the consumers and market place at large require education, reassurance and redirection.
Single shot, product-driven advertising will not achieve the set objectives. It is probable that a single digit percentage of existing, prospective and past clients will consider the message timely or relevant. Thus, the communication will be ineffective.
An integrated schedule of ongoing communication through a number of media, including telephone calls, personal visits and mailed invitations to visit and make contact will foster and be a catalyst for target groups and individuals to initiate contact.
In short, presume nothing. That which indulges and embraces the attention, thoughts and actions of those within an entity may have little relevance or recognition among those who are external to the company, for instance.
Consideration may be required for a campaign which will “unlearn” customers, distancing and making redundant, past practices, relationships and expectations.
It is a sobering realisation that many lost sales opportunities are founded on the consumer statement :
* “But, I thought…”
Little did they know… period. Blame for such cases resides with the change agent and the changing entity.
With a changing world, some things remain the same.
Those who have attended class reunions after a lapse of 25 years will know the experience. Suddenly, one finds oneself surrounded by aging, lined and often rounded individuals in their 40’s. It is not what or who you remember.
Life and people have changed. The memories remain… constant.
The circumstances are mirrored in countless, if not all, business scenarios. Therein lies the causal factor for lost sales- a lack of contact, an ebbing of repeat business and loyalty.Relationships need to be nurtured if they are to grow and develop, underpinned by ongoing communication.
Gaps in perceptions and expectations are often a consequence of gaps in or an absence of communication, discourse and interaction, if you will.
Perhaps recognition is required for the need to change mindsets, buying patterns and preferences by a calculated and disciplined program of communication.
The alternatives of lost revenue, profits, repeat business and referrals are not evident in the balance sheet or profit and loss statements. However, the reality weighs heavy on many business and management teams.
Therefore, a true and comprehensive understanding of the concept of stakeholders needs to be fostered and promoted among all people in business, with due recognition of the presence and importance of consumers.
So, yes, the one constant in business life is change. However, with consumers it won’t necessarily happen on its own.
Barry Urquhart, Managing Director of Marketing Focus, Perth lectured full time for five years at the Curtin University of Technology in Western Australia. He regularly consults to entities, large and small on management, corporate culture and organisation effective issues.
Barry is an internationally recognised conference keynote speaker, author and business analyst.
TEL: 61 8 9257 1777