Category Archives: marketing

The death of a brand

This week I popped up to London for a bit of sightseeing and to catch up with friends from my McKinsey days. A trip to London is also never complete with a visit to my favourite shop – Karen Millen on Oxford Circus. Sadly this will have been my last visit to the store as the store is closing and to all intents and purposes the brand is dead.

I am quite devastated – how did this iconic brand end up sinking so low that this happened? Karen Millen was famous for its tailored, smart business dresses, often using bold colours or patterns. At the same time they always had an element of the classic and of enduring style about them. The quality was also great – I have Karen Millen clothes that are nearly 20 years old that I can still wear (and they do not looked dated either).

The main target market was also clear – it was business women, who wanted to look smart but stylish and elegant with a touch of something different. These were dresses that you could wear to a business meeting or go out in the evening to a posh restaurant in. They made you look, and feel, like a million dollars and yet cost wise the brand with mid-range – not designer end but also not Zara cheap. This was a brand that had insanely loyal customers, who would travel from abroad to stock up on dresses (myself included).

So what happened? First and foremost I believe the new management lost its way and very clearly did not understand the brand’s USP or its target customers. All of a sudden there were less of the iconic dresses in store and more jeans and t-shirts. The style also changed becoming more “trendy” and “edgy” (much of it just plain frumpy and ill fitting). I went from spending 1000s and having dilema’s on which dresses to buy to struggling to find a single item I liked. I was not alone. Every other long standing Karen Millen customer I spoke had the same issue. The brand started to be dropped at foreign retailers such as Globus in Switzerland – a warning signal of things to come.

Employees I spoke with also echoed my thoughts – why would customers pay £90 for a simple t-shirt when you could get the same type thing at Zara for a third of the cost? They complained about having the same conversations with customers time and time again – where was the classic Karen Millen clothing? Why was there a sudden increase in full length evening gowns when smart business dresses were virtually gone?

Karen Millen is a classic business school case study of a brand that had it all and lost it. The brand broke cardinal rules of business – not understanding the business proposition and even more importantly not understanding the customers. They also failed to heed what employees were saying in store – a fantastic source of real world insight and information ignored.  Karen Millen went from serving a particular, and potentially lucrative, segment of the market to trying to serve a totally different, broader market. They went from having their own niche, with few competitors, to taking on the likes of Zara. Not surprisingly they failed. The brand has now been bought by online retailer Boohoo – but given their target market I think it highly unlikely they will take the brand back to what it used to be.

I am devastated – there is no other brand on the market that had what Karen Millen had and there is now a definite gap in the market. I mourn the loss of an iconic brand. RIP Karen Millen.

Vintage Karen Millen dress

Vintage Karen Millen

 

Social media – then and now

I have been working in pharma social media for over ten years and I am happy to say I have seen a huge amount of change during this time.  Back in the day there were only a few of the big pharma companies that actually had a presence on social media, and virtually none of these actually engaged or enabled any form of two way discussion.

In the early days Facebook allowed pharma companies to have comments disabled which led some to set up Facebook pages that were essentially just another way of broadcasting corporate blurb, safe in the knowledge that people could not engage with them.  One of the exceptions was Boehringer Ingelheim who very early on saw the value in engaging with stakeholders. Then it all changed when Facebook removed the exception and from one day to the next comments become enabled. This led to many closing their Facebook accounts and for some it took years before they set up a page again.

Fast forward to today and most big pharma have a Facebook page of some sort.  Most are now also on YouTube and Twitter – but again not all.  I am still amazed that in this day and age, when social media has become a main communication channel, that big pharma companies are not present on Twitter.  That said many of those that are present are not using Twitter well or delivering (and getting) value from the platform.  An example of this is around conferences where more HCP participate remotely than in person, and yet many company Twitter feeds still only cater to those physically present at the event.

One of the reasons for this remains a lack of understanding of the channel, how to use it and the value it could, and should, be delivering.  This is compounded by a lack of resourcing in this channel, still seen by many as a “nice to have” or a dalliance, rather than a main stream channel. This lack of resources is seen both in terms of lack of training but also in terms of teams and content.

One of the results of this lack of attention to this channel is that what is being shared has often been of low value, which results in low engagement, which then compounds the issue as managers show these low results as justification for not investing in the channel.   Another issue that this is a channel that is hard to tie directly to sales results, and which tends to need long term investment.

This is however a channel that we as an industry must accept and start using properly, as more and more people stop using email as their main channel and turn to social media instead (this has already happened in China for example).  If we want to engage with our customers we have to learn to engage properly through the channel of their choice.  The days of broadcasting the message we want to, via our channel of choice, regardless of what our customers want, have gone, and we must move with the times if we want to remain relevant and competitive.

Marketing and Sales – different skills

When I started my career in the pharmaceutical industry I was told I would never work in pharma marketing without having been a sales rep. The fact that I hold a Masters in International Marketing, grew up in the industry (I followed in my father’s footsteps) and brought a range of highly pertinent skills was irrelevant – being a sales rep was seen as more critical to being a successful marketeer than having the right qualifications or skills.  I have since disproved this “fact” by spending the majority of my career working as a digital marketeer, in some shape or form, for some of the world’s top pharma companies.

During my career I have fortunately seen a shift in thinking away from this mentality but the sad reality it has not completely disappeared,  as evidenced in a job application I just saw for a top pharma.  There it was again – listed among the basic requirements of the job spec.  In this day and age I cannot for the life of me understand why work as a sales rep should still be a pre-requisite for a marketing role.  Far more critical should be a good understanding of basic marketing, multichannel engagement and a degree of creative flair or innovative thinking.

Sadly I have experienced, time and time again, the result of having sales people in marketing roles.  The lack of understanding of basic marketing by pharma marketeers, including senior people, is shocking. As I try to support brand teams and companies in developing and implementing innovative multichannel strategies I often have to also train them in basic marketing before we can even consider looking at how to navigate the complex multichannel world we now live in.  For example trying to explain to teams how to develop plans and strategies tailored to their customer segments I may discover that their idea of segment actually links to HCP group such as GP or Oncologists rather than actual detailed segments linking to behaviours and beliefs.

In order to be a successful marketeer today you need to understand not only basic marketing but you also need to understand the complexities that digital has driven.  You need to be creative and innovative to come up with marketing strategies that actually deliver real impact and engage, and not just be able to complete a brand planning template.  Our customers now face so much choice and can simply click away from pharmaceutical content and messages.  In many countries the role of the rep has diminished drastically and yet we still have many companies placing an inordinate amount of effort on this channel – and this is not helped if marketeers have been hired because of their sales skills rather than marketing expertise.  Whilst reps still play an important role for many brands they are now one of many channels and a marketeer needs to understand the reps role within a more complex and interconnected landscape.

We live in a noisy world where the customer has the power and the choice.  If companies continue to hire marketeers who tow the old line they will never see the impact they could be achieving.  Our industry needs innovators and people who will challenge the status quo.  We need people who will above all else always put the customer in the centre and try their utmost to understand what that customer wants and needs, and then deliver the brand messages in such a way that it speaks to those needs and resonates with those customers.  The big tech giants are already investing heavily in healthcare and if pharma companies start having to compete head to head with these companies it is pretty clear who the winner will be unless we change our approach and who we hire.  Anyone can learn to fill in a brand template but coming up with successful, innovative strategies that speak to today’s customers is a very different skill that takes talent, experience and a different mindset.

 

Watch out pharma

Today in one of my mentoring sessions we were looking at the use of Artificial Intelligence in the pharma industry.  This in itself is a fascinating area to look at but equally fascinating was the discussion the topic generated – namely the changing dynamics of the healthcare industry and the pharmaceutical industry’s continued snail pace of change.

As we looked at some of the new players entering the market, such as AI startups like BenevolentAi or the big players like Google and Apple, we discussed how pharma is starting to miss increasingly large value opportunities in healthcare, which tech companies are seizing.  Whilst currently much of the pharma industry still remains clearly in the domain of the pharma companies that may change in the future as the industry fails to adapt to changes being driven by technology.

Looking at AI & clinical trials for example – currently clinical trials are very clearly the domain for pharma because of the huge financial investments required but also because of the need for highly skilled and experienced people to work in this area.  However as AI makes inroads, for example in molecule identification, what’s not to say that non-pharma companies might look at this area and bring in their technology expertise and just hire / poach the expertise they need to run the trials … or indeed just outsource to the CRO?

This article also gives the nice example that technology will increasingly play an important role in treatment and if tech companies find that the pharma industry is the bottle neck to their products what’s to prevent them just buying their own way in to the industry?  Once this happens pharma could potentially face major issues as all of sudden their direct competition no longer comes from another slow, cumbersome pharma company but rather an agile, dynamic and fast moving tech company.

And this leads on to another factor that is also hindering the industry namely how cumbersome and slow the internal systems and structures are.  Even when a pharma decides to partner with a start up (which is happening but IMHO not as much as it should be) often the clash between the two cultures proves a major obstacle to the success of the partnership.  While  a startup will expect to move quickly – and may need to move quickly due to limited funds – they then find themselves with a partner who may expect things to take years (by which time the startup has run out of funds / has lost key people / etc.).

Many people in pharma argue that due to regulations this is a totally different market and it is the regulatory environment that hampers speed I would push back on this.  Time and time again regulatory constraints is bandied around as an excuse when it should not be.  The length of time it takes for a pharma company to draft and sign off a contract or agreement with a startup for example has very little to do with the regulatory environment but rather with the internal systems and staff.

Another cultural aspect that differs between pharma and tech companies – and again which is only partially linked to the regulatory environment – is the right to fail.  Traditionally pharma, like many other industries, will only launch or release something when it is perfect, which contrasts with the tech industry which focuses more on agility and adaption.  Many tech companies will launch something as a beta version – so not final – but will then adapt it based on feedback and data.  Whilst this approach may not be appropriate for the actual pharma products there are many other parts of the industry that would benefit from this approach.

So will we be losing our jobs to the likes of Google and Apple?  Probably not in the near future but if pharma companies continue to only adapt at a snails pace it will become less of a philosophical debate and will move closer to reality.  And what is certain is that as pharma tries to deal with increasing costs and prices pressures if they do not start to look at the full value picture of the healthcare industry they will lose out on potential new revenue and value sources – and there are plenty of non-pharma companies lining up to grab this value.

 

The value of respecting your customers

The news is currently awash with a spectacular example of a company failing to have any respect for its customers.  When #United decided to have a paying passenger dragged off one its planes to accommodate employees, whom the airline felt had more right to be at work the next day than said customer, they showed a total disrespect for their customers.  The incident, and the initial response of the CEO, also showed a total lack of respect, and understanding, for the power of the citizen journalist and social media.

The fact that other customers filmed the shocking incident and shared it online really should not have come as a surprise, nor should the fact that it got picked up by the media and went viral.  The days of being able to just bury incidents under the carpet are gone.  Whilst not all examples of bad customer service go viral it is now a real danger for any company, and as such all companies need to start being much more vigilant to customer complaints, especially when these are posted to a social media network.

The other factor here is also basic marketing.  When I did my Masters in marketing one of the things we learnt was people talk more about a negative experience than a bad one. It is also accepted business wisdom that happy customers are more profitable for companies – they spend more and it is cheaper to retain them than it is to gain new customers.  The other thing we learnt was that a company can turn a customer with a negative experience into a loyal customer by the way they handle a complaint.   It is all about making the customer feel valued.

I have numerous personal examples that support these facts.  In fact my motivation for this blog post is not the United incident but my current debacle with Turkish Airlines. Right now I am an extremely unhappy customer and have been appalled at their dreadful customer service.  As a frequent flyer with airlines like British Airways I have come to expect a certain degree of customer service from reputable airlines and I had been under the impression that Turkish Airlines also fell into that category but clearly not.

The issue in question was entirely  my own fault but highlights the difference between an airline like British Airways and Turkish Airlines.  I recently booked my holiday to the Philippines but to my horror a couple of hours after paying for the flight I realised that I had booked the wrong dates (due to still being under the weather with my Hashimoto’s btw).  I called Turkish Airlines up immediately to try to find a solution to this.  I was greeted with an unfriendly and unhelpful rep who refused to help in anyway.  This is entirely at the discretion of the airline as I know that British Airways in these situations give you a grace period of 24 hours in case this happens.  Not Turkish.

Very distraught I wracked my brain for what to do as I now faced spending less than 5 full days on the beach for 3 and bit days of travel!  I then phoned them back to ask about buying a single ticket out on my original planned date and then using my return ticket as planned.  Again I spoke to a less than friendly and unhelpful customer service rep who informed my that this was also not an option.  I would have thought Turkish Airlines should have jumped at the option of selling me a second ticket, especially as I am sure the currently climate and laptop restrictions on flights will be impacting their sales.  I then complained via Twitter and got a much more friendly and helpful response – they lodged my issue as a complaint with customer services for me.  Yay!

But no.  I got an email from the customer complaints department that it would now take them around 7 days to get back to me!  In 7 days time I had hoped to be in a flight and also needed to organise my accommodation!  Why on earth would it take them that long to contact me?!  To this day I have still not had a response from them, despite numerous follow up tweets.  A swift response would have placated me, even if only to sell me that single ticket, but now days of silence later I am a very irate customer who is telling everyone I know, including some very frequent travelers who fly with Turkish (sorry … who used to fly with Turkish).  The window for Turkish Airlines to retain me and my friends as customers is rapidly closing – if they do not want my money I am sure many other airlines do.

This experience contrasts with my other recent travel experience, namely with the Radisson Hotel in Austin.  There I also complained about a few issues I had had at the hotel.  Their response however was very prompt, courteous and professional.  When I complained I really felt like I would never stay in a Radisson again but following their fantastic customer service they have managed to flip the situation and turned me into a loyal customer.  I now know that if I ever have issues again I can trust this hotel to resolve them in a positive manner and as a result I will have no issue in picking the hotel over another hotel on my next trip.

I am generally a very loyal customer (last year paying close to £1000 more just to fly with British Airways) and I, like many other customers, am actually quite easy to please.  Listen to me, respond to my contact request and treat me like a valued customer who you would like to retain.  It is my money to spend and I can easily spend it with another company.  Keep me happy, like British Airways always does, and I will tell people about my great experience and keep coming back.  Make me unhappy, especially by treating me like you have no interest in my future spend with you, and I will tell everyone I know and take my money elsewhere.

Whilst a single customer may not per se be of interest to the company, their friends, family and extended network may be.  As word of mouth spreads across that network, as is the case for United Airlines, you start to see a real impact on revenues.  Counter that with the cost of good, courteous and helpful customer service, it just makes good business sense to treat your customers with respect – each and everyone of them.

Addendum

Within an hour of writing this post I received the following response from Turkish.  I have no idea why it took them days to provide a standard response like this.  It also does not address some of my issues that I complained about.  You can see my response below too.  Clearly I will not be flying with Turkish Airlines again and I will continue to advocate against flying with them.  If you have had similar negative experiences with them I would love to hear about them too.

 

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