Try This >> Set customers free

Bean counters love long-term contracts. A customer signs and the revenue is secure for three months, six months, twelve months. If the customer forgets to cancel, more cash rolls in. It’s tempting to make leaving hard for them.

Everyone hates to feel trapped. Someone tempts (or tricks) us into saying ‘yes’ and the next day, the hangover sets in. If you want dissatisfied customers, lock them in.

Setting people free is better all round:

‘No ties’ makes your market bigger. Amazon Prime, Netflix, Spotify – the world’s fastest-growing subscription brands make cancelling (at any time) simple. Because the risk is low, more people sign up.

‘No ties’ can increase profits. A phone carrier had two customer types: long-term contract customers, lured in with subsidised phones, and pay as you go customers, with no sign-up benefits. The accountants loved the predictable contract customers. But the pay as you go people generated more profits. Locking people in comes at a price.

‘No ties’ makes your firm better. If a customer stays because they have to, what does this say about your brand? Great marketing isn’t just about attracting people. It’s about serving them better than competitors do. Every day.

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Don’t aspire to lock people in. Aspire to be the brand people choose—time and time again.

(From my longer Marketing Week column).

Try This >> Have a good fight

“No one on the planet knows how to build a computer mouse,” author Matt Ridley once said. There’s just too much to know, too much to learn. Success today is all about teamwork.

Yet, the average team achieves only 63% of their strategic objectives, according to Harvard Business Review.

What to do? Stanford researchers found: for breakthrough results, harmony isn’t the recipe. Fighting is. Under one condition: the fight has to be constructive.

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Teach your team to have a good fight:

  • Why do we exist? Ensure everybody in the team knows the answer (if in doubt: do the blank-sheet test. Ask everybody to write down, in confidence, the shared team goals)
  • Take the emotions out. Passion is good. But it’s hard to argue emotions – sometimes even impossible. Your trick as a team leader is to push for the facts.
  • Play out the options. For complex problems, have different people work on alternative solutions.
  • Balance the power. If some people are dominating the debate, it’s not their fault – it’s the leader’s oversight. Power balance is key. As the leader, bring all voices in.
  • Agree to disagree. Don’t try to find consensus if there isn’t any. Teach your team to value disagreement – and live with it.
  • Have a laugh. Make sure people can still say ‘working in this team is fun’.

(From my longer Marketing Week column).

Try This >> Make the middle seat wider

We’ve all sat there, in the middle seat, at the back of the plane. Where it’s cramped. Where it’s noisy. Where drinks get served last.

Not all seats can be golden. In every firm, some customers get what’s left: the bistro table by the door, the room without a view, the new team, the buggy software.

We secretly hope they won’t notice. We hope they won’t care.

Of course they notice. Of course they care. Some just don’t complain.

It takes many good experiences to make up for one bad one.

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Tell customers it’s a middle seat upfront. Then, be generous. Give people a free drink, more air miles, a discount coupon, an extra report, your premium service package. Make the middle seat wider.

If people feel good about your middle seat, they may come back. For sure, it’s fair.

(From my Marketing Week column).

Try This >> Lean in, really

Sheryl Sandberg has a point. In her book ‘Lean In’, Facebook’s current COO asks women, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Sandberg is a public role model. Her book has empowered millions of women to step up. To seek and speak the truth. To claim their seat at the table. It is a noble cause.

What would Sandberg do now if she weren’t afraid? Facebook currently sits at the eye of the biggest of internet storms. Data leaks, creepy settings and shady data deals have shaken the confidence of millions of users. The scandal has even triggered a global privacy debate. Does “free” mean “I pay with my data?” How safe is safe? What’s safe enough? These are fundamental questions, and millions of people are searching for guidance.

But where is Sandberg? She has offered a few apologies here and there. She has not shaped the debate, not publicly leaned in. The former role model keeps a low profile. Who’s stopping her? The legal team? Perhaps. The PR advisors? Maybe. Her own boss? Probably.

There’s more to learn from Sandberg. When you want power, leaning in is a good strategy. When you have power, leaning in is an obligation—and it’s equally hard.

Henry Kissinger once said: “A leader does not deserve the name unless he or she is willing to occasionally stand alone.” Leaning in is an old idea. Not leaning in is an old problem.

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When you want your voice to be heard, dare to lean in. When you are in power, whether as CEO, a team leader, or simply as the smartest person in the room, remember: your voice matters. Your voice can give hope. Your voice can turn the tide. Ask yourself: “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” Seek and speak the truth.

Lean in, really.

(This is from my Marketing Week column).

Try This >> Find your proper shoe size

What’s the point of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)?” I asked Marketing Week readers that question. Why? Well, here is a baffling paradox: Each day, the world’s marketers create billions of cash dollars. Baileys, the Irish cream liqueur, has just had a record year. Colgate has been keeping teeth clean for over 100 years. And Apple, despite recent setbacks, still captures more smartphone profits than all of its competitors combined.

Yet many CMOs struggle. Companies fire top marketers faster (and more often) than other leaders—or deny them a seat at the table. Some even don’t hire CMOs in the first place.

What’s the problem? Expectations. “Chief Marketing Officer” is a cool title. Most people picture a growth driver, an influencer, someone with power. Reality paints another picture. Many CMOs get told to stick to marketing communication—and keep out of the rest. True, promotion matters. But alongside Product, Price, and Place, it’s just one of marketing’s four P’s—not enough to shape the business.

A cool title is sexy. But without matching powers, it sets you up for failure.

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Be careful what your title, your job description, or your brochure promises. Satisfaction is the delta between what people expect and what they get. Don’t artificially underpromise (that would be manipulative). Look at your powers. Be realistic. Then: overdeliver. With the right-sized shoes, you’ll run faster and farther.

P.S.: Something big is in the pipeline (more soon).

Try This >> Travel more

A Scandinavian airline asked people how travel changed their lives. Three things stood out:

  • More knowledge. This one is obvious. Your own silo looks different from the outside. Other silos look different from the inside. There’s plenty to learn when you travel.
  • New ideas. This one is interesting. Meeting other people and seeing other places spark new thinking. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the most innovative business leaders spend much of their time listening to customers.
  • A desire to improve. This one is remarkable. Travelers are keen to use what they’ve learned and to improve things at home. Leaving your own silo impacts on your to-do list and (if you follow through) your behavior.

Meeting people from other departments, other communities, other countries can be frightening. You don’t know who you’ll meet. You don’t know your way around. You don’t know what to expect. Staying inside the silo is reassuringly predictable. But those who travel are the motors of change.

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Use the power of travel for change. In organizations, get people to meet customers, switch departments, take on cross-functional work. Do the same yourself—and leave your country now and then. That one new perspective, that one new idea, that one new priority you acquire can make all the difference.

PS: You can still test how brave you are—it’s free.