Prince Edward Sells Death Benefits of Duke’s Award

death benefits-duke of edinburgh award-knight-death-and-the-devil-albrecht-duerer One of the pillars of the Marketing Concept is the idea of selling the benefits of your product or service. Benefits relate to the value that the purchaser or user gets from using what is offered.

The recent observation by HRH Prince Edward that there might some allure in the risk of death from participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme is a fascinating case study for several reasons.

The first has to be the lesson it gives to us all about the speed and reach of the digitally connected world. The reputation of any brand can be affected in an instant. Brand identities that have been meticulously crafted over years can be undermined in the time it takes to say something careless.

The second lesson is that there is always a difference between what is said and what it means. As Bandler and Grinder have noted “The meaning of communication is the way it is received”. Whilst the Prince thought he might have been conveying a dark sense of humour his remarks were unlikely to have been heard as ‘funny’ by relatives of Duke of Edinburgh Award participants who had died whilst they were taking part on the scheme.

The third lesson is never confuse an ‘advantage’ with a ‘benefit’. Product and Service advantages are what the seller assumes are appealling dimensions of what is offered. The Prince seems to have ‘fast forwarded’ from a hunch that the demanding and thrilling aspects of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award means that risk of death is a good thing. Oops.

Clearly what has happened is an unfortunate turn of phrase. I’m not sure that Death could ever be construed as a ‘benefit’ when selling products unless you are an arms dealer. I think the Prince is quite right to highlight the appeal of thrill-seeking, and that the DOEA organisers are right to emphasise that the award is about developing individuals as safely as possible. The prospect of challenge and risk must figure as one of the key psychographic choice factors of the target segment who are likely to join the scheme.

There are clearly personal experiential and transformative benefits associated with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and these should be emphasised. The transformative and beneficial effects of Death is perhaps a more challenging ‘sell’.

Find out more at Duke of Edinburgh Award

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A Case of Bad Hotel Service


You might think that providing good service came naturally in the modern hospitality business.

Judging by my recent experience at a small hotel in Stafford part of a local UK brewery chain I can tell you that any hope that the principles of Service Marketing and Service Dominant logic might have found their way into this establishment is a folorn hope.

For those of you who are looking for a micro case in Service Marketing please feel free to use the following and distribute widely.

The Occasion
Myself and half a dozen old friends had decided to have a Polytechnic re-union in Stafford. The first time some of us had seen each other for over 25 years. I was sharing a room with my old flat mate.

The Problem
When we returned late (1.00 a.m.) from our night out and a meal at Pizza Express my room mate and I found we couldn’t get our room key from reception. This meant we had to sleep ‘rough’ in the reception area until 7.30 a.m. when the manager arrived.

The Context
I booked in first in the middle of the afternoon and was given a key fob with the back door key and the room key by the manager. I went to the room to unpack, and then handed the key fob back to the manager who explained that the bar shut at 11.00p.m. and that the key would be needed to get in after that time.

I hooked up with my friends, and my room mate met us at the pub without checking in. This meant that our key was in the hotel. The other members of our party had their key sets with them and so we believed there would be no problem in getting into the hotel.

We all returned to the Hotel and we got in using one of my friends keys. It was at that point we realised the Hotel didn’t have a night porter, their was no way of summoning staff at reception and notices or signage to guide us as to what to do. I was certainly not informed of this possibility when I handed my key set back earlier in the day.

The only option was to sleep in the reception area. I slept roughly on the floor or sitting at the table. My friend slept on benches.

At half past seven the Hotel manager arrived and the situation went rapidly downhill on top of the previous six and half hours sleeping as best we could.

The Service Encounter
When the manageress arrived on duty I explained that I had been unable to get to our room. She was bemused and even a little amused at our situation. As you might expect we were not in the most amenable of temperaments. I asked why there was no system for getting our key if it had been handed back to reception. The manageress said that we were told that we needed a key to get in after 11.00 which was quite correct. By ‘get in’ I assumed get back into the hotel. I then started to explain why we didn’t have our key set with us.

Her response:
i) We were irresponsible for not taking our key sets with us.
ii) We lacked common sense.
iii) We were incapable of using ‘logic’ to solve our problem.
iii) Why didn’t we ring the back door bell to get attention.
iv) We were abnormal because this had never happened in her experience.

My response:
i) Her process for key management was at odds with common experience in hotels. I had travelled the world on business for many years and never experienced such a problem.
ii) There was no indication that the outside door bell was the way in which to summon night service at reception.
iii) It was a wrong assumption on her part to believe that once inside the building we would necessarily think there would be a problem getting our room key.
iv) There was no signage or information clearly visible on reception about who to contact with emergencies or problems.

The Experience
This was a terrible experience. A bad nights sleep and a complete lack of concern from the manager.

This was complete mismanagement of a ‘moment of truth’
There was no apology.
There wasn’t a sincere acknowledgement of our problem.
There was no sympathy for the uncomfortable night we had experienced
Her attitude was patronising and sarcastic.
She was unable to accept any part she and her management team might have played in the problem.
There no grasp of the customer journey and where problems might occur.
There was no value added atonement
She would not listen to alternative explanations
She was intellectually incapable of grasping ‘how’ the situation had arisen and ‘how’ her guest management process couldn’t account for the situation that happened.

Significantly this incident demonstrated the impact of interpersonal skills. As if the ‘content’ of of what the manageress said wasn’t galling enough, her body language and tone were not exactly placatory. The ‘meta message’ of her communication was essentially one of contempt, and you could speculate that her approach to customers was mirrored in her approach to her staff. This was clearly someone used to having it her way and not tolerating different view points to her own.

The Outcome
The manageress was contacted later that day on my return. She was asked for the name of the person she was accountable to and replied by saying that she wasn’t accountable to anybody.

My room mate checked out after me. She offered 20% of the bill because he apologised to her for our part in the problem. We regard this as unnacceptable.

A formal complaint to the retail chain is being made.

What do you make of this?

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Does Business School Thinking Affect Marketing Action?

service dominant logic-service theory-marketing theoryDoes business school thinking change the way that marketing executives do their job? Or do business schools simply look at how marketing done in the ‘real world’ and school business students in what already takes place?

I’m pretty sure that most marketing executives are unaware (and probably disinterested) in alot of the very specific and arcane thinking and research work of the majority of marketing academics. This is a fact that worries some academics as they perceive an increasing gap developing between what academics find ‘interesting’ and what marketing practioners would like to know in order to be better at what they do. There are many journal articles on this theme such as:

Musings on Relevance and Rigor of Scholarly Research in Marketing. Varadarajan, P. Rajan. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Fall2003, Vol. 31 Issue 4, p368-376

Beyond the one-dimensional marketing manager: The discourse of theory, practice and relevance. Brownlie, Douglas; Saren, Michael. International Journal of Research in Marketing, May97

The Academy and The Practice: In Principle, Theory and Practice Are Different. But, in Practice, They Never Are.
Pringle, Lewis C.. Marketing Science, Fall2001, Vol. 20 Issue 4

The concern in Business Schools is growing so much that the July 2009 edition of The Journal of Marketing leads with a guest editorial by David Reibstein, George Day and Jerry Wind called Is Marketing Academia Losing Its Way?

I’m not sure this is actually the case. At the moment there are two key interelated conversations taking place. One in Academic circles and the other in the digital Social Media space.

The mantra of the Social Media is all about connecting, collaboration, networks, open source, and influence. (At the extremes of course its about SEO or internet selling but the dominant theme is about the social dimension and serving your customers well.)

The hot topic in Business School marketing is Service Dominant Logic This is an idea put forward by Stephen Vargo and Robert Lusch in a 2004 Journal of Marketing article called Evolving to a New Dominant Logic for Marketing. In a nutshell it claims that a new ‘theory’ of marketing is necessary to explain how marketing is done in the 21st century. The authors emphasise its not simply making a case for the value of Service Marketing versus Goods Marketing its actually concerns a profound mind-set change that embraces, co-creation, collaboration, and networks.

So how much of what we read on blogs, airport lounge management books, marketing magazine articles and so on really comes from this original source? and how much is the work of Vargo and Lusch simply a reflection of what is happening ‘out there’ in the real world? Perhaps it becomes self referencing. Marketers seeking out ‘academic’ verification and a pat on the back for things they are up to. A sort of co-creation is good because Pine, Gilmour, Vargo and Lusch say it is and overlooking the possibility that these writers might be simply making sense of what they see not actually prescribing something marketers should do!

As for Academia the Vargo and Lusch article has ruffled feathers. Not everyone has bought into the appeal of a new marketing logic that replaces the old ‘wonky’ one of Levitt and Kotler. In particular John and Nicholas O’Shaughnessy have claimed in their January 2009 Vol 43 no.5/6 European Journal of Marketing article The Service Dominant Perspective:a backward step that the Vargo and Lusch approach is a crude attempt to provide the impossible. They imply that seeking on absolute theory of marketing is based on a ill-founded positivistic assumptions. The idea that ‘out there’ there is an ideal form of Marketing just waiting to be discovered. They favour a multi-perspective approach. There are many ways to explain marketing.

Now how relevent this debate is for every day marketing is a moot point. It seems on the one hand we have a desire to improve the decision making and problem solving capability of everyday marketers and the other we have curiosity in marketing as a social phenomenon.

Maybe just maybe the muti-persepective approach is what Marketing really needs because versatility of perspective encourges innovative thinking. So think again when you read blogs and tweets about the service dominant imperative. Are you un-thinkingly being forced done one channel of thought. Are you sure you really know which marketing school is influencing what you do!

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Will Technology Convergence Change The Way We Think About Marketing?

mobile-convergence-technology-I subscribe to a great blog called Serious Games and this latest post highlights the rate of technology convergence and its impact on the increased use of Social Media and the decrease of traditional Media.

I can see that if your world is marketing communciations then technology is having a big impact on the places where advertising is placed and brands are positioned.

The change of channels might have changed but has technology driven any degree of fundamental change in marketing thinking? I find it hard to see how this can be the case.

Surely the technology can only manifest what the practioner’s philosophy decrees. So a micro economic Kotlerian position will see the technology as a means to facilitate needs based exchange, standing in Nordic School position will see technology as a means to enhance relationships, look at the world through Vargo and Lusch’s Service Dominant logic and the technology is their to underpin community building and co-creation of products and services.

Didn’t all of these things exist before digital techologies? The marcomms tactician used to be skilled in media planning and production that utilised 20th century technologies, all that has changed is the hardware and software. Nothing has necessarily changed for Marketing as a philosophy or a strategic endevour. Or has it?

Convergence is certainly interesting from a consumer demand perpsective. Do people like you and I prefer Convergent or Dedicated Products Han, Weong and Seok have found that Products with a high degree of technological Convergence are preferred.

Convergence is also interesting from a managerial perspective. The people using these converged products will be using them to engage with Brands. Schau, Muñiz Jr., & Arnould have written a fascinating article in this month’s Journal of Marketing titled How Brand Community Practice Create Value.In a broad piece of qualitative research that looked at brand communities as diverse as Apple Newton, Garmin GPS, and the Xena Warrior Princess TV Show they have identified 12 value creating practices that included ‘grooming’ where communities share how to care for your product, ‘justifying’ that creates social proof about why the brand is a good buy, ‘badging’ where models and versions of products are built up like an ancestry.

The killer observations for me by the authors are their identification of 4 strategic themes that need blending for effective community value creation, and significantly digital technologies are at the heart:

Social Networking that facilitates stuff such as welcoming, and governing.

Impression Management that facilitates justifying and evagenlising.

Community Engagement that facilitates knowledge sharing.

Brand Use that facilitates tips and tricks.

I like their ideas because they view the thing systemically. Each theme is interconnected and interdependent. It is also clear that digital technology means that creating communities and keeping them alive is much easier these days than in the past. So maybe technology is changing the way we think about Marketing afterall, not necessarily introducing anything new but foregrounding something that might have been easier to ignore in the past? If you can get your hands on a copy of these articles I recommend you do so.

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