Scolari sacking shows short-term stupidity

I’ve been a football fan for as long as I remember, which is around 28 years – and for that whole time I’ve supported the same team through victory and defeat. The first 20 years or so were mainly defeat, with the last eight actually having some notable victories.

Scolari by toksuede (CC licence)

Scolari by toksuede (CC licence)

But being a Chelsea fan is becoming increasingly embarrassing as despite massive funding, they seem to be ignoring examples of lasting success to always focus on the shortterm. Since the three-year reign of Jose Mourinho included winning the Premier League, we’ve had Avram Grant, who lasted one season, and Jose Felipe Scolari who lasted about half a season.

Yet look at the other leading teams in the Premiership: Alex Ferguson has managed Man Utd for 22 years. Arsene Wenger has managed Arsenal for 13 years. Rafael Benitez has managed Liverpool for almost five years. Martin O’Neil has managed Aston Villa for two-and-a-half years.

There’s a bit of a pattern here.

I’ve written before about the value of belief – and it’s something that requires constant work and attention. If you’re a manager or player who has seen little loyalty or time given to your colleagues, it’s going to affect your belief, no matter how much you’re paid.  That’s not to say pressure and competition aren’t useful, and disastrous results shouldn’t be risk-free, but it’s useless having a stick without a carrot.

And I firmly believe it applies to business, or any organisation.

People need to feel secure enough to be able to take risks and try new ideas, or you’re left in a business where innovation is stifled, and that will lead to a steady and slow decline… One which will takes more resources and effort to change, the longer it continues…

Woolworths online is a case study in waiting

So Woolworths is going to return as an online-only retailer, having been bought by Shop Direct (which owns Littlewoods and Choice) after going into administration.

Woolworths closes (Pic by osde8info on Flickr)

Woolworths closes (Pic by osde8info on Flickr)

It’s going to be very interesting for a number of reasons.

The first is trying to guess what it will actually sell. It had a music download shop, which closed with the High Street stores, but there’s logical reasoning to suggest digital downloads make a lot of sense. The PaidContent UK article has a quote which claims Woolworths will do entertainment and everything that made it famous on the High Street – but was it really famous for entertainment?

After all, it started by selling children’s clothing, toys and stationary. And Shop Direct might have seen success with Littlewoods, but that’s a name known for catalogue shopping.

And while there’s evidence that ‘bricks and mortar’ shops can do well online, the same evidence lists the top four retailers as Amazon, Argos, and

An interesting post on the icrossing blog uses the example of Dixons to show that the move online is the right decision, but mentions how Dixons bought and integrated online photo service Pixmania and the search and affiliate expertise it had.

And that’s where I think Woolworths could very well fall down.

No-one has stated, or even managed to suggest, what the belief will be – and ‘The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript‘ is what I believe caused the collapse of Woolworths, Zavvi and MFI. (Just realised I’ve restated Mark Earl’s ‘Purpose Idea’ from the other angle.)

Sadly the awesome Brand Tags doesn’t include Woolies. But I doubt entertainment would be first on the list. It’s Pic’n’Mix in both sweets and belief. A ‘five and dime‘ store with sweets, entertainment, furnishings, cookware, pens and paper and other random stuff.

That has a benefit offline, should you need a selection of random stuff, and not want to wander round a larger department store, or go for the clear low cost of Poundland. And if you’re of a certain age, you could meet with your friends and have a cup of coffee.

But online we already have Tesco and Argos. And anything is just a click away.

And in entertainment, Woolies is facing Amazon, iTunes and a music industry that is struggling to workout what it should do to survive.

And those loyal customers who used it as a meeting place are likely to have already found online alternatives – and if they’re not online yet, the prospect of Woolworths won’t make them buy a new PC and broadband.

But maybe there is a loyal niche group who could find a solution – there’s a small group on Facebook discussing it, even if the dreaded brand word crops up too much for my liking.

And I like the fact the Woolworths site is currently displaying a form for comments on the good and bad about the business. Even if the reassurance it’s returning is a bit naff. ‘I haven’t shopped since Woolworths closed’, a man sobbed.

But whether Woolworths becomes something really different and cool with a purpose that makes sense, or collapses for a second time in a supernova of pic’n’mix, it’s going to be fascinating to watch.

The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript

So far we’ve lost Woolworths, MFI and  Zavvi, while Whittards has been bought by a private equity firm after going into administration.

At least MFI and Zavvi still have websites notifying people of their current status – Woolworths has: ‘Our site is currently undergoing essential maintenance. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.  Please check back later.’

What’s interesting is that there are various reasons for the first three disappearing – the problems with the music industry, the downturn in the housing market, a drop in consumer spending etc.  And despite the possibility of a buyer for Woolworths, there’s nothing happening fast. Meanwhile Whittards was snapped up quickly.

Which makes me think this could be the start of something I’m going to call:

The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript:

In Case of Bankruptcy, Please Help Yourself - by Noaz. on Flickr

In Case of Bankruptcy, Please Help Yourself - by Noaz. on Flickr

Put simply, Woolies, Zavvi and MFI all had a problem, in that they didn’t have a clear belief and description. Woolies started as an American ‘five and dime‘ store – but mutated over the years, leaving Poundland as the modern equivalent. (I’m not linking to the Poundland site due to the annoying auto-playing explosion that just burst my eardrums!). In the end, Woolies was a strange amalgamation of Pic’n’mix sweets, entertainment, soft furnishings etc.

Zavvi came out of a management buy-out of former Virgin Megastores, and at the time left a lot of people asking friends what had happened. Apparently the aim was to be different from competitors by having ‘exclusive and limited edition products in the future’. An aim buried in a wikipedia entry, and an interview in industry publication MCV.

MFI had all sorts of problems, but most importantly, look at who it’s up against – Ikea. I’d guess most people already know what the Swedish success story stands for, but if not, try here, and here. Functional, well -designed furniture that everyone can afford, with Swedish names, Swedish food stores, and bargain hotdogs at the end of the trip.  My girlfriend has been known to forcibly demand Ikea trips to placate her homesickness for Sweden!

I may have had similar excitement at the sight of a Marks and Spencers are months without a sausage roll or pork pie in the U.S, but can you imagine curing your homesickness with a trip to Zavvi or MFI? Even Woolworths?

This isn’t about having a national identity – it’s about having a distinct belief and identity that everyone can clearly understand, and that people can align themselves with.

This isn’t an absolute rule:

I’m not going to say that having a belief will ensure success, or that you won’t make it through 2009 without one – there are far too many other factors involved, from changes in consumer spending to Government bailouts.

But I do think that within each industry and category, we’ll see a greater survival rate for the companies we can believe in.

So I’m going to start tracking what happens, and I’d appreciate your help. It may become a wiki page, but for the moment I’d just ask you to let me know in the comments if you see companies going under, and whether they had a clear belief or not.

Two adverts that irritate the s*** out of me

It’s the perfect time for ranting as I’m still feeling a bit poorly, so I thought I’d highlight two television adverts currently irritating the hell out of me.

First up, is the PG Tips homage to a Morecombe and Wise sketch, mainly because it’s so completely irrelevant to me, but seems to be on constant repeat at the moment on the channels I tend to watch. Especially Film 4, completely distracting me from whichever movie I’m watching.

  • I’m in my (very early) 30s, and Morecombe and Wise had pretty much peaked before my time
  • Even then, the PG Tips ad isn’t as good as I remember the original sketch being.
  • But most of all, I don’t drink tea, and neither does my partner.

I realise the last point marks me as being outside of the target demographic of the tea industry, and so they won’t count me as being a huge loss or influential. There are currently two packets of tea in the house, both of which have probably been here since we moved in – one posh packet which my parents probably brought with them out of desperation, and one cheap packet for any guests who didn’t fancy the posh stuff.

But the fact I’m not a tea-makers target is exactly my point. I’ll never buy it. I’ll never talk to anyone about buying it. And I don’t have the necessary technology to avoid it. So why inflict it on me?

But that’s just a case of traditional irrelevance – there’s a far worse offender out there:

Oh Sweet Lord.

It comes from Norwich Union, soon to be renamed as Aviva, as it’s part of the Aviva group and known under that name internationally. So changing the name might make sense from an efficiency point of view, particularly when job cuts are being repeatedly announced.

But what I don’t get, and I’m trying not to use the word ‘brand’ to join Mark Earls, is the way it has been done. For starters, they’ve had to pay Bruce Willis, Elle MacPherson, Alice Cooper and Ringo Star to talk about how they wouldn’t have had fame and fortune without changing their name.

That’s right. Forget starring in Die Hard, or being part of the Beatles. Or any inference their stardom is down to talent, luck and making the right career choices. After all, if only Molly Ringwald had changed her name, rather than turning down the lead roles in Pretty Woman and Ghost, for example. I won’t even mention Engelbert Humperdinck.

Or the fact that most actors in the UK change their names due to Equity rules stating there can’t be two performers with the same name.

We get a voiceover telling us how changing our name can allow us to become who we want to be, and that Norwich Union is becoming Aviva after over 200 years of the same name. (My first thought was the confusion with the bus company, Arriva, that served my hometown)

But what it doesn’t tell us is what NU/Aviva wants to be.

There’s no reasoning, no belief, and nothing to make anyone think this is more than an attempt to save money on headed stationary.

Why couldn’t they use the name change to publish a clear belief which might benefit consumers, and could be easily said and repeated? ‘We’re changing the name, and making sure you never wait longer than 30 seconds in a phone queue’ for example, or ‘We’re changing the name be more efficient, so we can lower our prices by 5% when you renew’. Or even just some honesty ‘We’re changing the name to save some money and stay in business in tough times – so you don’t lose your insurance cover when you might need it’.

Has no-one else ever watched Crazy People?

Thoughts on the Online Community Building Manifesto

Despite a very kind email from the author, Rich Millington, I’ve been a bit remiss in not posting about his Online Community Building Manifesto (link to the PDF). (As a bonus, he’s also on Twitter).

It’s a call to change the way we think about online communities, and one that’s shared by a few people, myself included, but Rich has expressed it with a nice clarity.

We know about technology and we love the internet, but we (in general) don’t know half as much about the people forming communities and about ways to get a better understanding of what they’re doing and what their needs are.

He also raises good points about balancing what we learn about technology with other disciplines including psychology and sociology (with some helpful links to some interesting sources) – I won’t say any more in an effort to encourage you to go read it and leave him some comments.

He’s not alone in his thinking, but the benefit of the manifesto will come if it helps to join some of the minds in this space.  I’d include people like Dave Cushman, Mark Earls, Neil Perkin, and others who regularly appear in my RSS feeds but whose names have deserted me for the moment…which I shall rectify with a bit of an overhaul of my link lists shortly. It’s something that has been implemented in Seth Godin’s private Triiibes group (somewhere I need to spend more time if I can).

And there’s a real tangible personal benefit to social media/community/tribes people – technology is constantly shifting, and being an expert in Facebook or Twitter will start as an asset, become normal and then be old-fashioned and replaced by something new – but the lessons learnt about people will transfer to every network and device. They’ll evolve, but the changes with each evolution will work across platforms and devices and won’t rely on php, flash or javascript!

That’s why I posted on ‘Why Belief Matters‘ back in November, and used football and motorsport as examples. It’s the ‘why’ and the ‘what for’ of any community, and it comes from the people, not from the technology!

Why belief matters…

I’m always really interested to hear people in non-marketing and non-editorial jobs talk about how they make a living and the way they deal with the challenges they face in their industries. It’s a great way to get some inspiration and find ways to think about things a bit differently.

One topic that’s stuck in my mind for researching is the idea of belief – the idea that brands should have a clear belief (not a proposition or a strategy – that’s for the executives) that is integral to the project/product, the team, and the people who interact with it. And whether you need to start with a belief, if it’s possible to introduce one, and how you can find people who already share yours.

Obviously religion is a belief-based system, but I saw a great example today of something I can more readily understand – football!

A non-league team who train and play around their 9-5 jobs, Histon FC, played Leeds United today, a team that has won the English league, played in European competitions, and that is currently chasing promotion back into the top English league.

And they beat them, 1-0, to know them out of the FA Cup competition.

Watching them, it was clear that the Histon team were full of belief and weren’t scared of a team three leagues above them. And although their belief wasn’t the only factor – Leeds should have scored twice, and the weather and pitch conditions also helped the non-league side – it was the biggest one in their success as they were able to keep going.

It’s also what seems to separate world champions in any sporting discipline – in motorsport, for example, the likes of Valentino Rossi and Mick Doohan, Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna (F1), Sebastien Loeb and Tommi Makinen (World Rally). They all differ in their personalities, with Rossi standing out as the best example of a world champion (eight times) who appears relaxed and mischevious, but carries a huge amount of confidence and self-belief.

Valentino Rossi - Picture by Matt Ritchie on Flickr (CC Licence)

Valentino Rossi - Picture by Matt Ritchie on Flickr (CC Licence)

Now this isn’t news. Plenty of psychologists have looked at sporting success or celebrity and spotted the planet-sized self belief that powers these people.

In marketing and social media, the concept isn’t new: Mark Earls coined the term “Purpose Idea”

‘Put really simply, the Purpose-Idea is the “What For?” of a business, or any kind of community. What exists to change (or protect) in the world, why employees get out of bed in the morning, what difference the business seeks to make on behalf of customers and employees and everyone else? BTW this is not “mission, vision, values” territory – it’s about real drives, passions and beliefs. The stuff that men in suits tend to get embarrassed about because it’s personal. But it’s the stuff that makes the difference between success and failure, because this kind of stuff brings folk together in all aspects of human life.’

And Hugh McLeod created a social object around a Purpose Idea for Microsoft.

What I’m interested in is finding as many great examples of this working within marketing and business, and externally. Sport, Religion, Manufacture, Publishing, – anywhere it can be found. Because that’s how you can show the transformation it can make to those who haven’t tried it. And the more belief that is in the brands I work with, the easier it makes marketing them!