Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Thorpe Park Directors set Royal Holloway MBAs Five Marketing challenges

Thorpe Park continued its highly valued association with the Royal Holloway MBA programme for a third time again this year with a fresh marketing twist.

Students observed the innovative upcycling of a disused boat house thanks to the lure of movie franchise SAW

After an informative behind the scenes exclusive tour of the impressive collection of world class roller coasters, situated adjacent to the Thames in Thorpe (near Staines) and enthusiastically led by alumnus Jack du Pille, education facilitator  at Thorpe Park, MBA students sat down to the understand the serious business issues that sit behind the amusement industry. 

Aircraft wreckage, upturned vehicles and an alien invasion ? 

Definitely not the usual context for MBA learning

Initially briefed on customer insights, company strategy and trends in the wider entertainments industry by management team members Dare Ilori, development director Chris Edge and marketing director Jason Wills, a free flowing Q&A session ensued with highly engaged MBA's asking probing questions of the team. 

MBA candidate Srinath

 shows his heavy lifting credentials

Previous iterations of the group consultancy challenge have seen the Thorpe Park leadership team invite consideration of a range of topics ranging from strategy, operations, marketing and sustainability. 
This year, with recently appointed marketing director Jason Wills spearheading an innovative direction,  the focus of the five areas for investigation had a strong focus on marketing issues. 
Students found the experiential nature of the business visit, with the briefing held in one of the staff training rooms, very motivating.  They were all keen to use their developing academic knowledge and test its application in the context of a real group consultancy context.   Later in the year the Thorpe Park team will be invited on to campus to interact with student groups as they make their recommendations, drawn from academic learning and the broad, international work experience they possess.
Many MBA students hail from warmer climates and although it was raining at points, as you can see from the fotos, not everyone believed that this was merely a typical autumnal day.  I am not sure they believe us locals that significantly colder weather is coming once winter properly sets in.
Next up ?  A pizza night with the chance to catch the episode of hit TV series InBetweeners* with the Thorpe Park visit.  (*note: InBetweeners is quiet edgy and is not for the faint hearted, I think it might be described as cult humour, Thorpe Park features from 12 minutes in)

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Emotion branding: making a search engine have feelings

Ridhaa came for a chat about marketing this week.  I relish these kinds of conversations with under graduate management students, it is one of the reasons why I love my job at Royal Holloway so much.

We got talking about the Google stories advertising campaign.  Ridhaa had seen this execution (below) via a viral, or word of mouth, peer referral.  You do not need to understand the dialogue, although it does carry English subtitles.

The equivalent UK version of this campaign features the story of a social entrepreneur who wins a contract to build a temporary skate park on a piece of urban derelict land near the Olympic park in east London,  In thinking about this I've noticed a number of Google "Stories" executions and I think eventually I answered my own question "Why would a non-paid at point of consumption premium search engine service provider want to build its brand though emotional engagement ?".  Microsoft have done it too
The nub of a response might come from technology convergence; look at how Apple, Microsoft and Google are the leading triad building powerhouse portfolios of software and hardware applications and brands.   Umbrella logins offer consumers a convenient reason to stay in-house and I think we'll see bundles of brands looking to attract and keep users and paying customers.  Example: Google's brand extension into technology hardware (physical product, no longer just a software service provider...) and the newish £229 Chromebook web surfing device.  With a plethora of competition in the thin client tablet marketplace Apple knows well that creating positive emotional bonds with consumers is an effective way to leverage (my chum Andrew who works in low cost airlines uses the more provocative 'gouge' term here...) chunky price premiums. 
Why not join the Apple world ?  Everything is beautifully designed, simple to use, reliable and desirably expensive. 

British Airways - #lookup in Piccadilly Circus

Following on from a surprising (and particularly well received) sponsorship hit at London 2012 with its Park Live concert/chill out space on the banks of the reclaimed river, British Airways marketing team have #lookedup (sic) for inspiration in their latest marketing initiative.  Since the late 1980's generations of British Airways fmcg trained marketers have trail blazed ahead of other service brands, stylishly presented different aspects of the emotions of flying. 
Claiming this clever use of technology as an advertising first, the ‘magic of flying’ campaign seeks to remind people how magical flying can be by the playful and fresh use of the perspective of a child.  You can perhaps imagine the advertising creative team pitching this concept.  It certainly does stand out and a powerful conceptualisation that is innovative for the British airline that has most recently be plugging its patriotic flag carrier status via the "to fly, to serve" campaign. 
Digital billboards located in London's Chiswick and Piccadilly interact with overhead aircraft. "The system tracks the aircraft and interrupts the digital display just as it passes over the site, revealing the image of a child pointing at the plane, accompanied by its flight number and destination it’s arriving from." (Marketing Week, 19 Nov 2013)
I wonder what it says when a competitor aircraft flies over ?  "Another of Richard's planes" ?

Friday, 15 November 2013

End of the line ? Or is it just me ...

Call me a saddo - but I have collected stamps on and off since I was a boy.  I was set to inherit my grandfathers complete collection of post WW2 UK stamps, unfortunately he sold the lot to a dealer for a pittance. 
How long will pre-printed picture stamps remain ?
As with many things in life, and along the lines of every door closed sees another open, I ended up inheriting my wifes uncle Johns collection which was far larger than the one I had missed out on.  Karma ?  Now I have an annual subscription to purchase every UK mint stamp issue, thinking that one day the whole thing will be worth a small fortune.
Unfortunately, a short visit to a stamp dealer has highlighted that my money making strategy is never going to work and the only way to see real capital growth is to spot the 'rare' issue first day covers and early stamps (of the penny black era) & these are engineered each year to bolster the inaccurate misconception that stamps offer an investment opportunity. 
Thus, my historic collection is probably worth less than the value of the stamps, but I can't give up collecting.  Why ?  Well, stamps won't be around much longer and this might either see them become worth even less or perhaps a little bit more.  They say that paintings can appreciate in value once their creator dies, knowing that the supply is finite.  In any case, I like the collecting process and the investment I put in is relatively small fry in the bigger scheme of things.

Southwest corner of Founders, Royal Holloway University of London by Carey 1890

This got me thinking about other things that are on the brink of extinction.  Verbatim, the Japanese multinational makes profits from markets that continue to buy diskettes.  (You won't have seen one of these for ten years in UK).  A great example of taking opportunities with products at the end of the product life cycle. 

I wrote post cards two times over the summer during our various visits (as featured in this blog), but failed to post them.   Weren't paintings early post cards ?  I am still in shock over paying more than £2 for postcard stamps in Stockholm and threaten to send email based Christmas greetings now that the Royal Mail wants to charge 66p for a first class stamp.  The tourism literature is beginning to address the simultaneous experience exchange now feasible due to widespread wifi.  I sent gloating images of my kids in the pool with regular temperature updates to family and friends back home whilst we were away - what is then the point of postcards ?

Software companies (like  appear to be in the process of shifting their business model to a service or lease basis, enabled by web 2.0 broad band delivery and away from the intriguing iterative release product concept.  The end of software piracy ? 

The iPad has shown that these days you don't need a disk drive or USB stick any more, unthinkable and a major product flaw when it was launched.  Bam ! and virtual memory skydrives are all the rage. I certainly don't covet bigger, smaller, cooler memory sticks any more - I have a collection that is little used.

Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are being developed by leading Universities (including our very own University of London) offering free access to leading teaching using innovative, scalable teaching approaches.  Might we see campus based education propositions lose their "right of passage" status in favour of cheaper, work friendly learning propositions ?

Can virtual reality and imitation tourist experience obfuscate the need for holidays that see you travel ?  Surely it is possible to construct a full range of experiences that would satisfice this need without using up precious carbon credits. 

Might shareware programmes, as trail blazed by Mayor of London and the Barclays/Boris's bikes scheme (and various car pooling options) see us forgo conspicuous consumption that sees many expensive assets underutilised ? 

Smart phones and touchless near field technology could see virtual payment become main stream and replace centuries old physical money.  Cheques are used less and less each year,  young people even claim not to write cheques (or watch real time terrestrial television for that matter), soon banks will charge big bucks for using cheques, which will be seen as an expensive and antiquated system. 

What else do you think will be gone or on its way out by 2020 ?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

John Lewis Christmas Ad: Pure Experience focus transcends product placement

Each year John Lewis puts out probably the best (certainly one of the better) Christmas advert.  The creative direction over years has without doubt set a high water mark.  Unlike gauche imitators who ape the moody, atmospheric tunes and carefully crafted story telling, John Lewis this year has jumped ALL THE WAY into using an emotional story telling approach that avoids show casing its range of products.  In the words of a successful leading service brand British Airways campaign "It's the way we make you feel that makes us the world's favourite airline."  This single minded proposition encapsulates my feelings very well.  Gone is the story telling using actors wearing and using promotional products and JL appears to have moved on to a new form of different. The neo-neo perhaps ?
Totally productless ?, well, apart from a single, short shot of an alarm clock, that is.  I can't see a big sales run on those this Christmas. 
And how this marks the transition !  I predicted last year that, with intense competition from facsimile retailers, the approach would have to change.  I would like to claim a partial victory.  The music is totally John Lewis - a contemporary (gender inversion) of an old classic song, probably by an up and coming artist.  The story telling remains, with the tease revealing the sponsors identity arriving only in the final frames of a two minute ten slot. 
This year the JL creative team appear to have gone a step further, last years star, the lifelike yet fictional snowman sporting a very human scarf is replaced with Winnie the Pooh/Disney style cartoons and a the tale of the fable of the hare and bear which seems to pull on familiar ground, yet different and new. 
How funny, I have just looked at the media coverage and discovered the £7m campaign creative lead was by Aaron Blaise, whose resume includes genuine Disney magic dust credentials in the form of Pocahontas and the Lion King.  Cartoon characters, particularly wild animals, do not generally wear real clothes, nor use real products, thus their use imaginatively and conceptually reinforces the experiential conceit. 
My services management guru and colleague Dr. Sameer Hosany has been looking out for this ad for a couple of weeks already. I have already owned up to a secret hankering for the surprisingly Aldi ad (value brand, quality products, expensive feeling ad, ummm) As a keen proponent of experience marketing, Sameer will no doubt be delighted.  I would like to say I had to tune into X-Factor especially to catch the ad, but family life at the O'Briens requires me to never miss a moment of this low brow entertainment.  Clearly I watch commercial TV only for professional interest in the advertisements. 
I look forwards to discussing further in our double width and sprung (aiding Royal Holloway ladies comportment) corridor of marketing power, the clever inversion or story twist, a John Lewis favourite ploy.  The Hare appears on first view to be disappointed and presentless, whilst all around are demonstrating the materialistic, hedonistic joy of receiving well chosen gifts, whilst the reveal shows the behaviour was hope and anticipation of celebrating Christmas with a best friend, the Bear.  So pure, so sweet, so authentic and meaningful. Or should I be unforgiving and critical and suggest that well executed heart strings pulling using child friendly plot lines and pastiche images is clich├ęd and transparent.  Or is that Downton Abbey ?
We may also consider another perennial inversion, the gender blend cover, this time by established (but retired ?) artist hip Lily Allen and whether this will make number one AGAIN in the download charts, help the ad to the public "most liked" status AGAIN and why the lead (media hypes yet also snipes) news coverage suggesting twitterati consumers are critical.  (ooh ! The Sun, Nov 10, 2013)
What do you think ?  Which are your favourite Christmas ads this season ?

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Sir Alec Reed meets Royal Holloway MBA candidate Amy Sharath

Sir Alec Reed is widely recognised as an iconic figure in the recruitment industry and must rank as one of the greatest social entrepreneurs of our times. A long time friend of the School of Management Sir Alec enjoys meeting with bright Royal Holloway entrepreneurial students every year.  MBA candidate and IT recruitment professional Amy Sharath said "Being present in one of Sir Alec Reed's seminars was truly a once in a life time experience. His energy and enthusiasm, even at the age of 79, were incredibly inspiring and totally infectious."  

During his talk to eager students and academic staff Sir Alec, founder of Reed recruitment found on many High Streets nationally, emphasised the importance of coming up with at least one new idea everyday and to resist the temptation of judging it too quickly.  Amy felt this was her big takeaway.
Sir Alec shared several anecdotes from his early life which clearly highlighted that failure is an integral part of success. He encouraged every "Wannabe Entrepreneur" in the room to be impulsive, creative, innovative and curious. Having had a chance to talk informally with Sir Alec Amy was struck by his warmth and generous spirit. She reflected "As a professional recruiter and a great admirer of  Sir Alec, I aspire to literally follow his footsteps someday."   

Royal Holloway MBA candidate Amy Sharath meets Sir Alec Reed
Amy Sharath joins the 2013/14 MBA full time cohort having worked for a number of years in the IT recruitment industry.  Having completed her undergraduate studies she joined R2 International an emerging IT Recruitment & Staffing company, based in Bangalore, India and worked there for 5 years. R2 recognised Amy's potential early and despite her relative inexperience, was given the opportunity to start a new business unit that focussed on delivering of IT Contractors with skills in the German software SAP.
Amy has closed major deals with Fortune #100 companies such as Arcelor Mittal, Total Petrofina, Levi's, Ferrero, Accenture  and maintained the relationships, growing them into some of her companies top clients. Within its first year of operation, the SAP Recruitment division became the highest revenue generating business unit in the company.  Amy, despite being widely recognised as a star performer, decided to take a year out and study for an MBA to enhance her overall understanding of businesses and broaden her experience beyond the head hunting and recruitment. 

Inspired by Sir Alec's session Amy concluded "I have been very successful growing the SAP business at R2 International and this makes me extremely confident that after I complete my challenging MBA journey I will be more than prepared for an exciting future career, where ever this leads."

Saturday, 2 November 2013

MBA winning group toast their success

Royal Holloway  MBA's toast their success
Challenged by MBA Director Justin O'Brien to create an introductory YouTube video as part of an extended team building induction to their demanding MBA programme (from left and clockwise) Cosel, Gopesh, Rachel, Sharon and Manolo picked up the winning prize, a team dinner out at a restaurant of their own choosing. 
The video task required the group to work closely together to plan and execute a project that required demonstration of not only important business skills of interpersonal communication, team working and delivering to a specific time bounded brief, but also some creative flair in generating original content and editing it together.  Not usually the stuff of a rigorous academic business masters degree.  This fun endeavour appeared to be widely enjoyed by the whole group and is typical of the practical and experiential (learning by doing) approach taken on the innovative Royal Holloway MBA programme.
In appropriately democratic fashion the MBA cohort of 2013/14 voted for the winners, having seen all four groups introduce their clips during a presentation skills workshops.  Justin O'Brien summarised the learning thus "Fundamental to effective presentation giving is expertise and confidence.  The former comes from hard work, confidence is a function of practice, learning from success and identifying opportunities to improve."   Justin highlighted the importance of regularly asking for feedback and shared with the MBA candidates the feedback sandwich model, which sees developmental, constructive criticism offered up either side of positive, appreciative comments.

Watch the winning video here.  Enjoy.