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I think of technology as anything that is developed to make our lives easier and more productive (although not necessarily better). However, not all technology developments are successful. Some fail to be adopted and vanish into the blue yonder, possibly even some good ones. Some get remembered as a quirky or amusing anecdote, most disappear without a trace.

Technology becomes successful when we no longer perceive it to be technology, in fact when we cease to see it at all. When we stop wondering about how it works; when we use it without worrying about whether it will or not; and just use it without really thinking about it – that’s when technology can be thought of as truly successful.

In the early years of any technology several things stop it moving into the realms of general usage and it is addressing these that moves it in the right direction:

  • Cost – new technology costs an arm and a leg;
  • Reliability – it usually breaks down and breaks down often;
  • Usability – it is new and no one really knows how to use it and if you do you really need to know the nuts and bolts;

Part of the usability problem is that the new technology often tries to emulate existing technology – the first motor cars really were horseless carriages; television was radio with pictures; the website was a brochure on a computer screen.

This is a two edged sword: emulating existing technologies is probably essential to give users a frame of reference without which it maybe very difficult to get the technology adopted. Replicating the interface to the technology may make it easier for new users to get the hang of it, but it stifles the potential of the technology.

Technologies take time to grow into themselves – it took many years for the car to move away from looking like a carriage; television took decades to develop dedicated formats; mobile phones have only recently started developing functionality that the connection method enabled; the web is only now starting to develop into its own persona.

A technology takes time to develop into a unique application – and only become successful when we don’t realise that they are there.

I went to a splendid concert by Harrow Young Musicians last Sunday at St John’s, Smith Square.

The first half was a lively combination of steel pans and symphonic winds and the second half featured tenorCarlos Nogueira, accompanied by the HYM Symphony performing “On Wenlock Edge” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

However the main focus was on Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695), in celebration of his 350th anniversary. The Symphony Orchestra played “Rondeau from Abdelazer”. The HYM Philharmonic then sung some of the items from music from the Funeral of Queen Marry II – it was hard to believe that they are not a choir, the standard was so high, and excellent preparation for the mass they are to sing in St Marks, Venice later this month.

The evening was completed with the Philharmonic performing “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” by Benjamin Britten. Conducted by HYM musical director Mark Gooding, they gave an exemplary performance of these Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell (just to show that sampling is not a modern pop phenomena). I think that Purcell, especially given how young he was when he died, would have been amazed that 350 years later his work was still giving enjoyment to many and that it was being played to such high standards by young people.

I have just received an email from ResCen (Centre for research into creation in the performing arts, based at Middlesex University UK) which introduces a fascinating project they are now working on. They have just started DANSCROSS, a collaborative venture with The Beijing Dance Academy.

What particularly attracted me was the theme that they are working on this year – Dancing in a shaking world – the “the pervasiveness of climate change, financial instability and viral infections are all part of the wider context”. Even though based on these global phenomena, the “focus, however, is on the working environment and on the practices of artists – we examine the particular to see the panoramic, as they create responses to the theme”.

The arts have a major role in bringing understanding between countries and cultures, and projects such a this can do nothing but good.

Looking at the small to see the big is something that appeals to me and is a lesson for marketing too.

For more informatiion on ResCen visit www.rescen.net and if you’d like to read up on this fascinating project see www.rescen.net/blog

If you are not a member of the Arts Marketing Association, you really should be.

The latest issue of JAM (their magazine) focusses on customer development and includes excellent articles by Heather Maitland (looking at research tells about audience loyalty; Katy Raines on how assessing audience loyalty is essential (as she says “do the maths” – a lady after my own heart); Caroline Griffin shows how using CRM well can support artistic risk; Sharon Ament makes the case for lifestyle segmentation; and Tim Baker argues that it’s not yet time to write off the subscription scheme. Additionally there is an inspirational extract from Seth Godin’s book and a case study from Claire Byers at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

You really should get a copy – the membership fee is worth it for JAM alone. Check out the AMA here.

Yesterday I was visiting Birmingham Royal Ballet and was fortunate enough to catch a rehearsal of ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café. I have to confess I was amazed: The music was at times haunting others inspirational; the costumes were stunning; and the use of a simple but evocative sets and lighting set the whole thing ablaze.

So what’s it all about? Well to borrow the description from BRB:

Simon Jeffes and his Penguin Café Orchestra provided David Bintley’s inspiration for ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café, his witty and poignant look at man’s effect on the world around him. A morris-dancing flea, a ballroom-dancing ram, a sleepy rat and a woolly monkey are among the animals featured.”
A performance to experience. It is on at various locations throughout the UK as part of BRB’s Pomp and Circumstances suite – click here for more info.

I had an interesting conversation over lunch yesterday. We were discussing why new customer initiatives seem to be much more attractive to marketeers than customer retention activities.

Even though all our marketing eduction, and experience, tell us that it is much cheaper to sell to existing customers and patrons yet it seems that more effort is put into customer acquisition. That is not to say that customer acquisition is not important – it is the only way to grow a business over time. But by ignoring or just paying lip service to existing customer retention and development it makes new customer marketing nowhere near as efficient as it should be. If you are not actively marketing to your existing customers then how do you know the most profitable sectors targets to pursue for new customers.

By actively market, I mean continually profile and develop strategies for specific customer groups. Perhaps that is the problem – perhaps we have too much data to even get our heads around. Ideally, we’d market to our customers on a one-to-one basis, although that is not always going to be economic. Also, once we start this sort of analysis the faithful standard socio-economic categories just don’t cut it – that makes new customer marketing much harder. And the problem with tight segmentation in new customer marketing is the worry that you may lose some potential customers not in those groups – challenging.

So why? You will have your on views but a couple of things we discussed were: customer retention programmes are not as glamorous – it is the acquisition which has the advert budget; and retention programmes take a lot of analysis, thought and rigorous testing and refinement – a lot of detail. Perhaps it’s just the math.

Given today’s market place, hanging onto your customers is going to be critical. As budgets get cut, will it be new customer recruitment or customer retention that will feel the pinch first?