Grafysorber: It CANNOT and it MUST NOT be all about the Internet


In Shoreditch and in the Silicon Valley there is a whole raft of very bright young minds, who have embraced digital technology to give consumers and businesses better information and more pleasant experiences in shopping or leisure.

Some of them I have had the pleasure to meet and indeed I believe they have the traits of extremely smart entrepreneurs.

In quite many instances though when I come across a technology start up I cannot help thinking of:

  1. a post from Richard Huntington “When it comes to technology, is the internet the best we can do?”
  2. Vector in Despicable Me-1

So I am delighted to introduce to whoever is bothering to read this post, the great, and not so young minds, of Directa Plus and their product Grafysorber.

A very physical product (with lots of intelligence in it…)  to solve a very physical challenge, i.e. cleaning our very physical, beautiful but alas very dirty Oikos.



In praise of Slow and the Beautiful Game: tempo not speed…


My heart and mind warmed to one of the latest posts by the always excellent Farnam Street. t is called In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed.

What else can be added? Lots, for such a good reasoning is fertile and worth taking in different directions and perspectives.

In essence Mr. Shane Parrish quotes a number of sources and says: if you go too fast you have little time to think and that means poor decisions.

Let’s take football: today it has become a fast game, even the gifted ones with superior ball control run like elks, take CR7. He is a videogame turned reality and a delight of psychomotor skills, see, run, breeze through the opponent.

Do you think you need to be just as fast to counter him? Wrong.

Fabio Cannavaro even in his late days was a nemesis for CR7. Why? CR7 is very predictable if you just watch what he does and you have the body of an athlete to respond to it. Fabio grew up in the streets of Naples, he watched and knew what to do. He just did it with the right “tempo”.

And that is the point, you do not need to go fast all the time to be fast when it is needed.

An the irony is that human thinking is a very fast process per se, a split second of thinking can analyse a situation and figure out many courses of action, anticipate their consequences and make better decisions.

Even when everyone else around is running around like headless chicken or playing the ball tiki taka style (R. Kipling still very, very relevant), if you are brave enough to claim that thinking, breathing space, that is when you can figure out the piece of magic that will make history.

But then your name is Diego Maradona or Mariolino Corso, “God’s left foot”, somebody who never needed to run too much to be in the right place at the right time.

How many goals by CR7 will the whole world remember in 30 years? How many people still remember Maradona’s goal from the halfway line against England in 1986?

In a beautiful documentary called “The Beautiful Game” Garrincha, possibly the most beautiful player to watch in history (ironically he had a limp) said the football player in Brazil used to be a dançarino, dancing to the music of the game. And a beautiful dance, or a beautiful game for that matter, is not one that is fast all the time. It happens when pace changes from slow to flowing to fast to slow again, adagio, andante, allegro, crescendo

What if we did that next time we tackle our working day or the next project or even when we walk to the Tube from the office? Surely there would be less attrition, quite probably we would feel as if we got home quicker and in fact we would, ask Mr. Einstein and Mons. Bergson for confirmation…


Of all the definitions of “Brand” I have read and used, the one that in my opinion is both simple and deep is: A brand is the consumer’s idea of a product (D. Ogilvy as quoted by Edwards and Day, 2005, pag. 40).

From that very much adequate approximation, the concept of Branding has evolved into something that has more to do with an odd mix of metaphysics, pop culture and a surrogate religion.

We have been told Das Brand is an entity of its own, a hypostasis to which humans should develop a sort of deep emotional/quasi-religious attachment, even a friendship.

More Plotinus than Plato: send three and four pence, we are going to a dance…, rather than send reinforcements we are going to advance.

So no surprise when at the top of its popularity that concept fails epically. And that happens right in the social media sphere, its experimentum crucis.

From sublime to ridiculous.

Thank God we got Mr. Bob Hoffman rising and showing us the way: “Marketers are from Mars, Customers are from New Jersey”.


What is next for any Martians who have fallen on New Jersey?

Simple, watch TV, if you do not have enough time for 3D Real Reality.

Suggestions from this writer:

  1. “Super Shoppers”, C4: Last July in a shopping Centre: The Coca Cola blind test applied to Tea, about 30 years later: Perception does shape reality: our recent consumeristic history makes us think that a branded tea is better than Lidl’s Tea. But, but…
  2. “Eat well for Less”, BBC1: yesterday 6th of September 2015, a Newport family realises they can save about 4 of the grand if they kiss good-bye a few Brands in their weekly shopping AND change some habits.


On a very first basic level, growing parts of the population simply are revising the Value/Performance equation of “Brands”.

To me, it is really about the internal ability to deliver.

À rebours up to the source: an organisation’s ways of thinking and acting, which in turns defines internal production/service structures, sales and marketing, employee engagement etc. etc.

Eventually, each and every one of those things and all them together build up, bottom up, inside out that thing we call Brand.

I call that Substance and Delivery Branding.

And I have an ipse dixit for that, instead of  adding my drivel to what has been said by a real authority:

(Maurice) Saatchi’s Law (as quoted by Edwards and Day, 2005, pag. 209): S = P-E, Satisfaction equals Performance minus Expectation.

Simple, very human, very New Jersey but it very underrated to me these days, which is a BIG, BIG issue.


The old world is coming to an end and a new one has not emerged yet, but it will not be long…

Of course the power of omnipresent communications (even more so courtesy of Digital), combined with omnipresent distribution is still strong, so the metaphysical part of Branding still appears to matter. But the malaise is there…

…And people do experience, repeatedly, over time: dirty shops, rude staff, Contact Centres designed and operated by Franz Kafka, cowboy salesmen, patronising communication, products not living up to promises…All that comes from silos, extreme office politics, NIH* syndrome, poor internal communications and des-engaged staff, weak, rigid and frigid company cultures.

Those experiences, in time, will definitely change the consumer’s “idea” of any Brand. And that will hurt the bottom line…

Flashback 19th century Sicily: Don Fabrizio Corbera, The Leopard, Principe di Salina, Duca di Querceta, Marchese di Donnafugata …and a part time thinker, was debating the “Monarchy Brand” with a bureaucrat of the King.

The Kingdom is falling apart, Garibaldi, a Republican, a Socialist is blazing his trail from Sicily up to the Capital, Naples.

The Bureaucrat goes: “things are a bit iffy, but we should all stick to the Ideal of Monarchy nonetheless”.

The Prince says: “Of course. Only thing is…because of prolonged poor show, even the Ideal is a tad dented eventually”.


*NIH: Not Invented Here.

Mons. Malaussène or Contact Centre 2020?

Back in the late 1980s-early 1990s, marketing gurus reminded us about CLV, Customer Lifecycle Value. They were times of buoyant (especially after 1993) but slightly saturated markets, retention took precedence over acquisition.

So Customer Service (CS) became one of the next big things.

French literature back then: Mons. Malaussène is all but stupid, he is a good family man and his woman is a sultry and smart red-haired journalists. He is just non-competitive and settles in a ptt (petit travail tranquille) to get by. The sultry redhead is the breadwinner. A very modern family model by the way.

Point is that he is employed by the CS of a famous department store in Paris. He is the first “touchpoint” (as we would say today) between the brand and the consumer.

In fact he is a scapegoat.

The righteous citoyen consommateur (delightful self-satire of the French society) crucifies the poor sod for their faulty goods, until de Chef de Salle intervenes in deus ex machina style to sacrifice the sod above on the altar of the citoyen consommateur.

Mons. Malaussène is solemnly fired until the citoyen consommateur recognises him as his semblable and spares him from this monstrosity. Throughout the antics, the citoyen consommateur has forgotten about his exploded bread toaster, charges are dropped and life goes on as normal.

Comédie des erreurs French style…

I would bet the Crown Jewels that the readers have found themselves with more than one faulty appliance/telephone subscription etc. Given the chance, more than one of you, mon semblable, mon frère would have been delighted to give the thumbs down to the CS agent (for especially the non-Catholic do not have possess a high sense of forgiveness….).

Point is that CS have rapidly earned themselves the nickname of buffer departments, rightly so to a very good extent.

Overall though, the formula has evolved to adapt and prosper, so it is alive and well.

In the bigger scheme of things many of us people in marketing/sales/business professions and customers alike would not just write them off, rather try and make it work as best as possible.

I eat and breathe CS and Contact Centres (CC) every day, both as a user and a professional.

So, as I read Hugo Pickford-Wardle’s article on LinkedIn Pulse, Customers Service in 2020, I was intrigued by two very interesting sentences:

1) The role of a customer service advisor is to help other humans and a large part of the frustration we all experience in our interactions with customer service departments is down to a lack of appropriate tooling.

2) Interactions with their customers shouldn’t be a cost, but should result in a positive contribution to their bottom line.

Let’s analyse these statements one by one:

1-Helping Customers and Removing frustration. Let’s work inside out, for it takes two to tango. Let’s begin with tooling the CC. I have two considerations here:

1.1-On a very simple first level: Agents need to know what to do and how to prioritise.

All human civilisations these day use visual information such as symbols colours, numbers etc. to influence behaviour and make decisions. This way society works more or less better in various contexts. I will leave this to a few pictures:

In society we use things like this:

traffic lights

Simple and effective

The same can be done in a CC:

Action message

It is a very simple case of RTPM, Real Time Performance Management:

Again pictures say more than a thousand words

In terms of latency in decision making, once you have the data and set the relevant conditions, you can visualise “action” messages to drive the appropriate decision and behaviour. So you can go:

From this:


To this:


The Customer Experience (CX) can be dramatically improved when the agent’s performance is improved because they see at any moment where the ball is and what they need to do.

1.2-SLAs and the CX today demand that the CC is “omni-channel” and integrated.

Businesses have opened up and made available to their customers a number of channels to be in “touch”: telephone, email, chat, etc. So the CX is omni-channel: we use different media to shop, buy and sort our queries.

However omni-channel means nothing in silos.

If there is no integration internally within in the CC and inside out for the whole CX and (the process-savvy say front end and back end) things can easily take a vicious spiral and go horribly wrong in terms of brand and CC costs.

Personal anthology of CC silos horrors:

Vodafone: need to get access to my account online:

  • 1 hour on chat and the problem is patched, i.e. temporary access created by the chat operator.
  • On chat it turns out there was an old account attached to my old number and they had lost track of my current number and account.
  • Send a very vocal Tweet, they reply the next morning asking to use the Chat channel/touchpoint.
  • Contact Centre opening times: 8 to 23 (or something like that) .I call after 21, after an hour waiting still no answer.

Orange: Need to terminate my Internet contract in Spain while in the UK:

  • I had previously managed to terminate my telephone contract from within Spain.
  • Only a mobile number is available from abroad, no landline available!!!. Call them and they request a registered letter to terminate the contract.
  • Send that letter but, my mistake, I lose the Post Office receipt, luckily I had kept a screen shot acknowledging receipt.
  • Sales Contact Centre denies receipt of that letter and say if I cannot demonstrate I have sent the letter they will keep charging me, which they do.
  • I block the payment two months in a row and send very vocal Tweet, they reply privately asking as a condition to talk that I follow them and have a private exchange of messages.
  • However, after a short exchange of messages they say they have found my letter and they even stop collecting payments from an earlier date (???). So I get some money back…

British Gas: I submit my meter reading and get a £250+credit message, happy days!

  • Call Contact Centre after e few days and they have different information, I owe them more than £350. Who is right when I had received an email confirming that credit in my favour?
  • Agent has no access to web and email system!!! I re-input data and this time the web agrees with Agent…Where is the Candid Camera???

Amazon Prime Now, from my mobile, I can book a 2-hours delivery to my postcode.

  • As I put my first order, I choose though not to have my hoover delivered in two hours as I am at a very nice dinner party on the opposite side of London.
  • Either my big fat finger hits the wrong button or there is something “rigid” in the system.
  • I get confirmation message that my purchase is being delivered by the next two hours…
  • Call the CC right away to try and postpone to the next morning as I thought I had selected: the Agent at the number I am calling cannot retrieve my case only by using my name, I have to flick from one screen to the other on my mobile, as I pass the order number they put me through another Agent without passing the order number, so again I flick back and dig out number…clock ticking…God knows how much I am going to pay for that call and race against time to block that delivery.
  • This time though they cannot access the delivery information, they are only there to pick up queries or order cancellations.
  • Now if I am not there by an hour my parcel will be either left on the door step (yeah right) or the order be cancelled…is this a stage based horror video game or what???
  • So I have to leave Stratford then and there and head towards Fulham. While on the surface I get a call for the delivery boy who graciously agrees to wait for me half an hour!!!
  • So apparently some Amazon staff run around like headless chickens, others can linger in leafy Fulham in the balmy summer breeze and watch the pretty girls go by…

 InHealth: I call to ask whether my MRI has been received and passed to my GP.

  • No news yet, they put a reminder through another department and ask me to call again, they are open until 20.30.
  • When I do I am told the reminder department is now closed and they cannot access the info about my case…I already have an appointment with the GP and I run the risk of going for nothing…

In fairness it must be considered that different CS/CX channels work with different behaviours, processes and sets of values as they are the results of a historical stratification, i.e. they are added layer by layer, often by different people at different times, and that is bound to create inconsistencies, beyond any bad intentions.

No surprise HSBC bought First Direct to branch into e-banking and RSA bought 123 in Ireland to have a “native” digital contact centre in that market.

But that is only reinforcing the point: there are basic, simple, albeit not so obvious challenges in terms of CC channel integration today. They affect people, processes and technology. And it is serious business for your business.

Overall I shall be excused for blowing my own trumpet when I say, and I am tempted to add “objectively”, that my company tackles at the same time the Holy “People-Process-Technology” Trinity, thus offering a very simple and effective solution to a very big problem.

Telephony data, ODBC-data, SAP, CRM, email, chat, social feeds etc., as long as a business has the notion of using those data sources in synergy we are there to bring that information into a single view to those who needs it when and where they need it, inside out from the internal performance to the CX.

So far we have covered the first statement. I promise I will cover the second one in the next post as this is becoming an essay and we all have other things to do today.

Food for thought: Baked-beans-the ultimate class indicator


From the Evening Standard 18/08/2015. One of those minor articles hidden within the big columns. Often you just stumble across them and they turn out to be gems that encapsulate big themes of a society and really make you think.

Guide for the reader:

The article statements are numbered and written in bold italic. The writer comments are in standard font.

And by the way, they try not to be biased and to use his, partial, very partial knowledge about history and society. Nonetheless he hopes they make good food for thought.

Last caveat, just in case: the writer is very fond of baked beans and English breakfast in general. Almost every food has its time and place, especially if it is done with Tuscan eggs, Cumberland sausage and home-made baked beans, like at my beloved Raoul of Talbot Street or in a proper “greasy spoon” (style, not hygiene-wise), hidden at the feet of the City’s skyscrapers like my friends at Masters.

The Article and the comments:

1. There is a rise in the number of large families, encouraged by the super-rich and the migrants.

That is an historical constant in Europe and elsewhere. The former can, so they show off (it is called potlatch in anthropology), the latter must. It is a question of resources available and increasing the odds of genes survival.

2. The bond between the working and the upper class is of course traditionally strong

That is particularly true of all Ancien Régimes. For England is oddly the oldest democracy of Europe and still a class system. Curiously, this side of the Channel, the Bourgeoisie in terms of middle class with set of values and need for achievement distinct from the noble-class and the working class has never really existed (maybe) nor it has aspired to be the foundation of society like in France, Italy, Germany or the United States (definitely).

3. Jeremy Corbyn’s idea of a great night, according to his first wife, is eating baked beans at home.

So we find out that the British champion of anti-austerity is in fact a very austere man, deeply rooted in English breakfast, the quintessential diet of the British Industrial Revolution. In line with point 2.

4. It is a taste his shares with the Duke of Westminster.

One of the most intriguing eccentricities of the British noble breed. Never were they really as lavish nor flamboyant as their French or Russian peers. They show social traits that are either very sophisticated, like diplomatic skills, self-control and Victorian manners, interest in science and technology or…er…maybe not so sophisticated, like not covering your mouth when yawning, not looking after their teeth too much and…baked beans. Again in line with point 2 and 3.

5. It has always been the middle class that has fancier tastes and fewer children.

During its social ascent, Bourgeoisie has been eclectically cherry picking from some of the status symbols of the nobles they were seeking to replace. Fancy food, together with prestigious home and the art of reception, were an immediate target for Italian and French Bourgeois especially.

However, Bourgeoisie had to be economical with resources, save to reinvest. That is what capitalism is about in its MCD (Minimum Common Denominator) form. Children, or too many of them are a high-maintenance, long-term investment so a high-risk one (not necessarily my personal view…). In old times maybe the most sensible distribution of tasks within the family was the man making money and the woman staying home to look after generally two off-springs, so not to spread the patrimony too thin in the next generation.

And now THE question:

Which social and economic form guarantees the optimum point of personal freedom, social cohesion, the most efficient exploitation, reproduction and access to finite resources including comfort, healthy food and maybe even happiness?

(Just one little bias from an Italian man who has been fed and cared-maybe too much and too long- first by his Mum and now by his Wife: sometimes happiness really is a warm, reasonably fancy meal and its smell welcoming you back home from a long day fighting for your biftek in the City…all made by her for you).

Food for thought, let’s have a dialogue…NOT a conversation, please…

Country for old men and women?

Just over a week ago I was delighted to realise that the tirades of very wise and very grumpy old man have eventually gone mainstream.

It’s been years since Bob Hoffman has been going on preaching (with rigour and passion) against the tidal wave of nonsense that had made cash-strapped millennials the only target of all marketing. I have been reading those posts avidly, dreaming about the day marketing sobered up.

So it is very good news that Flamingo join the fray, especially if they are going to produce insights at the same levels as those produced for Mumstock. On that occasion, as Richard Huntington has described in his blog, a very important, fresh perspective has been opened into the emotions of motherhood.

In the same vein I am going to watch this one closely and with high hopes for our profession.

Just two questions, both about the usual “pendulum effect” in human things:

  • Is marketing now going to swing from neglecting assured, youthful, fairly healthy 50+ to be obsessed with them?

In which case beware of shifting demographic patterns: Millennials in fact increasingly have money in their pockets. Look at younger generations of executives, successful start-uppers or at the simple fact of life that people grow up and build some kind of position.

A simple reasoning to back that up: until recently and unless you were born in a PIGS country, normally you finished University around 21-22 and you got into a job straight away, more or less. So if you were that age around the year 2000, had a decent mind (more or less), ambition and did not squander all your money in booze, cocaine and silly borrowing, by today you are just over 30, already on a good career and enjoying a decent income (50K+). Double that if your partner does the same not bad going, especially if you play it right in Greater London.

Also, what about the 40something? Those who did all of the above since year 1993-94 are in an even stronger position…

  •  Does loving the 50s+ mean digital all of a sudden does not matter anymore?

Maybe I am only pushing an open door but it is worth taking a trip to the Tube to read people (as had it recently while living in London): look at the number of people 50s+ who read the Times on their iPad…Enough said: digital technology is part of the fabric of life for all generations. Look also at these stats for Italy, the country where ecommerce is seriously fraught with online crime and the fear of it:

At the end of the day, we cannot escape one simple boring reality: Specific “trends” deserve attention at any given moment in time: some are fun, some really change the game, all are photograms in a longer movie. Eventually the only safe bet for all marketers is to do the homework and give all segments and demographics a balanced deal of attention, just like we do (or should) with our grandparents parents, children, brothers and sisters, uncles & aunts etc. etc.

So now it is time to enjoy insights into our 50+ uncles, older brothers, fathers, courtesy of Flamingo.

On Sales and Automation

The Problem: You have a product you believe in, so you want all your potential buyers (known and unknown) to know about it, want it and buy it. Reach and engage, successfully and profitably. Here and everywhere in the world.

Then you want to be efficient and effective. In our post-industrial economy, automation is still the no. 1 strategy and digital the no. 1 tactic because you can track and interact anytime and anywhere. More or less.

Back in 2002, my team in Oracle launched a campaign called “See, Try, Buy”; it was probably one of the very first attempts to move on-line the full customer journey and the associated sales cycle. It was obviously a very ambitious project, but it aimed in the right direction and it is still extremely relevant today and tomorrow.

See Try Buy

However, Just because of the technologies available back then, it was still very labour intensive and not extremely efficient nor effective in two key aspects:

  1. For starters integration between each step of the process was almost 100% manual.

Imagine having one excel spreadsheet with the initial prospects of an email campaign and one with those who had opened it and another with those among the previous lot who had clicked-through to say fill a landing page etc. etc. Anyone who has even just bothered to try and cross-reference and integrate those reports manually, using Access or VLook Up, will almost physically recall the horrors of those scenarios, both in terms of labour-literally-and of accuracy and quality of the end results.

  1. Another big, big question mark lied at the very heart of the mission: can you automate sales? Really, to what extent?

The most attractive and relevant brand, the most engaging content, the most seamless and integrated digital journey, the most compelling promotion, would they ensure your prospects, as many as possible, would follow you, The Magic Piper, through the whole journey to the promised land of customer benefits, sales and more repeat sales with little or no human intervention?

Unless you are still a student, or a bit dim or naive, you would never even dream about it.

In the harsh realities of that Oracle experiment, people like me were gently harassing their prospects at every step of the way in order to push the consenting victims down the conversion funnel.

Without that phone reminder or that live webinar, that follow up call to further qualify the opportunity etc. etc. forget about seeing that order. And then you had to start it all over again to make that wheel go round once more.

Does it mean it is not worth trying to automate sales further? No.

Indeed it is worth embarking in that quest, for innovation and progress are really about pushing the boundaries.

Two generations of innovators:

In order to describe the most important innovations since 2002, I will use these two home-made definitions: Integrators and Process-driven.

  • Integrators:

Roughly what I mean by that is focusing on automating integration between existing systems and technologies; that was the “trend” in the mid-to late 2000s.

As a result, today at every step in the journey, the reports produced are now reasonably, though not perfectly, interoperable: email blasts opening and click through rates can be connected fairly smoothly with landing pages reports, especially if your company is blessed with good human minds using those systems well. Great so far.

Still though, what about the Holy Grail of automating the sales process to its rock bottom?

  • Process-Driven Innovators:

Let’s use the evergreen People-Processes-Technology framework. There are some recent technologies that are designed around the Sales Process and aim at optimising the combination and balance between automation (Technology) and human behaviour (People).

These technologies have one common and very interesting feature: the ability to track and analyse the huge and rich digital “footprint” left by people and businesses across the Internet “universe” today.

One first example comes from “The” Internet company “par excellence”, who is perfecting an analytic tool to tell you exactly what digital steps your prospects took to become customers, to come back or where they stopped, where they accelerated. Great, it was about time, great room for improvement.

However there is a raft of start-ups who have taken a quantum leap towards even more interesting directions.

Some use big data to track in real-time the activities of businesses in the market and apply algorithms that identify common patterns of behaviour.

As a result their systems provide automation for: deeper understanding of existing customers, predictions of who can be a potential customers, even unknown ones (which is great as we know that non-customers are always many more then the existing and potential identified customers), knowledge-rich prospect profiling for tailored sales approach and sales meeting preparation.

Others provide a hybrid, human and automated full solution, from generating prospects (off and on-line), to qualifying and screening them using scoring techniques and algorithms, to closing sales (again both off and on-line).

Both groups mix the very simple and the very advanced in a very interesting way: they focus on the real life sales process, automating information gathering and hypothesis formulation on a massive scale. The human intervention of a sales person happens to analyse, make an ultimate judgement call and interact with other humans.

That is a big, big advancement, no wonders they are being very successful and all the big boys in the trade are investing in them, very rightly so.

On shopping for groceries-I

Inspired by “A thousand small gestures” by Ellen Monaghan


Some time ago, I came across that post on my Linkedin feed.

In summary Ellen Monaghan says: a brand is the product of a thousand small gestures: it is about the experience, and Sainsbury offers one that is convenient, easy and considered across the board: the delivery man is trustworthy and if he’s early, he’ll ring to see if I’m in and will ask permission to deliver my shopping earlier than expected; in case of an order hiccup they will sort it quickly etc. etc. A ‘beyond my expectations’ experience and, as a result, the relationship with Sainsbury’s is truly cemented (quasi verbatim).

Being an experienced and fairly loyal customer of Sainsbury, I commented that I agreed but also promised the author I would add some comments to try an take the reasoning further. Here they are.


The methodology can be summarised as a “make my pound go further” approach and it includes, in a very unorthodox mix:

  • “Stress testing” (Heavy usage, spending a decent amount of money on Sainsbury with a view to making the system work for me as much as possible, on-line and off-line),
  • Comparative-competitive analysis (cheating on Sainsbury, comparatively, with-almost- anyone else, supermarkets and not-make a note this last one is key),
  • Observation (meandering about the aisles),
  • Accompanied shopping (including even my wife, which takes patience beyond love),
  • Taking Online Surveys for money (yes, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa),
  • Collecting and using Nectar points and vouchers ruthlessly,
  • Asking for a duplicate Nectar card, because I needed.

I had never really done any comprehensive strategy work in Food retail before…it was great fun and a journey of discovery.

The findings ended up going well beyond the scope of a single post. Maybe almost a pamphlet…so today you will find “only” reflections on the Problem: Shopping for Groceries, Supply side (Supermarkets) and Demand Side (Consumers).

The next episode (at draft stage today) will be about Sainsbury’s Brand Strategy to address that Problem, and it will be published in Mid-May because this blogger is just very busy these days.

The Problem. For everyone’s relief, let’s start with a graph.


In essence, there are win-lose behaviours as both sides try and achieve their goals.

Let’s go through the homework, notes 1 to 4 in the graph.

1: The Consumer-Good Game

  • Offers and promotions are ongoing and can make you save up to £20 (maybe more) on the price tag of a weekly family shopping of £80+ (two adults and a 2 year-old Mr. PacMan).
  • Taking on-line surveys can make you up to £10 a month in Sainsbury vouchers.
  • You get Nectar points on the nominal spend (higher) not on the actual spend (lower because of the above); after some patient/clever collecting you can redeem them, even on-line. Maybe another £2.5 off the bill each time.
  • Choosing the delivery slot carefully may mean £2 instead of £6: accountants tell us it counts as saving.
  • Overall roughly £35 off the bill and delivered to your door, timely and nicely.

Note 2: The Consumer-Not So Good Game

On the other hand, “We”-The Poor Consumer are not all that alert, or responsible, all the time.

In fact the Consumer seems to be swinging between two extremes: either they sleepwalk through the aisles (brilliant examples from AMV BBDO for Sainsbury’s), i.e. always buying the same old same old.


They go compulsive: before 2008, a British Gas ad in the Tube depicted the quite common scenario of somebody who, instead of bothering to cook, was getting Thai take away plus bottle of wine for dinner.  £25 for one meal thanks very much.

From those days you may disallow:

  • The Crisis factor: maybe that scenario is no longer that extreme.
  • Now decent exotic ready-meals are available for £10-15 per household and you have the meal deals for £3 for lunch.


  • Lots of non exactly cheap eateries are still fully packed at lunchtime, and NOT just in the Square Mile.
  • Really we are all, be A, B, C1, C2, D’s, guilty of all those compulsive behaviours: singles, young couples, families. How often? Maybe two, three times a week for dinner, plus lunchtimes x no. of people in household…?

So you get my drift, the numbers are there…we probably do not really spend that clever and make our pound get that far for us. That is not minor point, I believe in individuals’ responsibility…

Note 3: The Supermarkets-Good Game

Carefully planned pricing policies and a strong mix of incentives do create some habit if not full-on loyalty: when I use “My Supermarket” to compare my shopping basket in Sainsbury vs. others, there is more or less no contest. You really “live well with less”.

Sometimes I get the option to save even more by arranging a combined Sainsbury /Asda delivery. However you now get Brand Match vouchers vs. Asda from Sainsbury anyway, not sure if online as well but surely in store.

So that is a good experience, as described by Ellen Monaghan. I would stick to Sainsbury then…

Note 4: Supermarkets-Not so Good Game

However it is not all that nice when you really try and squeeze all the Nectar out…

1) Loyalty schemes such as Sainsbury’s are not really working in your favour all the time:

  • How much is a Nectar point worth at Sainsbury’s ? 0.5p i.e. 0.5%?…well, every little helps…however, how many people are aware of this? I do not see that in big, block capitals when you join the scheme…the same goes for other schemes. Can we really compare and control?
  • Why can I only use my Nectar points on the “home” shop? This is something you only find out if you try and use your points in any other Sainsbury. Why should I not? I see the brand not the shop. Is it not the same brand in my Local in the City or in Fulham or in my Supermarket in Fulham Broadway?
  • Also, do points expire? I have found myself with less point from one day to the next in January without any apparent reason. It looks like points do expire but nobody seems to know, not last the good people at Nectar or in the shops. Where is it written?
  • The Nectar helpline is expensive and not precisely manned by geniuses: have you ever tried and explain you need a double of your Nectar card key fob? Good luck…horrible experience indeed and worse results.
  • On a less negative note, you can indeed use your Nectar points when you shop on line BUT that costs you going through a number of FAQ pages and a not so straightforward process. Overall, no full marks on transparency and usability.

2) All this bonanza, with all its pros and cons, prompts the question:

Is this price war (or rush to bribe the customer, call it what you prefer) sustainable? Even with on-line efficiency savings? How about margins?

3) Is the rewards bonanza really producing its intended effects for supermarkets anyway?

As I started shopping at Sainsbury in Fulham and they realised I had moved in the area, here is a bonanza of 4 free delivery and £10 off for a shop of at least £60, to use over a period of two months.

Great but:

a) it creates some form of expectation, which is going to be frustrated sooner or later, and

b) I can always play opportunistic: I can use this bonus to stock on certain commodities only (paper rolls, chicken to freeze etc.) and clock as many points as possible. Once the extra bonus is over, I can bank my points on re-occurring offers like those on Pampers Active or on pasta De Cecco and Berio Olive Oil (every 2-3 months). Recently I have build a 3-month stock of pasta, plus 3 weeks of nappies and olive oil with £30 approx.

And when even that is over, will I come back? Yes and No.

  • Yes, I did quite like their brand experience overall so I have not written them off altogether and, after all, the opportunistic option is always there, thanks to all the double-point vouchers you get in store.
  • No, I need my money to go further and I have found a number of viable alternatives/complements. Will keep you posted about that.

In summary:

The Consumers enjoys an incentive bonanza but maybe they do not make the most of it because they are shopping “passive-aggressive” (so it’s win AND lose).

On the other hand, Sainsbury’s, and for that matter any other supermarket, try and incentivise/build loyalty (legitimate) but they do somehow in an indiscriminate fashion. Possibly in a way that is not even sustainable (again, wind AND lose at the same time).

More questions rising there:

Does the “incentive machine” really work? Is it really achieving more repeat and predictable sales? Or does it rather encourage “scientific” opportunism from the Consumers that may leave the Supermarket worse off?

And even that is in the Consumers best interest? Could it not be that Supermarkets, may have to compromise on certain standards (health, freshness etc.) in order to contain the costs of the very same bonanza they have unleashed in the first place?

Last but not least, is the Supermarkets game really that transparent? Or more simply, do they (and their employees) make it work everyday and everywhere?

What is then the set of behaviours that may minimise “win-lose” and maximise “win-win” scenarios?

Let’s analyse Sainsbury’s Brand Strategy in response to the Problem. See you in May.

On Pattern building and Native Advertising: Why “Second Screening” could be good game between consumers and brands

One morning I was enjoying my usual little hour of serendipity, reading about sparse subjects and trying to find plausible connections. So I came across a few articles/posts, one from WARC, re “device switching” and a couple from the very Mr. Bob Hoffman, i.e. The Adcontrarian, re “TV vs. Digital”. Today’s post is partly the result of my personal reflections on how digital integrates (or not) with traditional media, how life and consumerism are changing, how disparate pieces of info (news, personal memories, notions from textbooks, gut judgement) may come together in one pattern, a new insight. Partly it is the result of having too much time in my hand maybe…

Let’s start with Mr. Hoffman. For the best part of last year he has been quoting several sources (Adweek/Simulmedia,  Nielsen and others), to prove that TV is still THE media to deal with and that most digital  “impressions” are the fake products of a bot. Fantastic stuff, being already in my 40s and having used digital since 2001 (to integrate DM, Events and even ATL), I never bought into the digital hype. Still, I AM NOT sure the story ends there, I KNOW it from other readings and I FEEL it from the pit of my stomach. If we leave aside the joyous onanism of the last few years, and the rude awakening of the last few months, Digital (if used in connection to a sane business spirit) really is about multiplying possibilities for interaction whenever/wherever. So, what’s the story about having all sorts of digital gadgets always connected and always at reach?

The WARC article on device switching (see link above for detailed figures): We can find a number of sensible measurements there. People switch all the time from smartphones to TV to laptop to tablets, in various directions, degrees and numbers. All those “how many” eventually leading to two very prudent but acceptable generic conclusions: 1) People do switch devices-my summary-and,  2) “It (is) important for marketers to ensure a consistent brand experience that would allow people to pick up their activity as they moved between devices” (verbatim).

Bingo! That got me thinking. Yes, many of the digital fundamentalists are either naïve, outright incompetent or very very cunning self-promoters, and yes facts suggest that TV is still king. However, the reasoning may well get further. So:

1) What if we connected Adcontrarian’s facts on TV vs. digital media to WARC’s considerations?  We may come to a first set of additional reflections:

a) most TV shows or ads today prompt us, or rather beg us, to do something (voting, polling or simply drivelling) via FB, Twitter etc.

b) many of us happily do that, be that for some fraction of our time, be that just because we have those new, handy, little, flashy toys at hand.

c) a)+b)= you have a form of “second screening”, popular even in Spain and across generations, according to other measurements and my own sober observations. In a way it is artificially induced behaviour and a “cheap” exchange of social currency based on having the second screen there but let’s not dismiss it so quickly just now.

2) What if we looked at second screening from other points of view, would we find more meaning to it?

a) A bit of Reader’s Digest anthropology/sociology (i.e. simple but useful): Even when we turn into Homer Simpson in our sofas, part-time we are still the curious animals who love to touch and smell, i.e. to live what’s before, around and after things that really catch our attention. And usually we love to share that with our fellow apes. It is called interactivity, with people and things and in time. Long before the current digital hangover.

b) Technology: In recent years, Sky has been testing a number of interactive services, around football games for example. Even before, Teletext with its hideous Atari-like interface, was trying to add “real-time” and services to TV. Dependency on the “TV-and-remote” pattern, made the whole deal quite basic and limited in options.

c) Now a bit of Proust: Talking about music (but it could be sports, DIY, your favourite chocolate bar) in the 1980s: In the early 1980s when U2 sounded great, a Sicilian teenager listening to “Stories for boys” on the radio had to go to the local indie shop, get the owner to give him a black and white fanzine with the address of their official fan-club in London (God, how did he get that??? real social currency). He had to take pen and paper in his fledging English, lick a few stamps and wait for their answer. Christmas Eve-like expectation stretching over a few weeks. Today it is called email, websites, Wikipedia, Shazam, YouTube, The IMDB, Yahoo Answers, forums etc. etc., right here, right now, your way. You may argue about instant gratification vs. rich experience and the pleasure of waiting. But good use of technology can offer you both and anything in between, it’s up to us really.

d) Good old marketing textbook: SIMPLE, CLASSIC concepts like brand building, product lifecycle (including extension), if not even cross-sell and up-sell?

Overall, what if we look at second screening from all those points of view now? TV and Digital Time converge and reinforce each other as two sides of “Our Own Experience” Time…and this could set the stage for a good game between consumers and brands.

Let’s get real and specific before you may think I am just another digital onanist in disguise:

Example from TV shows and football (with apologies to my female readers):… …Imagine you are a 50something (according to Mr. Adcontrarian the sweetspot for advertisers, and I agree), you still spend a good part of your free time watching a show on the box (well, the flat thingy). You now have always with you (an approximation, for reasoning’s sake) slick, powerful gadgets to interact with. Imagine you are watching an episode of “Cold Case”, a respectable example of a reasonably successful TV series. The episode is about a group of friends, now more or less successful and well-off.  The usual murder took place 20-30 years earlier when they were hippies who wanted to change the world. So you, the watcher, have lived some sort of similar metamorphosis (without killing anyone, I hope). Now, armed with this gadget and the related tools and websites, would you not search that Creedence Clearwater Revival song and possibly buy it (simplistic example, but you readers get my drift) and maybe share it with your college friends? Would you not look for that similar piece of furniture, shoes, etc. which has probably been re-styled and re-launched? So, what if our viewer had a repository (i.e. a simple database) of those things, within the “Cold Case” app/website, with the opportunity to find out more and “ultimately” to buy? Whatever topic/situation/object (today the smart ones call it “content”) that really relates to our interests needs, passions, would quite certainly drive that behaviour, be the viewer a 50something, a millennial or a teenager with a few quid in their pockets. Plus, this behaviour could happen before, during and after an episode; it may happen occasionally, in the case of an average viewer, it may do so repeatedly in the case of a fan. It may happen in the case of a single person, or more people in the same household or bar, group of connected friends

Another example, a bit less subtle and “one-shot” (so you understand it is possibly only one for the boys)…still very, very clever: What if you pushed to the smartphones of registered Barcelona’s fans an offer for Messi’s autographed Barcelona shirt at euro 49.99, right after he has scored the winning goal against Real Madrid in the Champions League final? (a wild fantasy these days but real, logical and brilliant example from Ogilvy’s Jordi Urbea) Overall, what matters the most is the opportunity for any viewer to make the most of their viewing experience, right then and there, or whenever/wherever they want it: to consume it just as it is or a trampoline to share it, expand it in all the directions they feel like. Or anything in between. Good for brands? If played properly, a wonderful way to: prepare the launch of a product, optimise it profitability, cross-sell and upsell the related portfolio, extend its lifecycle, make it a cult product after phasing out, doing “long tail”. Put it simply: building and delivering value and meaning in time.

Conclusions: All these considerations give a completely different light and meaning to the aseptic conclusions in the WARC article: “People do switch devices” and “It (is) important for marketers to ensure a consistent brand experience that would allow people to pick up their activity as they moved between devices”.

It is a world of interesting possibilities in terms of content and campaigns, for both audiences and advertisers. The engagement and identification created by the show/game creates an ideal context for a more fun, real and respectful way to relate to real people.

So it is an intelligent (and fun) way for both sides of the fence to keep the market alive. You can call it “sponsorship/product placement 2.0” (I would), if we want to be less ruthless I think this is more or less what the good people who came up with the term “Native Advertising” were really aiming at…

The Cleaning Lady v. PostModernism 1-0. A reality check for a few in Adland.

(Inspiration for this title from a tweet by David Trott on Feb. 28th 2014, and blogger “The Paper Thin Hymn”

The Story.

Sometimes Fate (or God) chooses the least likely of humans to become the messenger of a Higher Truth. This time is down to Mrs. Anna Macchi from Bari, Italy.

Mrs. Macchi works as cleaning lady at the Sala Murat in Bari; last February this “avant-garde” cultural institution hosted an exhibition on contemporary art.

During her shift before the opening, Mrs. Macchi sees what looks like a bunch of rumbles just left there in a corner and ipso facto: to the garbage bin. No messing around, so Mamma said, so be it.
Chances are the “rumbles” are in fact a centrepiece in the exhibition to be opened soon.

Big fuss but guess what, rather than losing her job Mrs. Macchi becomes a hero for some (this writer included) and revamps a fierce debate among the Arty Brigade in Italy.

The Morale:
Mrs. Macchi is THE ultimate art critic, my hero and should be The Hero of Anyone with a Bit of Common Sense Left (yes, vanishing species…). And that is a useful reminder to Adland as well.


It is very simple, just allow me to draw an example from a movie (it is the Seventh Art after all). Imagine you are a real person, living in a real world. One day you happen to take a trip to an art exhibition, where a Tom Wesselmann’s still-life (a full blown bathroom & toilet) is displayed.

So it occurs to you that an acquaintance of yours had once found a painting in a ruined XVIII century villa. The painting turned out to be a Luca Giordano…

Then the question is: what would one feel, think and do in, say a thousand year, if they found the ruins of a Wesselmann installation?

In the movie, the simple answer of the real people is: In a thousand years or more, a ruin from the Parthenon will be immediately recognised as art, a broken toilet will just look like a broken toilet I am afraid. Sorry Mr. Wesselmann, Mr. Duchamp, sorry Arty-Farty Brigade.

What’s in it for Adland? Well, one could ramble on about DRIP etc. etc.
More simply Mr. Ogilvy used the same rationale as the real person when he said (more or less, free but loyal rendition by this writer):

“Many ads try to be clever and artistic, they end up being the private joke of the ad people who made them”.