Why Marketing Doesn’t Deliver

October 26, 2016

Every organisation in the world spends a fortune on marketing, to the extent the DeliveryDemon would have to go entirely off the grid to avoid the deluge. With that volume, it’s not surprising that it’s easy to find examples of stupidity. One of the commonest marketing fails is when an organisation is so busy preening its corporate ego that it completely loses site of the real customer experience. Microsoft’s latest idiocy provides a classic example.

For most people, email is a utility – boring stuff but it needs to be there and usable, low key but reliable. It doesn’t have to look pretty or to keep coming up with new bells and whistles when a typical user ignores most of the facilities already in existence. Hotmail used to be a good utilitarian email. It popped up quickly on the screen. It was easy to skim through emails and get rid of the trash. Emails could be sorted. There were reasonable filters. It was pretty good at identifying spam. And, having been around for so long, a hotmail address was reasonably memorable.

For a good while after taking it over, Microsoft let Hotmail be. Then came the change to Outlook. Now Outlook on a business network has been a pretty reasonable utility too, but that wasn’t carried forward when Hotmail became Outlook. Loading became painfully slow. Months later it hasn’t improved. On an iPad it’s still totally unreliable, verging on unusable. First it displays a smug little picture showing how the floppy disc supersedes snail mail. Below that appears what the DeliveryDemon at first assumed to be a progress bar. Actually it’s a throwback to the 1980s, when time and again users would watch the blue bar inch painfully slowly across the screen, only to freeze when it reached a fraction from the end. Time and again it does this, with refresh and URL reentry making not the slightest bit of difference. The DeliveryDemon has left the progress bar for 40 minutes and it still didn’t display any emails, hit refresh over 100 times without anything useful happening. Sometimes there is a complete access fail because the site has failed entirely. And of course there are no updates from Microsoft to let users know what is happening.

That’s the user experience. How does Microsoft marketing handle it? With a classic demonstration of being blinded by focus on the big fat corporate ego, that’s how.

Several times during this (ongoing) fiasco, the DeliveryDemon has had emails from Microsoft marketeers. ‘Now that you’ve been using Outlook.com and some of its features for a while, we hope you’ll try one free month of Office 365 to see how much more you can do.’ Lets translate that into user experience.

Now that you’ve been using Outlook.com and some of its features for a while…. –
Now you have endured for a while the primitively slow response times and clunky user interface……

….we hope you’ll try one free month of Office 365…. – A free month is nothing but a cynical attempt to entice users into locking themselves into something which is barely usable and certainly not worth paying for when that month runs out….

….to see how much more you can do – If it can’t even do the basics at a barely competent level, it sure as hell isn’t going to do anything more useful.

In other words, Microsoft has made crap out of something useful and its marketing department are so enamoured of their own verbiage that they expect the world to be equally blind and shell out hard cash in response to that slimy marketing-speak.

Of course there may be another agenda behind this. Maybe the end of free Hotmail is in sight. Maybe Microsoft hopes that enough users will transfer to the paid for product so that any furore following the withdrawal of Hotmail will be minimal. If that’s the case, the marketing needs to be a damn sight more intelligent than the current efforts. And if that does happen, the DeliveryDemon will follow the oft-tested prudent advice. If something which works well is withdrawn, don’t blindly accept the offered replacement. Treat that replacement as just another product and evaluate it against whatever else is available. And of course, that replacement offering starts with an immediate handicap – it comes from a supplier which values its corporate ego over the customer’s need for continuity and reliability.

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Delivering Referendum Tedium

May 23, 2016

Tons of newsprint are heading unread for landfill, along with taxpayer funded junkmail. It’s all in the cause of the greed and egoism of politicians and business leaders.

We have over 40 years of EU and pre-EU data to evaluate, and the pre-referendum yammering of both camps is a complete irrelevance. The only useful new information at this stage would be if politicians and business leaders would tell us their real plans, capabilities and limitations in the event of each option. And that just ain’t gonna happen.


Olympics…..We’re Dooooooomed!!!! Jubilee….We’re Dooooooomder!!!!

April 25, 2012

The Delivery Demon isn’t really much of a spectator so she didn’t bother tying up her credit card limit in the fiasco of Olympic ticket sales. Why put all that effort into a lottery level probability of seeing an event that might be of some slight interest? She stood back from that, leaving the remote chance of getting a ticket to those who really wanted to watch. As the chaos was delivered, she felt a few pangs of sympathy to those sportspeople who, even if they managed to get tickets, had very little opportunity of getting tickets to see the sports they actually participate in. The whole setup seemed pretty half-baked.

Beyond some vague plans to avoid the areas of transport mayhem during the Olympics, the DeliveryDemon has tended to ignore the media hype, but a recurring theme has been carping for her attention in news reports. There seems to be a developing assumption that the Olympics, like the equally-hyped Jubilee, will damage the economy. The DeliveryDemon recollects some reference to think tanks in those reports but a cursory web search hasn’t provided any hard evidence, so perhaps the reporters concerned are inventing or misinterpreting. Whatever the case, the DeliveryDemon has become interested in what those reports imply.

The general theme is that workers will be taking holidays and days off, will be surreptitiously following the events on their mobiles and their work PCs, will be spending long lunches in pubs, watching events unfold. Transport chaos will make people late for work. Workers will be tired and hungover from late night TV watching and alcoholic celebrations. Production will plummet, customer service will suffer, the economy will drag its way into another recession. Two big events in a single year? We’re all doooooomed!!!

So what are the facts behind the scaremongering?

  • Yes, people will want time off – they usually do in the summer. But it may be easier to achieve a spread of holiday dates as a significant number of people may choose to avoid holidaying during the Olympic peak times – much as many people avoid taking their break during school holidays.
  • Transport chaos? Commuters are used to this but it’s likely to have a worse than usual impact on venue access routes and the air and rail hubs which serve them. That’s not the whole country, and the areas concerned have a relatively high concentration of work which can be carried out remotely with a little bit of forethought.
  • People will spend more than they plan then cut back after the event? Pretty normal for any holiday type event, except that the spend will be in the UK.

So far, so normal. No reason to predict a recessive impact from normal human behaviour. So what might these pundits be suggesting?

  • All that well-paid Olympics work will disappear in the aftermath, true. Why should that be a surprise to anyone?
  • In some – but not all – businesses, less work will be done during the various events and celebrations. Really?
  • There will be a fairly heavy demand for time off during the peak period. A bit like Christmas and the school holidays. After all, people work to live, not the other way round.

Either the reporters who come up with these doom-laden headlines lack the most elementary understanding of business planning, or they are trying to deliver the message that UK management is so lacking in basic business skills that the entire country went down the plughole years ago.

The DeliveryDemon wishes that those recruiting for media positions would realise that those jobs have a need for basic commonsense and the ability to use data sensibly.


Delivering Sports Participation

April 3, 2012

The DeliveryDemon isn’t hugely fascinated by the 2012 Olympics. She didn’t bother with the ticket allocation fiasco. She hopes she won’t be in London, or near one of the few non-London venues during the event. She has no intention of going anywhere to peer through crowds at anyone trotting along with a badly designed bit of metalwork, which is the nearest many Brits will get to the Olympics. She certainly won’t be watching the Olympics on television, as she still hasn’t found a good reason to go out and buy one.

According to BBC talking heads, this means that the DeliveryDemon is not interested in sport. No matter that she walks for miles in the mountains and across country – that doesn’t count. Nor does bodyflying, an activity which tests muscles most people never get round to using. As soon as she finishes rehab from last year’s skydiving accident, she aims to be back flowriding and doing the occasional bit of running. But she’s not interested in sport. The DeliveryDemon was delighted when recovery reached a point that allowed her back in the gym and the pool – but that’s not sport. She’s looking forward to being able to take winter holidays with ice climbing and snowshoeing and cross country skiing and dog sledging – but according to those in the know, she’s not a sporty person. Obviously not, since she isn’t inclined to sit on the couch, munching and drinking, while watching others do something which may be active – or which may be as inactive as darts or snooker or angling or even poker, all of which are skilled, none of which contribute much to the body’s need for physical activity.

There’s a lot of justification of Olympic costs on the grounds that the fact of the Olympics will increase sports participation. It’s a pity that those who made the decisions to spend shed loads of public money didn’t do some realistic thinking:

  • What does participation actually mean?
  • How can you demonstrate that it’s happening?

Since the powers that spend our taxes clearly haven’t done this thinking, please allow the DeliveryDemon to suggest a few actions and measures.

Work is spread throughout the country so that people don’t have to spend so much time commuting that there’s no weekday time for anything else and no weekend time because weekends are used up with recovering from the week’s commute and doing all the chores there wasn’t time for during the week.

School offer a range of activities within the timetable with sufficient variety so that all children can particpate without feeling useless or stupid, and sufficient competition to give the competitive a way of measuring their success.

Sports funding includes reasonable support for public facilities which provide ready access for the public at times when people want to use them.

Bylaws and bureaucrats do not use health and safety as an excuse to prevent popular and emerging sports like inline skating and skateboarding and freerunning in public places.

Planning decisions require provision of public open spaces including green space, and sports facilties, with properly thought out arrangements for their long term upkeep.

That’s just for starters. The Olympics will long be remembered for the white elephant developments it leaves behind, but any effect it has on sports participation will be as transient as the annual blip  in tennis court use around the time of Wimbledon – but without Wimbledon’s annual influence. If the powers that be seriously want to influence public health for the better, they need to think more pragmatically than low usage monolithic development and nanny state pronouncements.


Delivering Lack of Credibility

February 15, 2012

Enclosed with the DeliveryDemon’s shocker of a winter gas bill was the most infuriating whinge letter from British Gas. They are clearly ensconced on the current commercial bandwagon whereby suppliers are trying to deny any responsibility for the cost of doing business.

From utilities to airline tickets to online retailers, companies are passing on to their customers the cost of doing business, completely ignoring the fact that normal pricing practice already takes account of this. In other words, these companies are ramping up their profits by double charging. Needless to say, when the cost of doing business drops, the price reduction rarely matches that drop and the reduction is never factored into both of the double charging elements.

British Gas’s whinge was that it had no control over the cost of infrastructure or wholesale prices so, poor profitable mega corp, it was forced into passing on price increases to its customers. So how real is this claim?

First, infrastructure. We have an artificial market here, with money bouncing between the profit-making body responsible for infrastructure and the profit making body responsible for billing. The infrastructure body has no responsibility to end consumers and the billing company has no will to negotiate reductions in the amount it is charged for infrastructure. In other words, there is a serious flaw in the artificial market created by the breakup of utility monoliths.

Gas wholesale prices seems, on the surface, to be more plausible – until you look at the facts behind it. The DeliveryDemon had a quick look at gas bills over the last few years and compared them to wholesale gas prices. Since the price of gas is supposedly less than 50% of the bill, it would be reasonable to expect gas bills to reflect this.

Using 1999 as the base, wholesale prices peaked briefly in 2005, before dropping back to 423% of base. In the same period, unit prices to consumers leapt to 256% of base, staying above 200% of base despite wholesale prices dropping. Current consumer prices are 254% of base, while wholesale prices are 167% of base. Clearly not a good deal for consumers, and confirmation that, while wholesale price increases are passed on, the same cannot be said of decreases.

And what has this meant for British Gas? Profit has gone from £365M to £2,400M, a 650% increase. Dividends per share has gone from 8.6p to 21.6p, a 250% increase.

A simplistic analysis, perhaps. But simplicity has a way of highlighting the important points. And it is very clear that consumers are NOT getting a good deal from British Gas.

The DeliveryDemon has a message for British Gas, and for the many other large corporations trying to mask profiteering.

You are a large, profitable and powerful organisation, and you are not offering customers a good deal. STOP trying to pretend you are hard done by. There is not a cat in hell’s chance of anyone taking your complaints seriously. It just emphasises your role in rip-off Britain.


The DeliveryDemon Is Blogging Again – and thinking about the Supply Chain

January 17, 2011

The DeliveryDemon has been thinking abut delivery and technology. One of the benefits of technology is its ability to dematerialise goods and deliver them electronically. For music and videos and software that’s great. Where it falls down is when there’s a need for physical delivery. Interestingly, that puts at risk the delivery of the bits and pieces of hardware we need to exploit all this technology. We can use technology to place our orders, then it all comes down to sending stuff through the physical supply chain.

Two things happen once our goods get into the supply chain – they become unimportant and they become attractive.

  • The unimportance of our parcels

From the factory production line to the doorstep our parcel is just one of millions being thumped, bumped and dumped. No-one really cares about it. If it gets lost or damaged, it’s the sender’s problem, or the intended recipient’s problem, or an insurance company’s problem. Even at source, the supplier doesn’t care, it’s just another item off the production line. So goods get lost and damaged and no-one is answerable. There’s a cost to remedying the problem, of course, and inevitable the cost finds its way back to the end consumer.

  • The attractiveness of our goods

Many electronic gadgets and components are small, so easily lost, and just as easily fitted into pockets. Packaging, even if it doesn’t show explicit sender details, is often easily identifiable as containing some sort of technology. The value of such items can be high.

The DeliveryDemon has been told of many examples recently of people buying technology, only to have it beaten to a pulp on its way to its destination.

  • A card for a camera never arrived. The supplier came up with conflicting excuses, with one person claiming it was lost in the post while another claimed it should have been in the envelope with its companion which did arrive, but that it had not been packed.
  • A laptop arrived in a seriously battered box.
  • A mobile phone arrived in a sturdy plastic envelope which had been ripped open. An attempt had been made to slit the box inside, to remove items without breaking the seal on the box.

Of course, the costs of all this is being passed to the consumer in the form of higher prices, insurance premiums, and credit card charges.

Some suppliers are fighting back, attempting to make their packaging bash-proof. The DeliveryDemon knows a supplier of personalised beers who has taken it as a personal challenge to ensure that the full complement of bottles arrives undamaged – not a technology issue but the principles are the same. The packaging battle has its own cost, and not just the cost of producing and applying it. The more robust the packaging, the more likely it is to be persistent, and usually voluminous. Most often it will end up in landfill, perhaps via the complex recycling arrangements imposed by many local authorities.

Some companies offer tagging and tracking of goods in transit. For high volumes, manual checkin systems are likely to be error prone, even if with electronic detection of tags. For example, even if a box or jiffybag is tagged, that’s no guarantee that it still contains all its original contents. The cost of tagging individual components would be prohibitive, and would create electronic waste.

It’s often said that the main components of a solution are people, process and technology. From the DeliveryDemon’s observations, the money is going into technology (including packaging technology), the protagonists are hiding behind the theory of how the process should happen, but not nearly enough effort is going into delivering the people aspects of the supply chain. For many jobs in the supply chain, temptation can be high while rewards are low, and in a high transaction volume environment the effect of this is easily predictable. Yet it’s the aspect of e-commerce that no-one is getting to grips with.


Expectations and Single Point Estimating

June 7, 2009

Bob Barnes and Fred Baker have an interesting blog post entitled Project Life Cycle is Essential in Managing Risk. Their blog is at http://www.pmprofessors.com/ This is an interesting example of stakeholder expectations, and here’s the DeliveryDemon’s take on it.

Common understanding of an estimate is that it is a single point value. As project managers we know that there is an uncertainty range associated with any estimate, which narrows as more knowledge becomes available through the life of a project. Business processes tend to force us to provide a single point estimate, and expectations are adopted on the basis of that value. It’s an ongoing piece of work for a project manager to keep stakeholders in touch with the reality of what is happening, and that is no guarantee that a stakeholder won’t suddenly revert to the original expectation.

This is a reflection of the current level of maturity in non-PM understanding of project management processes. It won’t go away until PM becomes a core business competency, at the level exercised by today’s above average PMs, and we are still some way away from that.

Today’s PM needs to be aware of the issue and factor it into stakeholder expectation management.