Sunday, July 31, 2011

Leatherbound post 1: Nourish your soul

My first entry, from 15 years ago:

Introducing "Leatherbound"

It was given to me as an empty book fifteen years ago (Jan 1996) So I filled it up. My great boss at the time - Rod Davis - said with a knowing smile "I thought you'd use it for that, I just know you".

Read the first entry, you'll see what I mean. So I suppose I always have been a blogger. And you'll see that many of the positions I hold today are things I've felt for a long time. Although I have been known to forget what's important. I conceived this journal when I felt like I may never get to speak to my kids about the important stuff, so at least there'd be something to show what I thought. With the kids between 14 and 7 now, I've lived most of these messages with them every day. I'm not giving away family secrets.

You make the choice if you think it's drivel. You can filter these because I'll header each post with "Leatherbound". But there may be something there too.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Marlboro on the cover

How interesting. Two reasons it can work, I suppose. i/ it's content not advertising and ii/ the brand name isn't given.

The article inside is a little more general - about preventative health measures - but at the specific level it speaks about plain packaging.

I'd give you the link, but the afr has it paywalled.

But the plain packaging question is interesting to me. My PhD was about modeling the effects of market dynamics and a number of types of market dynamics: market share competition, category expansion, and category acceptance change.

Just quietly, what the plain packaging looks like is a market share action, but I would expect it might contract the category. It's an empirical question, however.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The courage to try, and maybe make an error...

From Rudyard Kipling's "If":

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

So for a hundred years - longer because I think "If" was derived - one of the great recognised virtues is courage to risk it all. And stoicism in defeat. Much to be proud of. Most people play in order to lose the least, rather than to win.

Sort of the way a great salesperson makes the best negotiated sale is the courage to walk away if necessary. Fact is you really do have to be prepared to lose a few to hold that mental upper hand, otherwise you simply are faking it.

And sometimes having a try means one makes a mistake. Sometimes they're costly mistakes, and sometimes they're cheap lessons. Sometimes they bring upheaval and sometimes things work out for the best.

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Six steps to not being unemployable

A nice post re how to stay in touch if you're out starting your own business.

A similar list applies - I think - when preparing for the first corporate role.

1. Stay in touch with former colleagues and contacts
2. Maintain a resumé and update it every year
3. Keep track of your skills development
4. Set a personal development plan
5. Performance review
6. Have some contact with headhunters

I urge you to read the full post, but it's a handy list.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Group Wine Buying Sites

This article was in the Grapegrower and Winemaker Magazine in June this year. Editor Jen Barwick wanted to talk to me; as I've watched the Qwoff Boys pretty closely recently, love wine and am interested in all things marketing I had a few things to say.

You could get a copy of the article here: or simply contact me.

My argument was that by running specials for a limited time, these sites don't neccesarily drive down the refernce prices for the brands they carry, and that getting a company's brand into consumers' consumption repertoires is a positive thing.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Many Brands Compete as Lookalikes

As I start teaching a brand management course soon I'm brought back to some of the reality of modern marketing. We will talk about brand equity and positioning, but we need to remember what happens with a lot of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) consumer behaviour.

Many consumers just reach for the product. If you want plain potato chips, reach for the blue bag. If you want butter, reach for the wax paper wrapped block. And as the photo above shows - reaching for the crunchy peanut butter appears to mean reaching for the green jar.

It doesn't mean that branding is dead, just that there's more to it than always creating "Lovemarks".

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Enjoying the work I do

In reflecting on my Steve Jobs post the big outtake was to do what you love to do.

So in thinking about that I feel I am a little blessed. In my work I get to work with young people who are the future of business and alongside many intelligent people who are really quite nice. The work is interesting, and my employer supports me in doing these things; some interesting research and working with the leaders of the future.

That's something to be thankful for.

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Clever sign

Simple. Does the job.

Austral meat on the Main North Road. Who said advertising had to be fancy all the time?

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Fantastic memories of Montmartre

It was a few weeks ago, but when I'd gone up to Paris to meet with my new French collaborator I had stayed in the Hotel Damremont which was - quite simply a long walk to the metro. Serendipities, I spent quite some time tramping the streets of Montmartre. I was IN the element. And this was the element.

A colleague, Marilyn, had a photo print in her office an I recognised it as the terrace I would step down straight out of the Metro. It was only two days I was in Paris while I waited for a flight, but it was a great thing to fit in.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Nice to get some nice messages back from a student

Hi Cullen

Just thought I would give you an update on things since I have completed [your course] this semester.

I work at a medium-sized manufacturing company doing the payroll, admin duties and some basic marketing. I had everyone at work do my survey for [our course's client], and since then my boss has asked me to create a survey for us.
We are implementing a three tier product range (lower, middle, upper) and want to determine what branding will be the best received.

Also, I made us an advert for the new [X] magazine which came out this week! (It is fairly simple - which was what we wanted - but it is still pretty exciting!)

Thanks for the course and the experience to allow me to apply my new skills

I can't really complain about that...

Thoughts for complex times: Steve Jobs was once fired from Apple

Sometimes it pays to remember some history. Steve Jobs was once fired from Apple, Mary MacKillop was excommunicated, Galileo was ridiculed and Max Schubert was thought a fool to make Grange.

On the first, I'm thankful that an MBA student gave me a copy of Steve Jobs' commencement address at Stanford in 2005

His three points:
  • You can't connect the dots looking forward, only looking backward. So trust in the moment.
  • Find what you love and do it. Then the bumps (like getting fired from Apple) don't really interfere with that focus.
  • Avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. Living each day as if it was your last helps, by stripping you naked.

As in the movie Gladiator, every day Maximus stays alive is a success. I'm glad Cristina flicked that transcript onto the desk. I think I might re-read it and maybe even watch it.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thank Goodness for my Trusted Friends

I'm glad a friend of mine was in today. I got good advice.

I am very thankful to have some people that have the courage to tell me the truth, and care enough to put their mind to it.

Many things to be thankful for.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thoughts for complex times: Your enemy is actually your best PR agent

I was just reading a blog of a controversial columnist who offered an interesting adage:

that you can count on your enemies to be loudest in advertising your virtues.

I've never heard it said that way before but it squares a little with what I've often thought.

In complex times it's important for two things to be happening:

To have good people saying good things about you
To have bad people saying bad things about you

And there will always be a whole bunch of people in the middle, trying to make sense of it all. The world is round, and as it turns, perhaps the truth becomes apparent.

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The Murdochs fronted

So they sat in front of a parliamentary enquiry last night. It appears that sacrificing "News of the World" didn't contain the damage.

Rupert's argument "I'm the best person to clean this up" sounded believable, but somebody on twitter had said "don't underestimate how cunning the old bugger is".

Yet another situation where I don't really know enough to form a judgement.

But good on Wendi Deng for jumping up and smacking a pie chucker down. But again, as a tweeter said "that pie thrower did more for the Murdochs than Edelman ever could"

How confusing

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Jetstar was fine

Thanks Derryn - I'll cut and paste your joke as a lead in to my very brief review.

"This cocky Australian walks into an airport lounge bar and spots a good-looking blonde sitting alone. He’s been around, guesses she’s an off duty flight attendant, but doesn’t want to be too obvious. Sits down beside her and says:

‘Fly the friendly skies’.
She looks at him and, without a word, picks up her drink.
Okay, he thinks, she’s not with United.
‘I still call Australia home’.
Again, absolutely no response.
Obviously not with Qantas.
“Smooth as silk’.
She sighs and keeps sipping.
She’s not with Thai airlines.
He’s about to give up when she turns, looks him up and down, and says: ‘What the fuck do you want?’
‘Aha,’ he says.’ You’re with Jetstar’."

So Derryn's travel review tells of how he was pleasantly surprised with a Jetstar flight.

And I must say that of the four adl-syd flights I've done over the past two weeks with one of them being Jetstar I found them to be ok, too.

The overhead lockers were a little more full, as was the flight, and there were no screens onboard, but no big deal. And the flight left an hour late, so I got out of Adelaide at 8.30pm instead of 7.30 making for a late bed down in Sydney. It just meant I did my work in a departure lounge instead of a cheap hotel room. But we are talking budget travel, and the price was right. It all worked fine.

And major Kudos to Webjet - no wonder the travel industry is suffering. Why would an individual go to a retail travel agent when it works so well online?

Jetstar and virgin are great.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

A thought for highly complex times

One I just thought of:

Rejoice in the purity of an honest, hard day's work. Because then it matters less what others will say about you. Many complaints and compliments are offered through the lens of the person making them, but with a non negotiable such as an honest day's work you can leave the critics to their own musings.

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Ten Principles for Living in Complex Times

A great blog written by Tony Schwartz here.

1. Always challenge certainty, especially your own. When you think you're undeniably right, ask yourself "What might I be missing here?" If we could truly figure it all out, what else would there be left to do?

Given that humility is one of the rarest commodities and the best bosses I have are chock full of it, I like point number 1. "Am I really so good that the person I'm speaking to here has nothing to add to this picture?".

I might revisit Tony' points here from time to time, but if not the hyperlink's up the top and it's worth a read.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Built a model today

Just a little tired, here at Sydney airport after a day course in agent based modeling. Scroll down have a look at my tom foolery....

Still, I managed to build a random walk model, with independent agents wandering around seeking sustenance and dying if the can't find it. Then we drafted an adoption model for consumer uptake of the 4G network and got one built.

Great fun working with Sara Denize from UWS, and Steven D'Alessandro / Hume Winzar from Macquarie.

This Netlogo is a pretty powerful tool, and the programming is pretty straightforward - at least simpler than Matlab was.

I'll walk you through this little - nothing - model.

Brown patches are - essentially - food. Blue arrows are people who walk around trying to find food. If they get hungry they go red - danger.

If they hit a brown patch they eat it. It disappears. They go back to blue and keep wandering.

They keep wandering. Wander too long without finding food = die. Eventually they cant find the food and die out. Graph on the bottom left shows how it happened.
It's simple, but it's mine. I built it. and the parameters are changeable. Here's a wacky one. This is what you get if you set their energy gain from having a feed a little bit higher. They manage to find more of the food - ie less brown left on screen - and they wander for longer before dying - longer red trails. Still all die, however. I could make it so the food regrows, I suppose. That could set an equilibrium. No, I'll start a new one sometime.
So the next step is to do something more real. Like a model of twitter memes, or bank queuing and customer disaffection.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Clever Facade

How nice is this? If you're going to cover a building as beautiful as Elder Hall (for restoration) then it's nice to have some reminder.

When they did the UniSA Brookman building last year it was nowhere near as pretty.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Death of a Strong Contributor

I haven't been close to it, but News of the World has been killed. Not euthenased, because that implies it was suffering. Killed.

I think the story is that there was a culture of bad behaviour in NOTW, and that it needed to be shut. Critics have referred to bullies and cowards who have killed a newspaper.

It looks like damage control. The above article indicates that the Murdochs and their senior manager have a bigger problem. The spotlight is moving to them as potentially not "fit and proper" people to be running media interests. If this is established in the UK, they'll be in big trouble.

Wow. Profitable newspapers are hard to find. I'm not sure, but I think the NOTW is profitable. Not my thing, but somebody's reading it - somebody was advertising in it.

It does seem that the Murdochs are prepared to pay a big price to insulate themselves from the fallout of this current fracas. And the people who work(ed) at NOTW will pay a price too.

UPDATE: That said, the evidence of bad behaviour at NOTW seems fairly firm. Rebeka Brooks seems to have acted in an unpleasant manner at least once. The article below shows how she demanded on Sep 12 2001, that a correspondent attend a news conference dressed as Harry Potter and severely disciplined him when he considered the occasion was inappropriate.

I suspect the Murdochs will be using Brooks as part of their damage control process. UPDATE: But then, I saw Rupert standing firmly beside Rebeka on the news just then. Mhm. I suspect NOTW would have been a yucky place to turn up to.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Agent Based Modeling presenters at USyd

Dr Brett Parris, Dr Tim Schaerf, prof David Earnest, prof Ian Wilkinson, prof Terry Bossomaier.

This was a good course and I learnt a lot. My twitter hashtag model is getting closer to being a reality.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Back to Newtown for a training course

This is interesting. It must've been 2006 that I came to the University of Sydney for a training course in Discrete Choice Modeling with their Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies. It was a great course but I soon left my then employer and my work area went in a different direction. Story for another day.

I've decided to pursue one of my research interests, that of agent based modeling and I'll spent two days at - guess where - the University of Sydney and staying in Newtown.

As a self funded training course I'm staying in budget accom down the end of King Street. But it's a walk from the venue, and I get to cover some familiar ground that carries nice memories.

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Monday, July 4, 2011

The cattle disaster

Whew. I had been concerned that in an emotional state a month ago I'd been advocating a blanket ban on live cattle. I'm glad to say my position wasn't so black and white, and I thank Nathan Gray for his intelligent and level headed response at the time.

The reality is that we had allowed live exports to start happening 30 years ago and a market grew around it. And we then turned off the tap to everyone in Indonesia as a knee-jerk reaction regardless of how they were treating the cattle. A month ago I'd said "if they mistreat our stock then let's stop selling for that reason too" which I still agree with.

It is complex, and at the moment the growers of beef are left out there on their own.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ashcloud: Airlines' concern for safety - and profitability

This one is pretty simple. The ash cloud was sitting at around 20,000 feet. Passenger jets fly at about 30,000. They_can_ fly at 10,000 feet, no problem. 10,000 feet is plenty high - skydivers get easily 40 seconds of freefall from 10,000 and open their canopies at 3,000 feet.

Airlines like to fly passenger jets at 30,000 feet because it uses way less fuel. So here's the deal. When the ash cloud problems were on in Adelaide the international flights kept coming and going, domestic (ie adl-Mel adl-syd) flights didn't. Why? Purely an operational question.

Planes could fly at 10,000 feet, under the cloud. One wouldn't fly above it because an emergency descent would force you to descend straight into it. So if you're flying in from Singapore, you've been flying for eight hours at 30,000 feet and have to fly the last hour at 10,000 feet it's a bit of a drag, but doesn't make the flight unprofitable, maybe.

If you're already competing in a tight domestic market (probably low profitability anyway) and you then have to fly all of your flights - for their whole time - at 10,000 feet you'll be haemmorhaging money. Clever business.

So I don't want to sound too cynical, just that's how I see it. It could have been done safely, just nobody wanted to pay for it.

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Petrol: How to swing a $200 purchase with a $1.50 discount - and rescue a tax

Many consumer decisions are not particularly rational.

Now before some random commenter sticks an anonymous flame up - this is not the place for references. But I assure you ten years of applying stochastic (probability) models to consumer behaviour (an a PhD that did it) has convinced me that "random" applies as often as "logical" where consumers are concerned.

Buying decisions often turn on tiny things - often things that are beyond measurement.

Consumers get on with their lives. Habits are a great way to do that. A way to reduce cognitive load but allow some degree of variety is for consumers to build up a stable of their buying preferences. I look in my pantry for black tea - Bushell's, Lipton's, Twining's, Dilmah. So too with supermarkets - Coles Avenues, Woolies Marden, Foodland Norwood. It takes me very little to swing between the three. Habit. With my main two I know where everything is - it's not like being in a new pantry each time.

One area where consumers are consistent - if not rational - is with petrol. Ten cent discounts will give you a busy forecourt - 20c would give you lines around the block.

Supermarkets have worked that out. The high sensitivity to petrol prices has been harnessed to swing the supermarket basket. Clever.

Ex Shell man and now UniSA man - John Hendrickson - had noted that it was also part of fuel marketers relinquishing any marketing role and the commoditization of petrol retail. His indicator was that supermarkets are now selling much of the fuel.

Still, time to get to the point and wrap up. I get a little disheartened when I see the dollar value (usually under $2) of the 4c voucher when I buy fuel every four weeks. But I never buy fuel without a voucher. I tend to make sure I do my weekly grocery shop at one of the two majors because they have seamless ways of getting me my discount. I am not rational. Those of you who are - I applaud you. @ediblehat a twitter buddy saves $30 a week (he says) at Foodland and foregoes his fuel discount. Hats off to Dave.

Anyway. The point. Consumers are particularly irrational around fuel. John Howard found it a few years ago when he planned to toy with fuel indexation, supermarkets compete on the basis of it every day.

So to hear the government announce this morning a "never, ever" on fuel - well no surprise there.

I just saw the PM on #insiders use that a fairly solid weapon to brand Tony Abbott further as "all opposition and no leader". She - as of this morning - has something tangible to say and used it.

Still, from the point of view of carbon emissions it makes zero sense. But it's one of the few areas where a carbon tax would appear as a direct expense to a consumer - poison for the government especially where consumers are so sensitive. Far better for them to tax - say - the coal fired power stations and allow the costs to seep through to the consumer as a generic increase in prices. Most consumers will shoot the messenger - the power companies.

Ow. The wireless connection dropped out and #insiders has stopped playing. Blog over.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Oh, this is Apple's closed architecture

Oh , this is it. Tune-in radio a great app for listening on an apple device, records as well. It'd be great to export the recordings.


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Friday, July 1, 2011

Time to rekindle "Lecturer's Best Guess"

It was fun enough last October when we did it.

So I'll tweet out the question soon - I'm still just formulating it - but it'll be something that touches on consumer behaviour, brand management and the sorts of things I talk about with my MBA marketing management students.

Something about customer loyalty, I think.

Friday night relaxer - with management as in the garden, first do no harm

I heard Bob Sutton on the radio quite some time ago talking about management. His first rule is to "first do no harm" and operationalises it as "management by getting out of the way"

So a Friday chance to think about work AND my garden at the same time. It is in nature's way for a plant to thrive - in general. So if one plants a seedling, one does not come around and dig it up every day or so to check for nematodes.

So, too, with micromanagement. I have seen - and created - way more damage through overmanagement than I have through undermanagement, both in the garden and in business.

So in that vein I won't fiddle with those new grafts I've done on the Golden Elm.

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A tale of two hotdogs

Customers are fickle. Their purchase decisions turn on the smallest things. Sometimes on nothing, especially when the two brands are more or less lookalikes. I suppose you might say a Donut King and a Wendy's hot dog might be an example.
So when one is hungry, has already walked past KFC because of the line, ignored McDonalds because they'd have to cross the mall, the choice turns on a tiny amount. So a look at Wendy's

a young guy (non customer I guess) is chatting to the one girl who's working there. Turn my head, Donut King two people there, no customers. One service person came straight to me. People are allowed to talk to their friends while they're working - gee, don't get me wrong. Just this time I chose the other place.

UPDATE: at Kurralta Park on Saturday afternoon I'm pleased to report that Wendy's had plenty of staff and quick, thoughtful service.

A colleague of mine had responded "at $8 per hour one can't expect too much, get what you pay for. Problem I suppose. This licensee decided to address it by having lots of people behind the counter. That's one way I suppose. It worked for me.

Probably indicates I eat too many hotdogs though.