I travelled into the depths of leafy Kent yesterday to attend the Association of MBAs (AMBA) http://www.mbaworld.com/ spring refresher day at Kent Business School. It looked like a balanced programme – two academics in the morning and two practitioners in the afternoon.

Accountability vs. courage in marketing

After luring the marketers amongst us with quotes on the importance of marketing, former engineer John Saunders, Professor of Marketing at Kent Business School, then presented research on that old chestnut of marketing not being accountable. It was a double whammy when he reported that we are also apparently failing on creativity. Boards still only devote 10% of their time to marketing and few board members have a marketing background.

Buy hey – his research data and chicken-feet equations showed conclusively that if you improve the influence of marketing, you increase market orientation and this improves business performance. Yayy!

He showed that marketing doesn’t quite have a grip on our home territory of the 4Ps: Marketers lead on decision-making relating to segmentation, advertising, client satisfaction and loyalty but only share on decisions relating to place and price and have a minor helping involvement on price. His research showed that marketers are good in strategy and being close to customers but weak in innovation, accountability and co-operation. There needs to be less me-too and more me-better he argued.

I couldn’t help thinking that when marketers are so hard pressed to be accountable and back up our plans with bullet-proof financial projections and return on investment calculations, is it any wonder that creative juices and courageous ambitions are stilted? I remember many board room grilling and near-hysteria on my assumptions and projections when presenting truly innovative ideas on new products, new markets or mind blowing creative campaigns when the available data didn’t allow cast-iron promises. So can marketing accountability and creativity co-exist? Maybe it is the boards that lack long term vision and courage?

Crisis management confusion

I was expecting this to be the brain-hurt session of the conference, but was delighted that anthropology, lessons from headline-hitting national disasters and pragmatism were at the core of this session.

Edward Borodziicz, Professor of Strategy Enterprise and Innovation at Portsmouth Business School, started by talking about national standards for crisis management (see BSI PAS 200:2011 Crisis Management – Guidance and good practice at  http://shop.bsigroup.com/en/ProductDetail/?pid=000000000030252035 )  and pointing out the flaws in the traditional approach of identifying vulnerabilities, considering the impact, developing contingencies and then testing plans.

He warned of the risks (no pun intended) of risk myopia in situations like the Icelandic volcano,  isomorphic thinking and the tendency to focus on the most recent and high profile risks rather than the most likely and more serious more mundane issues. He argued that tests rarely engage the informal systems (where people have the foresight to break the rules) that take over in real situations and that procedures can lead to “death by management”.

He considered the merits of historical approaches such as oracles and I Ching and considered the problems of perception, human rationality and socio-technical failures. For example, it was interesting to hear that reductions in deaths by seat belt legislation led to equivalent increases in out of car injuries due to perceptions of greater safety. He suggested that organisations engage staff in writing their own scenarios and run exercises to build resilience.

His advice was to understand the difference between emergencies (structured situations), crises (unstructured situations) and disasters (overwhelming situations) and that it is best to value expertise above rank, switch communications from vertical to horizontal and learn from healthy systems rather than sick ones. He also added that “highly risk-averse organisations don’t make much profit”. And I think this relates well to the first speaker’s comments about courage.

Social media success

I’ve known Linda Cheung of CubeSocial http://cubesocial.com/ and Honestyboxx http://honestyboxx.com/   for some time and she is a brilliant technology entrepreneur and much-loved within professional services circles. So it was no surprise that she took the numerous sceptics in the room on her own personal and business “cynic to convert” social media success story.

She used the “accidental Twitter marketing ambush” story of a now famous legal tweetup to demonstrate social media benefits including efficiency of market research, power of reaching target communities, effecting introductions to influential people and generating publicity and business opportunities. She used another legal market case study – #ccfe (corporate counsel forum Europe) – to illustrate social media in action.

Her five must-dos included:

  1. Find out where your contacts hang out online
  2. Make the most of your virtual shop front (LinkedIn) and virtual cocktail party (Twitter)
  3. Use social media to research prospects and keep up to date with them
  4. Be aware of the dress code (i.e. images and tone of voice)
  5. Don’t delegate social media to  junior members of staff

When quizzed about social media policies she retorted with “and do you have a policy for using telephones and email”? I like her style.

Entry of a challenger brand in banking

Gwyn Price, regional director of corporate banking (South East region) at Santander http://www.aboutsantander.co.uk/  took us on another journey from being the sixth largest bank in Spain through UK acquisitions of Abbey National in 2004 and then Bradford & Bingley and Alliance & Leicester through to being one of the “big five” UK banks. It now takes first place in Eurozone by market capitalisations, number of shareholders (3.3m) and number of branches (14,000).

Santander’s biggest market is Brazil (22% of revenue) with the UK in second place. It’s floated 25% of its business in Mexico and will do the same in the UK at some point. It also donates 100 million Euros pa to universities through its CSR programme.

I liked Gwyn’s model for recruiting people (human resource professionals take note) which starts with a core of attitude, passion and determination wrapped up in visibility and proactivity within a confident and competent shell and a commitment to teamwork and fun.

With a cheeky informal tagline of “the most British of British banks” (despite being the UK’s biggest inward investor at £19 billion), careful segmentation, innovative products and propositions in cash flow management and international trade finance and support for trade missions and master classes, it currently has 6% of the UK senior debt lending SME market (from 300 to 2,000 accounts since 2008 supported by 300 relationship managers). Its stated ambition is to grow this to 10% and become the “bank of choice for UK companies” – that’s pretty bold and, I think, a mighty fine lesson in how to turn a global financial crisis into a fantastic opportunity.

P.S. Favourite quote of the day: “In the USA, MBA stands for “Mediocre But Arrogant”

Reports from previous AMBA events:

http://kimtasso.com/mba-refresher-pricing-innovation-leadership-and-technology/ September 2012

http://kimtasso.com/association-of-mbas-refresher-event-banks-innovation-entrepreneurs-and-coaching/ September 2011