What’s that smell?

In today’s Thursday Night Insight, Paul Hague uses an interesting analogy to point out that small marketing actions can often make a big difference.

I live in a nice suburb of southern Manchester. A couple of hundred yards in one direction is the River Goyt which joins the River Mersey and eventually finds its way into the Irish Sea. A couple of hundred yards in another direction is a care home. A hundred years ago this care home used to be an isolation hospital for TB patients but it has been modernised and extended and now looks after a couple of hundred people in residential care. Because of our remote location, the nursing home has its own mini sewage works. It is not quite a cesspit, more of a digester.

A couple of years ago, at the time of one epoch of modernisation, a new effluent treatment plant was installed. However, I have to tell you that it hasn’t been very successful. The pong has been terrible. I notice it every time I walk down the lane with Alfie, my boxer dog. My next door neighbour is a few yards nearer to this digester than I am and he gets a whiff more often as he sips his sauvignon blanc on his back lawn.

Now this neighbour is no shrinking violet and he is not backward in coming forward. He complained long and loud to the manager of the nursing home and, guess what, nothing happened. He is also a man of action, my neighbour. Driven to distraction by the stench and, with time on his hands, he constructed half a dozen signs which he stuck on poles for people to read as they visited the home. His communications were bold and to the point, and read “If you don’t want to smell your parent’s excreta when you visit this nursing home, tell the management”. For those who might have been unsure as to the meaning of the word “excreta”, he had signs with a more basic vocabulary.

Shortly after the police had visited my ‘‘ang ‘em and flog ‘em” neighbour to warn him off carrying out any further terrorist campaigns, things began to happen. Specialists were called in and they did a survey. Within a few days, a six inch plastic vent pipe was strung from the digester to the top of a 30 foot nearby tree. Next they installed snug fitting covers on all the access manholes. Finally they took the lid off the digester, fitted new rubber seals and placed it back in position, secured by half a dozen heavy sandbags. The result – no smell.

As I watched this event unfold, I was reminded very much of the work I do. I would like to point out that I was not making the connection between my work and effluent (although some of you may cynically do so); rather how marketing problems can be solved.

Most companies do an ‘okay’ marketing job – not brilliant, just enough to get by. Their products are reasonable, their route to market works, their prices are roughly right and their promotions are acceptable. If this wasn’t the case, they would quickly go out of business. However, I guess that almost every company receives at least the occasional complaint. Every business has some weakness in their marketing activities. I sense that, as with the nursing home, many of these will be known and many will be largely ignored. Only when things get bad enough is action taken.

And yet, as we have seen, actions that lead to improvements need not necessarily be extreme. The nursing home didn’t put in a new digester. It made three small improvements that solved the problem. In many businesses, three small improvements, in the right area, can make a considerable difference. And this is my insight today. Don’t wait for customers to turn to terrorist activity before action is taken. Ask yourselves which three things you can do to improve your marketing. If necessary, get the experts in to carry out a survey and find out what needs attention, and do it now – don’t wait for the nasty smell.

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