Start Up Blog

Why Masterchef works

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on July 26, 2010

Masterchef has truly been a phenomenon in Australia over the past 2 seasons. A ratings boon which is rare in our fragmented media environment. In fact it was watched by an average 3.54 million, up from 3.29 million last year. This makes it the most watched non sporting event in Australian history. It’s not hard to find a Masterchef fan, but not being one I was curious what all the fuss was about so I endured a few episodes. I didn’t catch the bug and so asked some colleagues why they believe (from an advertising, marketing and media perspective) it did so well. The best description I got was from Paul Gardner who summarised it as follows:

He said there has been three distinct phases in the evolution of reality TV.

1. Hoons & Havoc. Lock up a group of  highly charged youths in a house filled with alcohol and sexualy energy and see what happens. Think Big Brother.
2. The Challenge. Take a group of normal people outside of their comfort zone to compete in a Spartan like fashion.  See what behaviour humans will stoop to in order to win and prove superiority. An observation of social interaction at a draconian level. Think Survivor.
3. Denied Talent. Take a group of people who have some genuine flair for something, who have not been given the chance (for whatever reason) to display their talent. Give the competitors potential for a new start, to chance become entrepreneurs. Make the show inclusive, yet competitive. Add a sense of collaboration and educational good for all. Build a result into the show which isn’t purely financial but provides recognition and a new direction. Overall, make it represent the values of a modern civilised society. This is what Masterchef has done.


The thing that’s really impressive about Masterchef from a marketing perspective is that they took the well worn genre of ‘cooking’ understood the important nuances of human behaviour and made it something much bigger than anyone ever expected.

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How not to run a promotion – the Chef’s Hat

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on June 4, 2010

I had a discussion with Luke Waldren who had a very poor customer service experience from the Chef’s Hat in Melbourne. For those who don’t know, the Chef’s Hat is regardred as the premier retailer in our city for restraunters, cafe owners and hard core Foodies. They sell a range of appliances and all things related to food retailing – except for the actual food.

Luke went down to buy a a Kitchen Aid appliance, for which he knew there was a promotion at the Chef’s Hat retail store. The offer was pretty simple: Buy a Kitchen Aid blender and recieve a free Kicthen Aid knife worth $49.95. A nice bonus offer for consumers. The offer is below – which mind you is on the front page of their website.

So when Luke arrives at the cash register to pay, there is no mention of the free knife. He then proceeds to ask and says. “Hey, isn’t there a free knife that comes with the blender.” The retail assistant claims no knowledge of the promotion. But luke brings out the iPhone and shows the bonus offer straight from their website as proof. The retail assistant then asks for the manager over the load speaker to come and help. When the manager arrives this is the conversation that transpired:

Retail assistant: “Are we giving away knives with these blenders?”

Manager: “if we have to…”

The manager then leans over to a draw filled with said knives, grabs one and throws it across the table to give to Luke. As though he got caught out. As though he lost one of his precious inventory to god forbid, a customer who entered the store because of the promotion.

If you are going to run a promotion. You have to mean it.

We have to advise those who didn’t know about it. We need to share the benefit with delight. We have to share the message that we go the extra mile and create more value than our competitors. If we are going to act like we don’t really want to participate, then we shouldn’t. Or worse, if we are going to treat our customers with disdain, then we’ll end up on blogs like this spreading the bad word.

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Know what you’re selling

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on May 27, 2010

It was Friday night and I was having a drinks with colleagues who were discussing the relative taste profiles of various beers. I went on challenge the crowd that they wouldn’t know which beers was which in a blind taste test. None of them believed me.

Turns out it’s true. I once worked in a marketing role at Fosters, and 90% of beer drinkers cannot pick any brand within the same type (eg lager, pillsner, bitter ale). Beer is not bought on taste, it’s bought by brand. Sure, there are other factors which come into the decision like availability and price. But both trail and subsequent loyalty is never about taste.

So we have to know what we are selling. Not in the primary sense (the physical product) but in the secondary sense, the real motivation which makes us choose brand A over brand B. And in most categories it’s not what it seems

Beer = fashion

Electricity = company interactions

Coffee = socialisation

Cameras = memory library

For entrepreneurs the message is simple, we must know what we are selling. It’s most often how we market the secondary benefit which will drive our brand over the competitor.

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Everything to everyone

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on March 15, 2010

We live in a wordy world. It seems there’s a new acronym, piece of business jargon, or self defining adjective emerging every minute of the day. It’s easy to get caught up in the language, the jargon and forget what business and startups are all about:

Building stuff. Buying something for $1 and selling it for $2. Having a laugh along the way.

Keep it simple. Don’t try and be everything to everyone.

With all this in mind I’ll hand over to George Carlin – and yes, this video is worth every second of the 3.56 minutes it takes to watch.

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Customer empathy

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on January 26, 2010

My cousin recently purchased a new home. For most of us such a large financial commitment is quite overwhelming.

During the settlement process Chris had a discussion with his conveyancer about the impending transaction and the issues in his mind. His conveyancer said:

“Look, I know this isn’t the type of thing you do everyday, but I do. And I’ll make sure it runs smoothly and you get looked after.”

Such a simple statement showed terrific empathy. It built confidence in the service provider, and eased the mind of the customer. It’s this type of language which creates conversations and can set apart entrepreneurs.

Language matters. What language do you use?

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beware of averages

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on December 26, 2009

If we added up all the men, and all the women on our planet, we’d find that, on average, the typical adult human being had exactly one breast and one testicle. Yet how many people actually fit that description?

Statistics are used the create meaning. Yet, very often they create the opposite. In a world for of numbers, statistics and analytics (yes, even the Google kind) we are better off deciding what we want to find out, than we are looking at the available statistics and asking what they mean.

Startup Blog says: First decide what you want to find out, then devise a way to measure it.

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The art of innovation leadership

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on December 14, 2009

I was speaking with my brother today when he nailed the topic of innovation leadership in a few words.

He said; You can’t ask the market what they want, you need to invent it, build it and tell them why the future as you conceive it is better.

I really liked his sentiments.

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The best business phrase ever – update

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on December 9, 2009

Incentives shape behaviour.

It’s true of all people, at all times. It’s deeply coded in our DNA, and unlikely to change anytime soon.here’s some thought starters on the depth of the phrase.

Incentives: are not necessarily monetary, rather ideas which will improve the perceived situation of the decision maker.

Shape: for things to be shaped it takes time, they must be moulded, caressed, developed and iterated.

Behaviour: is action related. It is about what people do, not what they think about or like, it’s about motion.

Whenever I make a decision as a marketer and an entrepreneur I think deeply about these 3 words.

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Q & A – New Media and Small Business

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on November 30, 2009

I was asked to answer a few questions at a talk I gave last week at the Nationwide Networking Event. It was aimed at Small businesses with the topic about new media and the advantages of being small. I thought it was a nice snippet of ideas worth sharing here.

Q: What type of changes can we expect from media in 2010 and how do we need to prepare for it as business professionals?

A: Media will fragment further, it’s increasingly like fashion with new ideas appearing daily. The art of value, like with fashion is by going with the classics and choosing the right style for the brand you want to build. Match your environment, by being involved in the right channels.

Q: Where do you see the role of the blog in the future?

A: Increasingly important. Blogs are a trusted source, because bloggers become, or are an expert on their topic of choice. This is because all good blogs are topic specific. And people want to deal with experts.

Q: What can we expect from the evolution of twitter and our capacity to use it as a marketing medium?

A: If we use it as a marketing medium we’ve already lost. It’s a conversation…. Conversation can turn into business, but it is primarily a conversation. First we need to be a resource. A resource to others, from which we can build trust and valued relationships. These may eventually lead a business relationship.

Q: What trends are coming from America that we need to be aware of?

A: Trends are global now. We don’t have to look overseas to see it. Things arrive simultaneously. It’s not like it was 20 years ago where our friends return from sojourns overseas to tell us all about the cool things they saw, and we have to wait for them to appear in our market a few years later. Now it’s on our desktop the day it happens. This is been further facilitated by web tools such as Springwise, Twitter and Youtube.

Q: How do we (small business people) benefit from the changes in the media landscape?

A: Barriers to entry have been removed so anyone can play. But it requires a long term consistent effort. New media requires a low financial investment, and large human capital input. Where as old media requires a large financial investment with little human effort. At least now we have to choice. In addition large companies have been (so far) pretty bad at using new media. It creates an advantage for us.

Q: How can we better utilize technology tor reduce our costs and increase our profits?

A: Shift from being doers, to becoming project managers. Outsource where ever possible. It’s easier now with all the tools we have at our disposal like elance and skype. Why do we even need an office? Is it because we need to, or because we don’t trust the people we work with?

Q: Your blog has 50,000 readers a month, how did you do that?

A: Two simple things. One blog entry every day. Staying on topic (entrepreneurship / startups). Then wordpress and Google did the rest. It’s not a trick, it just takes consistent effort.

Q: What is the meaning of micro brand building and how would it be relevant to soloprenuers?

A: Build your personal brand first. That’s the first part of micro branding, becoming known for something. Having a skill you can share with others. Then eventually cross fertilize to your business brand.

Q: What are the simplest things we can do to build a micro brand?

A: Have a tight focus area of interest. Share our lessons honestly and openly. Frequency of output.

Q: How do we protect our brands?

A: Not with IP and legal stuff…. Most of that is a simple waste of money.  We protect it with customers, innovation and reliability.

Q: What one piece of advice would you give to those of us that need clients and need them quickly?

A: Cold call. Not on the phone, but turn up and talk.

Q: What books have influenced  you?

The Cluetrain Manifesto

The Purple Cow

The art of the start

22 Laws of marketing

Q: What marketers / speakers have influenced you?

A: Steven Wright (comedian) he taught me how to flip my perspective for alternative solutions.

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The end of television

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on November 24, 2009

There’s been a lot of talk about the end of television lately. You’ve heard it all. But one simple fact I heard today reminded me today of why television is doomed.

The end of the ratings period.

Yep, that old chestnut. But let’s stop and think for moment what it means and the legacy issues associated with the concept of the rating and non-rating periods.

It was something television could do. It could ‘have a holiday’. It could do this for one simple reason, it had no real competitors. TV broadcasters justified their actions too. They told us that their TV stars needed a break. They told us they were getting ready for the new season with great new episodes and shows. They told us we could enjoy our favourite re-runs. Sure we could go down the the video rental store, but it was much harder than turning on a television and a poor substitute at best.

Today, the end of the ratings period is a continued legacy which proves that broadcasters still don’t get it. We don’t care what time of year it is, we don;’t have to. We still spend money. The economy keeps churning. We still want current, new, exciting information and entertainment. Good news for us is that now we can go elsewhere to get it. And it’s more convenient than TV. It’s on demand, and uninterrupted. The fact that the ratings period still exists today has me flummoxed.

And as long as the television broadcasting industry thinks it can get away with it’s ‘holiday’, it is yet to understand what is happening. It alone is proof TV as an industry, is doomed. This little thing, the non-ratings period, is proof they don’t believe that is the end of their cosy little attention monopoly.

Good bye television, hope you enjoyed your stay.

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