Book response update: what we used to call “encouraging progress”

Early in my financial marketing career, I did quite a lot of ads communicating companies’ financial results.  This was lucrative work for the agency, but desperately dreary for the poor sods actually doing the work.  Among the investment community targeted by this advertising, there was a recognised short list of coded expressions that were understood to convey precise and surprisingly detailed messages about the performance of the companies in question.  “Poised for growth” meant “still losing money”,  “strengthening the management team” meant “firing the CEO for underperformance”,”  “steady progress” meant “dead in the water”, and so forth.  It wasn’t necessary, or indeed useful, to try to come up with new or different forms of words:  the aim was simply to choose the existing option which fitted the facts most accurately.  (There’s probably an algorithm that does this these days.)

Perhaps the phrase we dialled in most often was the one in this blog’s headline, “encouraging progress.”  This was about the blandest message available, the beigest colour in the colour palette,  It meant things weren’t going too badly, but nor were they going all that well.  You wouldn’t want to sell your shares in a panic, but you wouldn’t be queuing to buy more.

That all seems to fit pretty well with the tenor of this report on my last post, in which I urged the FS marketing community to respond more vigorously to my book on the subject, No Small Change, co-written with leading challenger banker Anthony Thomson.  In response, the following things have happened:

  • The book shot back up to about #10,000 on Amazon, although I have to admit that it has now shot back down again to about #300,000.
  • It has now gathered a total of six Amazon reviews, and although that doesn’t compare too well with, say, the 2,000 or so received by The da Vinci Code, ours average out at 4.8 stars and Dan Brown’s only just over 4 (which I to say I think is absurdly generous).
  • One estimable client has not only read it, but has also sent me a copy of his written critique, to be circulated among his team, which includes, for goodness sake, no fewer than 93 bullet points (the large majority of them positive).
  • Another estimable client has also read it, and, perhaps even more admirably, invited me to discuss it over lunch.

That’s about it, and writing it all down like this I do wonder whether “encouraging” progress might be pushing it a bit.  As I recall, the next level down was “solid” progress – perhaps that captures it better.

Come on, FS marketers, let’s be ‘avin you.

It seems to have been an obscure American humorist called Olin Miller (not Mark Twain, or Eleanor Roosevelt, or any other of the usual famous-quote suspects, and definitely not Delia Smith) who first  made that mildly deflating comment, “You’d worry a lot less about what other people think of you if you realised how seldom they do.”  We don’t know much about Mr Miller, or the circumstances in which he made the remark, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find he’d recently published a book about financial services marketing.

When my co-author Anthony Thomson and I published No Small Change:  Why Financial Services Needs a New Kind Of Marketing a couple of months ago, we didn’t imagine we’d be rivalling Dan Brown and JK Rowling at the top of the best seller charts.  But, to be honest, having included some original and quite controversial ideas, some harsh and probably unfair criticisms, some surprising new market research findings and some reflections from the individual who is now the UK’s, probably Europe’s and now arguably the world’s leading challenger banker (Anthony, obvs, not me), ,I think we have been a tad surprised by the near-complete silence that has greeted us.

One of the more important ideas in the book is that marketers can never blame their target markets for not getting what they have to offer or hearing what they have to say.  If the target market doesn’t get it or hear it, by definition it’s the marketers’ fault.  Exactly the same is true of authors.  By definition, if people don’t know of the book, or if they do but can’t make any sense of it, then it’s our fault (and maybe also a little bit our publishers and our PR people).

But even so, it’s not quite that simple.  We do know that a lot of our friends, clients and contacts have bought it – after all, we signed several hundred copies at our various launch events – and even if most just bought copies to be nice and show support, there must have been some who intended to read it, or at least part of it.

And yet we’ve only had four reviews on Amazon, and while they are all perfectly genuine reviews from real people who’ve read the book, three of the four did result from email exchanges in which we said how grateful we’d be if the individuals concerned could write up some of the nice things they had to say.  And of course it’s a mixed blessing that all four of the reviews all give us five stars – hasn’t anyone managed to find anything they’re upset about (not even at Barclays)?

I don’t think I’m going to say any more on this subject, because I can feel that I’m on the brink of blaming my readers and that really is a cardinal sin.  But encouraging my readers is OK – so, come on, chaps and chapesses,let’s be aving you – there’s still plenty of time to say something, appreciative, or indeed otherwise.