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Disruption, industries and perhaps a tell tale sign from the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA)

This may sound like a contentious and argumentative blog article, however it is merely written with the hope of stimulating a dialogue. The residential lettings industry is changing, evolving into a new ecosystem with new players and new challenges for both owner, renter and those businesses that serve them. As the landscape shifts like quicksand under our feet, old players and incumbents will go through the stages of disruption, as laid out in the Classic Disruption Cycle by Elad Gil.

classic disruption cycle

Taken from TechCrunch

These include:

Overconfidence

In this phase of the disruption cycle the traditional model thinks that the ‘newbies on the block’ are nothing more than young upstarts. A flash in the pan and that nothing could ever shake their hold over the status quo. There may be some simple regulatory action here, similar to when UberCab was made to change its name to Uber.

Sudden Collapse or #massmigration

This is the moment, when the incumbent realizes that they are on slippery slope to ruin. Massive migration occurs, and they lose a vast, sizeable chunk of their customer base quickly. This is the phase when others see others using the new service, and therefore think they should use it. I suppose this is the idea of social and peer reinforcement, or herd marketing as highlighted by Mark Earls in his book ‘Herd’. This is one of my favourite books by the way, some great insights.

“I’ll have what he’s having”…. is one of my favourite examples of this, and one I hear all the time in various forms.

Look at Airbnb and how quickly it spread around the world as more people knew others that had used the service.

Too little too late

This is the stage when the incumbents do what they should have done in the overconfidence phase. They try to save the situation, with innovations of their own but by this point they are already out of date and way too late!

Ongoing Decline

This is the stage when the older model of doing business is no longer relevant. It has been superseded with new customer expectations and better customer service.

So why does this matter, I hear you cry..?!?!? Well we think that we (Movebubble) are somewhere on this Disruption Cycle, with incumbents taking aim at anything new and regulatory bodies such as the Association of Residential Lettings Agents feeling the need to advertise on UK mainstream…(ish) television. Now this last point seems particularly odd, and I wanted to shed some light on ARLA for all of our trusted owners out there.

I felt I needed to gain some greater insights into ARLA and what it is like working at the sharp end of the industry. So I asked my co-founder Aidan Rushby about his experience and opinions on the subject. Some might not like his view, and for that I apologise. But without challenge how can we ever progress. It is our alternative viewpoint, that will after all likely challenge the status quo, which will always cause friction and disagreements along the way. Just to give you some context I am co-founder and CMO of the same business (Movebubble), and although this article does mention our business, it is in no way intended to be a sales pitch at all.

The words below are an executive summary of our discussion, and I really hope that this generates a dialogue around this subject. So please let me know your thoughts and comments.

Interview Executive Summary (05.01.14) with Aidan Rushby, CEO of Movebubble 

Most lettings agents will be proud to announce that they are members of ARLA, and are likely to even have ARLA stickers in the windows of the agency shop. It does sound impressive, but what does it really mean?

ARLA stands for “The Association of Residential Lettings Agents” and on the website it reads:

“The Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA) is a professional membership and regulatory body for letting agents and letting agencies in the UK. ARLA recognized the requirements of the residential lettings market were so detailed and specific that a separate organization was required to promote standards in this important sector of the property industry.”

Now don’t get us wrong, this does sound great but what benefits does this produce for owner and the renter (aka landlord and tenant)?

I have previously worked within the residential lettings industry for around about 7 years, and have an opinion on this that I had wanted to share, as it may be a little unorthodox.

There are some great things with ARLA, such as the requisite that all agents operating under ALRA must maintain valid Professional Indemnity Insurance to ensure that ARLA member’s consumers are protected from errors or omission made by any agency. ARLA members also agree to comply with all the professional standards outlined in ARLA’s Byelaws and Code of Practice, demonstrating their dedication and commitment to high standards in Letting Agency. Great stuff.

Be sure to check out  http://www.arla.co.uk/about-us/why-use-our-members for more information

From my experience owners (aka landlords) and renters (aka tenants) do not get any tangible benefits from utilizing agents that are members of ARLA. It is so easy to become a member, pay the membership fees required, put a sticker on the shop window and voila..! You are now a ‘Bon-a-fide’ ARLA representative. What’s more, an agency has to have only one registered individual per branch to display that ‘all important’ sticker and give the impression that the branch is a registered member.

Online letting agents like Rentify even have the ARLA logo on their website. This seems very odd as they don’t even conduct viewings and surely thus can’t follow the code of practice. They also allow owners to upload properties for free, without even seeing the property. Considering the statement below, as found in the Code of Conduct, it would appear that to be an ARLA representative you have to qualify all descriptions of the property to be true and reasonable.

G. II  A Member must take reasonable steps to make sure that all statements, whether oral or written, about a property are accurate and not misleading. In particular, reasonable care should be taken when describing property as Unfurnished, Part Furnished, Furnished or Fully Furnished so that applicants are not misled as to what fixtures, fittings etc might be included.

Therefore, how can Rentify adhere to ARLA’s code of conduct? We are not sure that they do but perhaps this is another post altogether… I digress.

Even one of the most successful lettings companies in the UK, Foxtons, chooses not to be a member of ARLA. Is this because Foxtons fail to find any added value from being a member, either for themselves or their customers?

So lets talk about the ARLA examination process.

In order for you to become a vetted ARLA representative, and be able to speak with authority you have to undergo a grueling set of examinations that only the bravest, smartest and most qualified can pass. Apparently.

I have been there and done them, and got the ARLA tee-shirt.

I picked up the required book, read for half an hour and passed the 4 examinations. I was only 24 at the time. Easy. Now I was apparently qualified to advise owners (aka landlords) on perhaps their most valued investment. My employers would confidently declare that I was the man to talk to when it came to advice about being a property owner and the trials and tribulations of renting out a property. In hindsight, I feel that this was very far from the truth. Another business of which I was aware, even allowed its representatives who were not ARLA qualified to claim they were and give advice as such. Mmmmm…. Dubious. In my 7 years as Branch Manager I was never contacted by ARLA. Not even once.

Another more recent point of notice.

Interestingly there has been a new ARLA television campaign, and this is no doubt to drive awareness and acquire more customers i.e. lettings agents.

But I wonder if there is a slightly deeper and more pertinent reason for this new channel of marketing. There is renewed vigour to regulate the industry, and perhaps ARLA are trying to reinforce the ‘need’ for the agency model and thus their own position within the market. No agency model, no ARLA!

I think that they should be focusing on managing their membership more closely, so that all ARLA registrars are offering validated benefits to the end users rather than showing off with large TV adverts.

I feel that ARLA, (and for that matter any non market-driven or Government intervention), infact prevents innovation in the industry with strict, archaic and immoveable requirements. Hence why Movebubble is not a member of ARLA. This is for several reasons. The first being that it is not an agency but rather a trusted community marketplace (or customer collaborative platform #coined) centered on the rental agreement. Secondly, innovation is stitched into our very nature as a business, and to voluntarily adhere to any restrictions would seem detrimental to our future success.

In all I think this is a sign that we are already in the Overconfidence stage, and rather than the business model and businesses therein innovating and coming out with new solutions for the end users, they are simply cranking up the ad spend, and applying the band aids.

How long will this strategy last..? Lets put it this way, I would not want to own a lettings agency right now.

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What is Agile Marketing?

Agile is the new buzz word in the business world, being first established in the software development world to tackle a set of unpredictable and moving requirements. Eric Ries, amongst many others, was one of the first to talk openly about the principles of the Lean Startup and Agile Methodologies where optimising the performance of a website or piece of software was the primary focus. This is where the term Conversion Rate Optimisation has come from, or Growth Hacking to use the contemporary terminology.

I believe that these very same principles of test often, fail often, learn always are paramount as we move into a faster and far more dynamic world in terms of both customer expectations and the competitive landscape. I believe that we are able to focus on the reallocation of resources within marketing in the very same way, and move away from the stale, rigid and risky waterfall management framework and into the fast, ‘boxer like’ world of SCRUM.

In short Agile Marketing is comprised of short sprints, that occur anywhere between 7 and 30 days. These micro campaigns consist of pre-defined stages, that in turn feed the direction of marketing strategy and vision. A brilliant piece to read, is the SCRUM reference card that highlights the details of this way of thinking. I have amended the defined Sprint stages so that they are more relevant to the responsibilities of marketing, in my humble opinion.

agile marketing sprint

proposed stages for agile marketing sprint

SCRUM

SCRUM teams get together at the beginning of each sprint or micro-campaign to break down larger goals into smaller tasks. The team then chooses and allocates tasks, roles and responsibility to members. Each team member accepts the tasks, in the genuine understanding that they are achievable in the sprint.

The layout of the SCRUM will be as follows:

  1. SCRUM will occur on monday morning every week.
  2. Each attendee will give an oversight of what was achieved in the previous week, and any validated learning that the group should know about.
  3. Discussion over any learning that affects current work, decisions, directions and relevant action to be taken.
  4. Micro campaign owner will push important items to the Backlog each week.
  5. The Sprint Team will commit to delivering certain ‘deployable’ assets within the sprint.
  6. Deployable assets will be dissected into key tasks, and requirements will be identified for both product and seeding (traditionally known as advertising and engagement).
  7. KPIs will be identified for each micro-campaign. This is the step where weekly Goals will be identified.
  8. The individuals of the team will discuss roles and responsibilities of individual tasks can be allocated at this stage. Team members will take ownership for key tasks.
  9. This SCRUM meeting will take no more than 2 hours.
  10. Every day the SCRUM team is to have a 15 minute meeting, whereby they stand up and discuss the previous day, the current day and any major issues that were encountered for feedback and quick ideation. If SCRUM team members feel that they can assist in a problem, then they are to bring this up, and arrange for an additional meeting with that individual outside of the daily SCRUM. The daily SCRUM will not be attended by the Micro Campaign Owner so as to encourage emergent leadership.

Implementation and Internal testing

This stage will enable team members the autonomy to work on their own, and collaborate accordingly to deliver on their own responsibilities. Team members will look use personal knowledge, research and data available from previous iteration cycles to develop campaign and marketing assets that will deliver on the KPIs identified.

So as to minimize risks of customer facing content the following ‘have I done this checklist’ should be used by each team member:

1. Have I read this word for word, slowly to make sure that it reads correctly?
2. Have I read this backwards to make sure that there are no obvious spelling errors.
3. Have I run this piece of content through a Microsoft word spell checker?
4. Has another person read this before I pull the trigger?
5. Am I willing to put my reputation against this piece of content?
6. Only when the answer to all those above is YES, then you can deploy.

This checklist format comes from Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto, which i would encourage everyone on this blog to read.

Mid sprint SCRUM Review meetings will be encouraged, where team members are to demonstrate finished materials (or at key iterations) for feedback from interested team members. This offers an opportunity for outside people, customers or potential customers to offer feedback. This will offer iterative feedback on material and campaigns enabling a value driven approach

Deployment of new marketing assets or collateral

In this stage, seeding teams will take the assets and distribute across previously identified channels so as to gain maximum exposure for the brand. Teams are also responsible for answering any questions online and via social media, or taking any feedback and gathering it for the next SCRUM meeting.

Listen and engage with consumer of material

This is an important (and continual process) of social listening and communication. It ensures that all team members are on relevant social media and engaging in associated conversations about the material, products, services and company.

Analysis of KPIs and ROI

In this stage of the iteration cycle team members will collect the data of relevant KPIs so that ROI can be gauged. Assumptions should be made from this information, and attempts at insight are encouraged.

Decisions should be made for future iteration cycles in preparation for the next SCRUM.

I think it apt to state that all team members should get aligned with real metrics, and leave the ‘gut instincts’ at the door.

Sprint Retrospective Meeting

Each sprint will end with a retrospective meeting where the team can reflect on its own process, and are able to take action to make future sprints better.

The main aim of these meetings is to expose organizational and team impediments. It is important that this time is a free and open environment to positively critique team and individual performance. This is not a time for the blame game, rather for personal learning, mentorship and improvement.

So this is, in short my breakdown of the Agile Methodologies into something ‘chewable’ for marketers. I could be wrong, but hey, i am happy to amend my view dependant on the results. Challenge me.. please.

#challengeeverything

I look forward to your comments.

What is marketing…?

I must admit, i think i hate what the word marketing has come to represent. Marketing people (and i think the general public) think  it represents advertising, direct mail, persistent one-to-one communication (aka bombardment), cookie ridden snooping, inbox flooding SPAM etc etc etc. Delete delete delete… It sounds as popular as the word politician and banker. But really it is so much more, so much more intrinsic to us all.

I am still learning (in my current role as CMO for Movebubble), every day the enormous role that marketing plays in any business. From customer listening, value setting, branding, message, tone of voice, social engagement, competition analysis, revenue streams, User Experience, product development and the list goes on. And, one might ask… what does that all means Logan?

I think the one thing that many business are so focussed on is B2C (business to consumer). I once wrote in another blog post that it was P2P (what i called people to people). I thought i was so clever… When i wrote this original blog post I had still envisaged a member of an organisation speaking, albeit as a person, to a customer (also another person). However since this P2P insight I have come to realise that the most crucial and valuable form of brand ‘marketing’ comes from personal recommendations i.e the interactions between your customers. Its C2C (customer to customer) as Mark Earls suggests in Herd; a book about how humans are built to interact; is the most important thing to understand and focus on.

‘I’ll have what he’s having‘ is how we are made. Its Cognitive Ease (did i just coin a phrase?)

We don’t like making decisions, hence we always take the easiest route… mentally that is. We are down right lazy. Again as Mark Earls says, we are homo-mimicus. We like to copy, its a survival instinct. I do listen to my friends and will often go the same movies as them, buy the same beer, eat at the same restaurants. So how does a company get into this, personal space. And should it? If it tries does it really just turn people off.

If your business is good enough, and performs a task beautifully and easily then is this enough to generate WOM (word of mouth) or as marketers now like to say ‘word of mouse’. The role of marketing is today; in my humble opinion all about lubricating the wheels of C2C communication. I am not sure there are any answers (that is that i have any), but i hope this makes you think a little about the role of marketing these days.

This blog is for me to put ideas out and see what people think. Engage and open up lines of dialogue. If any one has any thoughts on this, please let me know.

And on that note… “Waiter, can i have what he is having…? 

How to get your cake and eat it. The job your product does. A talk from Professor Christensen at Business of Software 2011

This is a great lecture from Professor Clayton Christensen at Business of Software 2011. He is a lecturer and professor at Harvard Business School and has some brilliant insights, something all entrepreneurs should understand. In this talk he describes disruption (referencing disruptive innovation) as the art of killing rather than being killed. How do you take on the incumbents in the marketplace? You can’t outspend them, and you probably can’t out innovate with new features and added benefits onto already existing products and services.

He implies that if you can focus on the job required to be done and the causal mechanism behind a customers decision then you can retain the ‘bleeding edge’ high ground and ensure continued profitability. Becoming a purpose brand is vital, i.e. one that states what job it tackles so as to become that brand people go to when thinking of a task. This is the only way to ensure sustained profitability. An example here is ‘furnishing my house’ and IKEA.

Professor Clayton Christensen at Business of Software 2011  The Job your Product Does   Business of Software

Drucker has a great quote:

“A customer rarely buys what the company thinks they are selling him (/her)”

Investigate what job people are using your product for, and improve on it. Companies are often wrong about how people are really using their services. People use chairs to change lightbulbs and not to sit on (all the time) so should chair companies make chairs that do both jobs better, or innovate with a new product for changing lightbulbs?

If you do the job well enough as a service (or product) then you don’t need a marketing budget. Sounds so simple hey? Too many companies compete on the same axis of performance and competition. Innovate on different axis, centered on the task only. Simple examples are Salesforce.com and Oracle, Toyota and Ford Motors.

Oddly he tells us not to listen to the customer but to be sure that the company makes the job easier and cheaper. A great example here is when Ford was the innovator in the market, and the famous line from Henry Ford himself:

“If we asked the customer what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse”.

Henry Ford understood that the problem was getting from A to B, and so simply innovated to make this task easier and quicker. He did not try to breed faster horses. People are willing to pay a premium for a product/service that provides a better solution.

Its true customers don’t know what they will need in a few years time, and companies do have to lead the way. However if they lose sight of the job being performed they lose track altogether. Jobs don’t change quickly. So don’t add features above customer requirements or capabilities. Yes it adds complexity, and makes it harder to copy, but sometimes you will get so far ahead of the customer that you become too complex and replaceable. Not a good place to be as a business. Christenson suggests rather than innovate on the same axis/market, look to create zero consumption markets with simple products.

He makes a point that refers to innovation as a culture, and investing in the services of the future before you need them. Because if you wait until you need the innovation persuading shareholders to move away from key business activities to invest in higher risk projects is difficult, if not impossible.

Finally he describes how companies are now competing on business models. This is something that i have mentioned before of how it is now ‘Battle of the Business Plans’. The three business models he describes are summarised below:

Solutions Shop Business

In this business model you define a problem and offer a solutions. Business consultants are perfect examples of this.

Value Adding Business

These business take something in at one end, add value, and sell it at a profit. Great examples are clothing manufacturers.

Facilitated Network Business

These are closer to customer company collaboration to find a better solution. Perhaps the sharing economy falls into this category also. There are many examples of this, but a couple are Lyft and Sharedesk. These companies will take revenue per transaction.

Lastly he talks of ‘stupid managers’. Be careful as a company that looks only at the Return on Net Assets (RONA) or Internal Rate of Return (IRR) as measures of profitability and a guide to decision-making. If you are not careful, you can easily outsource your core competency further down the supply chain even though we are taught in business school that this is the right framework within which to make decisions. Dell is a perfect example of this managerial oversight. He says the best way to make decisions, is on how many tonnes of cash you make.

Anyway, enough of my summary. Watch this, and let me know what you think.

……. Also since writing this post, i have been asked to share this link for the Business of Software blog post with Clayton’s talk, which also includes a transcript of the talk. Happy reading. Sorry i did not do this the first time around. I forgot.

http://businessofsoftware.org/2012/02/professor-clayton-christensen-at-business-of-software-2011-the-job-your-product-does/

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYLsphIC?p=1 width=”550″ height=”443″]

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