What is the value of marketing?

Marketing professionals are always under pressure to add value to an organisation’s brand or identity.  But what does adding value look like?  The answer is that the definition of value depends on the type of organisation and the developmental stage of that organisation.  If you are going to measure the success of your marketing activity on the addition of value, you need to define the measures of value to be used from the outset.

For many businesses the sole measure of marketing success is financial return on investment.  Such a measure is important but you should consider the wider aspects of value in measuring marketing success.  That could mean a wide range of results including increasing consumer advocacy, the expansion of your product or service range, increasing the number and types of distribution channel used by your organisation or even by changing your organisational structure.

In the latest edition of Catalyst, the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s quarterly magazine, several different organisations give examples of the value of marketing to their business:

  1. The first example is a small family business which makes curry sauces.  For years the owners of the company were wholly focused on getting their products into shops.  The focus was on the place and product elements of the marketing mix and other mix factors such as promotion, price, process and physical evidence were all but excluded.  In 2016, the firm’s proprietors decided to take a wider view of their marketing activities.  They wanted to develop a brand identity and grow beyond their existing distribution chain.  To develop the brand, they found they needed to tell their brand story more effectively and they needed to develop a consumer focus.  By analysing the response from their customers they found that their business was seen as a fun, family brand with a tasty product.  To engage with their consumers, the firm developed a range of promotional materials focused on their fun image.  They were also able to use the responses from their customer survey as evidence in achieving a distribution deal with a major supermarket chain.  For this business marketing success wasn’t just improved financial returns, it was a closer link to their customer base, increased distribution and the creation of a brand identity.
  2. The second example was a major arts and entertainment venue.  This venue contained museums, a theatre, retail units, bars and coffee shops.  Each of these activities were used by different customer segments. Each group of customers had different value expectations.  Using strategic marketing plans, the venue was able to develop distinct strategies for different groups of target customers.  The management of the venue had the perception that customers came to their venue to see a particular piece of art or a particular show.  Market research showed that there was a commonality between different customer segments, that they wanted to go out to the venue and have a good time.  Marketing value to this organisation was the development of closer ties to its varied customer base and the development of feedback systems to ensure that what was offered by the venue met the expectations of visitors.
  3. The third example given in Catalyst was a publisher of academic textbooks.  Marketing told this business that their client base differed from its consumer base.  The firm marketed its books to academics and saw itself as part of the academic community.  However, it was undergraduate students who were the consumers of its products and services.  The firm therefore had to produce texts which academics would refer as standard texts for their students but which also met the educational expectations of those students.  The organisation found that different marketing channels were appropriate for different academic sectors.  Marketing value to this business was the ability to widen their communications strategy and to match the communication expectations of different recipient segments.
  4. The final example is a firm which produces virtual reality software for industry.  for many years, this organisation saw its success as the success of its customers.  However, management realised that they were good at telling other people’s story and not their own.  By applying strategic marketing, the firm was able to redefine itself in the market.  It was able to focus on the critical parts of its business and to discount areas which were no longer relevant.  This led to a complete reorganisation of the business’s structure to better match its new priorities.

The above examples clearly show that marketing value and success are not simply a matter of financial return.  There are a wide range of non-financial measures which define marketing success.

 

What is Marketing?

 

 

You know what, I’m puzzled at the definition applied by some businesses to the role of marketing professionals in their organisation.  It might be reasonable for some organisations to only view marketing in terms of advertising or promotion.  However, all too often I see advertisements for marketing staff which define the role of the successful applicant as that of a salesman, or a graphic designer, or as a web designer, or as an expert in the technical aspects of social media.  Too often for my liking, employers are completely ignoring the true definition of a marketing professional’s role; as a strategist who takes corporate goals and objectives and develops them into a consumer facing strategic plan.

I saw one advertisement recently for a local wealth management firm which asked for an Executive Assistant/Marketer.  The job description for that role listed all the usual activities of a personal assistant such as minute-taking and diary management.  The last line of that document was the kicker.  The successful applicant would be responsible for developing the business’s marketing strategy and the business could offer a salary “above minimum wage”.

It was absolutely clear that whoever had written that advert was completely unaware of the complexity of the strategic marketing process or the level of knowledge required to prepare professional marketing plans.

In my area, I often see advertisements for jobs critical to the marketing process at salary levels between a third and a half that of similar posts elsewhere in the UK.  It seems many of my local employers are not correctly calculating the importance of that work to their business.

There was another recent advert which asked for a Marketing Assistant/Manager.  This wasn’t an advertisement for two jobs.  It was a single position.  So what did the business want, a marketing assistant who carries out administrative tasks relating to marketing activities or a marketing manager who is responsible for the development and control of the strategy process?

I had a look around that business’s website.  The job was with a recruitment agency which specialised in the retail sector.  Except it didn’t.  The website was full of jobs in catering or in hospitality and hotels.

I suspect the business began life as a retail specialist but as it had grown, it had entered other sectors.  I got the impression that unless a change was made to its generic marketing strategy it could end up in the no man’s land described in Michael Porter’s Generic strategy model.

Porter described three generic marketing strategies:

  1. Differentiation:  This is offering different products and services to different target customer groups.  Volkswagen are an example of a differentiated marketing strategy.  They have an executive car brand, Audi; a discount brand, Skoda; a truck division; a motorcycle brand, Ducati; two super car brands, Lamborghini and Bugatti; and a family car brand, Seat.  Each of these brands is targeted at a different consumer group.
  2. Cost Focus:  Porter later split this strategy in two.  There is a price strategy where the business looks to provide the cheapest offer in the market (e.g. Poundland) or the strategy of pairing down costs to offer the best value in the market (e.g. Asda/Walmart).  The focus is the elimination of all unnecessary cost from the business.  This can be achieved through economies of scale, controlling the market through purchasing power, or limiting the range of products you sell.  For example, Aldi predominantly sells own brand products which offer greater profit margins than prominent brands.  Other firms use vertical integration and control of supply chains to reduce costs.
  3. Niche:  This is where a business focuses on an identifiable market segment exclusively.  The aim is to find a segment which offers specific benefits to the business and which matches the skills and resources of the business.  Porter believes this is the most viable option for the majority of small businesses.  Many small businesses simply do not have the resources or scale to follow a cost focus or differentiation strategy.  It is likely those strategies will draw the attention of larger competitors who are better resourced to defend against the smaller competitor.

Porter adds that a firm that tries to follow all of the above strategies enters a ‘death zone’ where money is wasted on excessive marketing activities and strategic focus is lost.

The recruitment agency clearly started off following the Niche marketing strategy looking at the retail industry but it appears niche focus has been lost.  The attraction of taking on work in other sectors has overtaken the strategic imperative of the niche focus.

Clearly this is a growing business and given the well-known brands the business has worked with, is becoming a major player.  Its marketing strategy needs to be recalibrated to take account of its new status.

Even within the retail sector, there was a wide range of roles on offer, from senior management in retail businesses to Saturday sales assistant roles.  It’s clear that even within the niche some form of segmentation needs to take place.  After all, the process of employing a senior manager is wholly different to employment of a sales assistant.

In my view the firm needs to move to a differentiated marketing strategy.  By describing itself as a specialist retail recruitment agency, it is not properly defining its role as a recruiter in the hospitality and catering sectors (where other sector-specific recruitment firms exist).  I would suggest that the business markets its expertise in the recruitment of executives separately from lower grade roles.  A separate recruitment product should be developed for Executives (as this may include head hunting), professionals, retail, catering and hospitality.  Such a differentiated model allows for the development of recruitment services which meet the specific needs of each of these sectors.

Remember,  There is a difference between strategy and tactics.  Strategy is doing the right things.  Tactics are doing those things right.  An efficient strategy poorly executed will lead to a slow death; an inefficient strategy well executed may mean a business survives; a poor strategy, poorly executed, will lead to a quick death; only an effective strategy, efficiently executed will lead to success.

And please, business owners, properly define the role of marketing in your business.  Don’t expect a marketing professional to be an expert web designer, graphic designer, salesman, copywriter, data analyst, social media expert and photographer simultaneously.

Do brands have a life cycle?

Marketing science and history tells us that products have life cycles.  For example, consider the typewriter.

For about 100 years, the typewriter was the pre-eminent letter-writing tool in business and administration but in the 1960s, its dominance began to decline.  First there was the rise of the electronic typewriter, then the word processor arrived and finally, the personal computer arrived.  The PC basically killed the market for typewriters: its went into near terminal decline.

In some circumstances, it is possible to revive products using tactics such as line extensions, changing distribution channels, using price reductions and through market repositioning.

If products have a life-cycle, do brands?

Brands are not products, or logos, or company names.  They have wider recognition and a well-defined ‘personality’. Nike for example started as a pair of trainers but now is a far wider fashion and sports brand.  Nike doesn’t just make clothing and footwear, it makes golf clubs and other sport’s equipment.

L’Oréal began life as a hair dye but is now a major soap and cosmetics brand.

Louis Vuitton began making luggage for the upper classes but is now recognised for ladies handbags.  Vuitton has a clothing range and fragrances.

Many brands keep surfing for new products.  Virgin has major product/service lines such as Virgin Rail, Virgin Music and Virgin Atlantic.  However Virgin Group has over 200 corporate ventures in markets as diverse as healthcare, banking, tourism and cosmetics.

Some brands which are closely associated with a single product may decline, such as Polaroid and instant cameras, but brands with wide product portfolios is diverse markets can survive the loss of individual products.

So how do you protect a brand identity in the long-term?  This often means resisting low-cost competition.  This can be achieved by

  1. By enforcing intellectual property rights – Organisations like Coca Cola and Manchester United ensure they hold a variety of trademarks and other rights and do not tolerate brand imitations.  The shape of the coke bottle is a trademark.  Manchester United ensure they hold the image rights of players.  Intellectual property rights can be used to keep those who copy brands confused.  Many football clubs register trademarks they have no intention of using.  They send private investigators to pass fictitious strip designs to counterfeiters.
  2. You can nurture perceived difference in the minds of consumers.  This is achieved by always being ‘good news’.  ‘Good news’ is being seen as always making progress; always being at the forefront of market innovation through product reformulation and continuous but selective innovation.  Colgate Toothpaste is regularly reformulated for new ingredients.  Gillette razors are continually adapted to give an increasingly smooth and comfortable shave.  To preserve a superior image products should be renewed frequently.  Renewal should integrate mew and emerging customer needs.  Market superiority can be confirmed using line extensions.  For example, Head and Shoulders was originally aimed at people who suffered with dandruff.  Now it is the UK’s favourite shampoo brand.
  3. You can invest in media communication to protect a brand identity.  By ensuring strong share of voice, you can use communication as the brand’s weapon.  Guinness is almost as well recognised for its long history of advertising innovation as it is for its stout.  Media communication can be used to re-communicate the dangers of brand switching.  Faced with a flood of cheap Chinese lighters, Bic produced a leaflet highlighting potential safety dangers with cheaper products and distributed it to retailers.
  4. A dangerous tactic is to reduce price gaps.  This may be achieved using special offers and techniques but a BOGOF (buy one get one free). A permanent price reduction may do serious damage to a brand’s perceived value in the minds of consumers.  Often firms protect the brand by making a ladder which allows consumers to eventually achieve a premium brand.  Golf club brands do this by creating fighter products which allow consumers to experience a brand cache but at lower cost.
  5. A brand can be defended by identifying and suppressing unnecessary costs through the use of tools such as value chain analysis.
  6. You can fight destruction of brand value through education and innovation.  Consumers have an internal reference price for a class of product by reminding them of the additional value attributes of a brand you can recalibrate that reference price in their mind.
  7. Finally, you can protect a brand log-term by creating market entry barriers.  For many years Black and Decker defined the home power tools market by giving competitors little room to manoeuvre.  This was achieved by globalised production and economies of scale.  Coca Cola dominate their market through scale of distribution.  Other firms have vertically integrated into the supply chain or through purchasing raw material providers.  In the printer market Hewlett-Packard use technology as an entry barrier.  Their printer cartridges are brand specific and have software which prevents generic cartridges being used in their machines.  Manufacturers of photocopiers collect the empty cartridges for recycling but  this also prevents them being refilled by other parties.

The majority of brands can exist outside the frame of the product life cycle if properly managed.  A brand identity extends beyond product features and in some cases comes to define a whole market segment.

Defining marketing and why projects fail

I was chatting with a fellow member of the federation of Small Businesses at a recent networking event.  He mentioned that he had been at a talk given by the owner of a successful small business who commented that she had built her business without doing any marketing.  This was a statement which I found incredulous.

I suspect the business owner giving the talk was incorrectly defining marketing.  What she meant was that she had built her business without the use of print or television advertising.  If it is the business I am thinking of, I know she has used social media and the internet,  I also know she has used sales representatives and entered into arrangements with beauty salons to promote her products.  She may not have used traditional advertising but she has used alternative promotional channels AND THAT IS ONLY A SMALL PART OF HER MARKETING MIX.

In his book Principles of Marketing, a standard marketing text for graduates, Philip Kotler describes the forms of marketing used by businesses as they grow.

The first stage is described by Kotler as entrepreneurial marketing.  This is a company living by its wits.  Marketing activity is done on a whim, often based as the perceptions of market conditions in the mind of the business owner.  There is a considerable use of guerrilla and surprise marketing.  Marketing activity isn’t planned; it takes as and when the business proprietor believes it to be necessary.

As a business grows it is no longer possible to exist solely on unplanned marketing activities.  A business moves to a state of formulated marketing.  the scale of the business and the need to satisfy the needs of wider stakeholder groups requires a structured approach to marketing.  This is the standard marketing process in most businesses.

For very large businesses, there is still a requirement to be fleet of foot and not to be predictable.  Kotler suggests that these businesses use an ‘intrapreneurial’ approach to marketing.  He uses as an example Virgin, the conglomerate owned by Richard Branson.

Virgin is not just big brands such as Virgin Music and Virgin Atlantic, it is made up of over 200 separate businesses and several hundred legal entities.  Branson encourages his staff to come up with new business ideas within the group umbrella.  He is constantly searching for new market opportunities and new business concepts.  Not all of these succeed and several only exist in the short term, such as Virgin Cola, but several grow into significant market players e.g. Virgin Money and Virgin Holidays.

By encouraging his employees to act as entrepreneurs within his company, Branson can adapt to new markets and new technologies quicker than his competitors.  He wants his staff to act as market disruptors.  If Virgin is constantly changing the rules of the market, it is more difficult for his competitors to gain a commercial advantage. Virgin is also made up of linked but separate commercial units.  This means that if one unit fails, there is a smaller risk of that failure being a contagion affecting other business units.

Clearly, the CEO who was giving the talk was at Kotler’s stage one.  If she is to grow to a business which can compete with the multi-nationals which dominate her particular market, she may need to take a leaf out of Virgin’s book.

On a separate matter, I have being doing some CPD in relation to my project management skills and was taking notes from the book Project Management by Dennis Lock.  Again, this is a standard text for business and engineering graduates.

In the book, Lock states that a major reason for project failure is a poor project definition.  He lists ten reasons why inappropriate project definitions can mean that a project can fail at the outset.  These are:

  1. The project scope is not clearly stated and understood
  2. Vague technical requirements
  3. Estimates of cost, timescale and expected benefits are over-optimistic
  4. The risk assessment is incomplete or flawed
  5. The intended project strategy is inappropriate
  6. Insufficient regard is given to cash flows and the provision of funds
  7. The interests and concerns of stakeholders are not taken into account
  8. Undue regard is given to the motivations of people undertaking the project
  9. Insufficient regard is given to the reactions of those affected by the project by changes imposed upon them
  10. Politics and personal goals overtake the aims of the project.

Reading Lock’s list, I couldn’t help thinking of Brexit.  In particular the comments of Sir Amyas Morse, the head of the National Audit Office who has complained that the UK government proposals for leaving the European Union are “vague” and that there is a lack of cross-departmental work in government which could “crack open Brexit like the first tap on a chocolate orange”.

I concur,  the UK approach to Brexit appears so slapdash, it will likely cause severe damage to the UK economy and be disastrous for the UK business community.

Ten Sources of Competitive Advantage

In The Origin of Species by Natural Selection, published in 1859, Charles Darwin wrote:

“The most successful species are those which adapt to the changing environment.  The most successful individuals are those with the greatest competitive advantage over others.”

Darwin’s words apply equally if you replace the word individuals with businesses. The strategic tool used in business to develop and sustain competitive advantages is marketing.

Michael Porter proposed that a superior competitive advantage grows out of the value the firm is able to create from its customers which exceeds the cost of creating that competitive advantage.  ‘Value’ is what the customer is willing to pay.  ‘Superior’ stems from offering lower prices compared to your competitors for equivalent benefits of by providing greater benefits which are more than offset by a higher price.

Porter suggests that value chain analysis should be used to identify where customers see value.  The firm’s scarce resources can then be targeted in those areas.  He argues there are five key areas where competitive advantages can be developed:

  1. When you bring in raw materials: so a chef may develop competitive advantage by only using organic ingredients.
  2. When those raw materials are processed and modified; so our chef cooks them in a particularly skilful or special way
  3. Through the distribution of the modified raw materials: which has seen the rise of services such as Deliveroo, Ocado and Just Eat.
  4. In the marketing of those finished products;  the development of a specific marketing mix
  5. Through customer services both before and after sale.

The following anonymous quote also applies:

The only truly sustainable competitive advantage comes from out-innovating the competition”.

Every time a product-market combination changes, so does the relative strengths and weaknesses of market actors.

Often the problem is not gaining a competitive advantage but sustaining it over time.  Many firms are first to market with a new technology, product or business model only to be overtaken by more agile competitors.  For example Tesco was the first cut price supermarket but it lost its focus on cost reduction.  The arrival of Lidl and Aldi in the UK supermarket environment has placed significant pressure on Tesco and other discount retailers such as Asda.  If you are following a low-cost strategy you need to be ruthless in driving costs from your business.  If that focus is lost you will fail.  A prime example was Kwiksave.

Davidson (1987|) said:

Competitive advantage is achieved when you do something better than your competitors.  I you do one thing better than competitors or a number of smaller advantage can be combined, you have an exploitable competitive advantage.  One or more competitive advantages are usually necessary in order to develop a winning strategy and that this in turn should enable a company to achieve above average growth and profits”

Davidson then identified what he believed to be the ten most significant potential competitive advantages.

  1. A superior product or service offer
  2. A perceived advantage or superiority in the minds of consumers (the sale of bottled water or designer clothes).
  3. Low-cost operations through high productivity, low overheads etc.
  4. Global experience, skills or coverage (e.g. Coca Cola or McDonald’s)
  5. Legal advantages such as intellectual property rights
  6. Superior contacts and relationships with both internal and external stakeholders
  7. Economies of scale
  8. An offensive attitude; a competitive toughness and a determination to win
  9. Superior competencies in areas like design, distribution and professional ability
  10. Superior assets e.g. property and distribution outlets.  In recent years many firms have invested in their distribution and warehousing systems often introducing sophisticated robotic technologies.

To Davidson’s ten areas of competitive advantage you can add:

  • Intellectual capital – developing a strong knowledge base across your business
  • A willingness to innovate:  Virgin Group consists of over 200 companies only a small number of which are well-known.  Virgin places great importance on innovation.  At the current time Elon Musk’s Tesla are developing a hyper-loop mass transportation system, Uber are investing in flying taxis and Amazon are looking at automated drones for deliveries.
  • Investing in market research to get a better understanding of costs and target market attitudes
  • Superior technologies: such as the use of robots and cloud computing.
  • Complex selling processes. Microsoft are currently investing heavily in the promotion of Office 365.  Instead of consumers and businesses buying the software outright, it is sold on a subscription basis.  Microsoft then receive a regular injection to their cash flow.
  • There is an advantage in having the ability to be the first into a market (although this may not be sustainable).  You must look at your speed to market.
  • The development of a brand image and reputation (e.g. BMW as the ultimate driving experience)
  • Focusing on giving excellent service to your customers (“not customer satisfaction but customer delight”)
  • Efficient supply chain management.

The critical factor in any successful business is the creation of strong competitive advantages and sustaining them over time.  Far to many businesses are either first to market or first to innovate but lose any advantages they develop by concentrating of financial objectives over their wider vision.

Developing Competitive Advantage

In my home town, there are two independent cinemas.  One has taken the route of Porter’s niche generic strategy and concentrates on art house cinema.  The other, a family-owned cinema has taken a different strategic route, it shows the same range of films as the big chains but it does so in such a way as to give it a unique market presence.  It thrives by taking its unique attributes and using them to create points of competitive advantage.

The aim of marketing is to create value for customers and, in return to capture value from them.  Companies with effective marketing strategies win and keep customers by understanding their needs, by developing customer-focused marketing programmes and by building relationships with those customers.

There are three stages involved in the creation of competitive advantage:

  1. Identifying your competitors,
  2. develop competitive strategies,
  3. balance your customer orientation against your competitor orientation.

The family owned cinema competes directly against the large multiplex chains. He has analysed the market and regularly looks for changes in the way the big cinema chains present their products and services.  These are his direct competitors.  But he has gone further.

Many smaller firms have competitor myopia.  They carefully monitor their direct competition and they forget about wider latent competitors.  This doesn’t affect only small firms.  Kodak went bankrupt because it concentrated of competitors making 35mm film (such as Fuji and Ilford). Kodak was slow to recognise the rise of digital cameras manufactured by consumer electronics firms (ironic as Kodak effectively invented the digital camera).  Tower Records went bankrupt not because of other discount record stores but because it failed to see the rise of the digital download.  Borders Books went bust because it didn’t anticipate the rise of Amazon and the internet bookshop.

All these firms failed by ignoring the changes in the wider economic environment.  All were killed off by their latent, not their direct competitors.

The owners of the independent cinema didn’t just look at what the multiplex cinema chains were doing.  He recognised that consumers had wider opportunities to use their leisure time.  He wasn’t just competing against other cinemas, he was competing against theatres, bars, sports clubs and music venues.  If he was to survive and thrive he had to create a product which drew consumers away from these other sources of entertainment.

Once you have identified your competitors, you have to assess them.  You need to identify their objectives and their strategy.  You need to identify their strengths and weaknesses and you need to estimate how they will react to your strategy.

The independent cinema saw that the multiplex cinemas were aiming to attract large numbers of consumers simultaneously by offering the same film on multiple screens.  It was effectively the warehousing of entertainment.  Often they offered only the most basic of food options and only offered soft drinks.  The aim was to factory process movie entertainment e.g. consumers were processed through the site, entering the cinema through a large foyer but leaving through a separate exit.  He also found that many multiplexes were located at out of town malls and shopping centres.

Having examined both the direct and latent competition, the cinema owner looked at his business strengths and developed a strategy to use them.  He realised he couldn’t compete head on with the large chains and that he had to do things differently.

His cinema had been built in the 1930sin an art deco style.  It was located in a leafy suburb of the city and there was little off street parking in the vicinity.  His father had carried out some building work to split the large auditorium into three screens; the smallest of which was a fifty seat screening room.

He may have been showing the same product as the multiplexes, mass market blockbusters, but he realised that his venue could do it in a different way.  He installed sofa-like twin seats in his main auditorium.  He opened up a bar at the back of the auditorium so that customers could order drinks at their seats.  He showed double features with an intermission so that consumers could use the bar between films.  The smallest screen could be booked for private parties.  He used the 1930s atmosphere of his venue to build on the image of a golden age of cinema.  Staff would welcome customers to the venue and escort them to their seats.  He offers a wide-range of food and snacks, not just popcorn and nachos.  He was intent on making a visit to the cinema an event, not just an option to take up spare time. Customers are given the ‘red carpet treatment’.

Being in the suburbs, he was also keen to develop his cinema as a community asset.  He runs a cinema club where regular customers can get discounted tickets and the opportunity to see advance screenings.  He runs traditional kid’s Saturday morning film clubs and late night screenings of horror films.  He retains many customers because they see his cinema not just as a commercial venture but as an important community asset.

The family-run cinema also benefits from his competition.  The rise of the multiplex has meant a huge upturn in people going to the cinema.  In the 1970s and 1980s, cinema was in trouble.  Many venues were closing or being converted into bingo halls and nightclubs.  Now more people go to the cinema than in its golden period of the 1930s and 1940s.  The multiplex chains have allowed the development of blockbuster movies often with budgets of over a hundred million dollars.  They have increased total demand for cinemas and have allowed the development of new technologies such as surround sound, high definition and 3D.

When Apple created the Ipad, it was described by some commentators as the ‘Kindle killer’.  They expected Apple’s tablet to destroy the market for Amazon’s e-reader.  Instead, the Ipad increased the demand for tablets hugely.  Apple took the Ipad concept and turned the kindle into a multi use tablet, not just an e-reader and sales rocketed.

The independent cinemas owners worked hard to identify an uncontested market space.  They realised that there is no such thing as a one size fits all marketing strategy.  They also realised that they couldn’t follow a ‘me too’ strategy where they simply copied the strategies of their competitors.  They recognised that they needed to develop different strategies to those of their competitors and to provide a different product option for consumers.

 

A Disaster Made in Whitehall

This week, this blog is slightly different.  Following the horrific fire at Grenfell tower in London, I wrote an article for the New European Newspaper.  You can obtain a copy of the newspaper at most newsagents but I thought it would be worthwhile publishing it on this site as well.

It would not be an understatement to sat that I am angry about the Grenfell tower disaster.  As each day passes and more information about the cause of the fire is released, I become increasingly apoplectic.

The causes of my anger are two-fold; that safety regulations appear to have been breached on an industrial scale; and that the system of local government regulatory enforcement seems to have broken down completely.

I have worked in the field of public protection for twenty-five years.  In that time I have only seen cuts to staffing and budgets.  The austerity measures introduced by David Cameron only accelerated the process of resource decline.

In my view, the disaster at Grenfell tower was a disaster waiting to happen and austerity cuts imposed on the local authority played a significant role in its inception.

Much attention in news reports has been given to the exterior cladding fitted to tower blocks and it is increasingly apparent that incorrect construction products were used.  The cladding fitted to Grenfell tower was Reynobond PE which is manufactured in France by an American firm, Arconic.

Arconic’s brochure for their range of exterior cladding is informative.  There are three types of cladding in the Reynobond range; PE, FR and A2.

The brochure states: “As soon as the building is higher than the firefighter’s ladders, it must be conceived of an incombustible material”.

A diagram shows that Reynobond PE should not be used on buildings at a height greater than 10 metres.  Where the building is greater than 30 metres in height, Reynobond A2, which has an incombustible mineral core, should be used. (Grenfell tower is 62 metres high)

Reports regarding the evacuated Camden tower blocks are also worrying.  There are reports that up to 1000 fire doors were missing; that gas pipes had been incorrectly installed; that walls had been removed compromising fire containment; and that highly flammable insulation materials were used.

These reports point not only to shoddy building practices but failures in the enforcement regime intended to protect the residents and the wider public.

John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, is wrong in law to state that the deaths at Grenfell tower are, “murder by political decisions”; murder requires malice aforethought. But his sentiments ring true.

The decisions of successive governments to reduce the resources available to local government enforcers has had a direct impact on their ability to enforce complex legislation.  This reduction in resources has no doubt played a direct role in the unlawful killing of more than 79 individuals.

There are three council services which are closely involved with the construction industry; planning, building control and trading standards.  Planning approves the development.  Building control enforces the building regulations and ensures construction standards are met.  Trading standards enforces the Construction Products Regulations 2013.  My personal experience lies with the third of these functions.

I began my career in the product safety team of a large local authority.  I had significant resources at my disposal.  I had full access to legal texts, case precedent and product safety standards.  I had a small laboratory to carry out screening tests.  I also worked closely with the local public analyst who was part of the same council department.  The biggest resource was the scale of the trading standards team.  It was large enough to allow officers to develop specialist knowledge of particular enforcement functions.

Shortly after I joined the team, the first set of EU-wide construction product regulations came into law.  One of my colleagues was immediately tasked with their enforcement.  His sole role was to develop links to the building components industry and to ensure that products complied.

In today’s local authority environment, such specialist roles are extremely rare.  Officers are expected to be Jack of all trades.  Increasingly they are masters of none.  Take the example of my last local authority role.

I was the senior officer in a team of six.  Officers had to enforce the full gamut of trading standards law.  To show the scale of that task, trading standards professionals enforce over seventy acts of parliament and approximately 2000 statutory instruments.  Often officers were seconded to other enforcement functions such as fly tipping and taxi licensing.

My team had an annual product safety budget of £5000.  That would cover the cost of four heavy metal content tests of toys.  There was no capacity to test complex products such as those controlled by the Construction Products Regulations.

I was made redundant from my supervisory role in 2010.  Since that time the reduction in trading standards provision has accelerated. Of the six officers in my team, only one is still in employment.

London Boroughs have had to bear an even heavier burden of cuts.  The cost of living in the capital has made it all but impossible for them to recruit experienced and fully qualified enforcement staff.  I know of one council close to London where staff are commuting 160 miles per day as they cannot afford to live within the council’s boundaries.  Increasingly London is reliant on freelance inspectors on short-term contracts.  The rate of pay for these officers has fallen by approximately two-thirds in the last five years.

There is also an extremely worrying attitude in government towards regulatory enforcement.  On five occasions I have written to government ministers imploring them to use their considerable oversight powers to ensure that local authorities are allocating sufficient resources to enforcement services.  Every time the response from government has been to rebuff my pleas and to absolve themselves from responsibility.  They respond that resource allocation is solely a matter for individual local authorities.

Then there are the comments to the Brexit select committee of Jacob Rees Mogg.  He said that following Brexit, health and safety legislation could, “be rolled back a long way”.  He went further and proposed that the UK should consider safety standards similar to those of India.  He was following the mantra of many in tory ranks that public safety is a price worth paying for economic gain.  I wonder if Mr Rees Mogg is willing to repeat his opinion following the Grenfell tower disaster.

Safety laws and standards are not created out of thin air.  Each and every one of them is a response to actual events: deaths, scandals and disasters.  The first duty of the government is the safety of the public.  The decimation of local government provision is a clear breach of that duty.