Who Is Your Customer?

Know Your Customer 3

When you try to please everyone, you please nobody

There was a recent incident in Australia where Aldi, a German supermarket, decided to pull a product from its shelves after receiving racism complaints.

The product in question was a t-shirt with the slogan, “Australia EST 1788”. The shirts were produced for Australia Day 2014, which will be celebrated on January 26th, Sunday week.

Before we consider Aldi’s lack of strategic nous, let’s first take a look at the slogan, the meaning behind it, and why some people think it’s racist.

The Background

The slogan “Australia EST 1788” is intended to celebrate Australia Day, and refers to the year in which the British first asserted sovereignty over the bits of land we now know as Australia.

Australia Day commemorates the day, in 1788, on which Captain Arthur Phillip rowed ashore in Sydney Cove and took possession of the land in the name of Kind George III with the view to establishing a penal colony. This was the first time that the British had sought to claim sovereignty over what was, at the time, known as “New Holland”. Legally speaking, the Federation of Australia did not actually come into existence until 1901, when the respective British colonies of Australia banded together and united under the constitution, but let’s not get technical.

The claims of racism appear to arise due to the way in which the British established sovereignty. Although there were Indigenous people inhabiting the Australian continent in 1788, the British never signed a treaty with them (unlike in New Zealand where the British signed a treaty with the Maoris). The Aborigines were a nomadic or semi-nomadic people and did not possess a European style government, nor have an identifiable leader with whom the British could sign a treaty. With no treaty in place, the British colonies and the Australian federal government after them continued to deny native title to the land under a doctrine known as Terra Nullius; in effect claiming that prior to 1788 the Australian continent was “land belonging to no one”.

While this was certainly a very unequal and regrettable state of affairs, and took many years to rectify, native title was finally recognised by the High Court in 1992 in the landmark Mabo Case.

For some, the historical quirks of how the British came to establish sovereignty make the statement “Australia EST 1788” a racist slogan. And there will always be vocal personalities, like Nathan Brennan, Nareen Young and Matt Mason, who will be quick to suggest that this is the case.

But for the vast majority of Australians, modern Australia is an idea worth celebrating. The Australian attitudes of mateship, a fair go, irreverence for established authority, and a common understanding that Australia is a lucky country all, in one way or another, trace their roots back to its beginnings, in 1788.

Digression

It is worth noting, however, that there are good fair dinkum reasons why the slogan “Australia EST 1788” may be problematic, but it has nothing to do with racism. It has to do with the unhelpful rise of an unjustified and excessive Australian nationalism over recent years.

University of Canberra Assistant Professor Robin Tennant-Wood told SMH that “the annual celebrations [have] grown to include a “yobbo element” of excessive drinking and targeting racial minorities as nationalism increased following events such as the Cronulla riots.” Tennant-Woods was further quoted as saying, “We see this particularly in young people, draped in the Australian flag and using it as an excuse to target people who don’t look like them … Nationalism is dangerous at best and it can be downright horrible if it gets out of control.”

The traditional Australian attitudes of mateship and irreverence for established authority are placed in direct conflict with the new and problematic shows of nationalism that Tennant-Woods is talking about.

Feeling lucky to be Australian is one thing, and should be encouraged, but feeling proud and noble and better than others just because they happen to have been born elsewhere is quite another matter entirely.

And so, while it has nothing to do with racism, per se, if slogans like “Australia EST 1788” are being used by beach bogans and Australian rednecks to justify excessive shows of nationalism and drunken hooliganism, then Aldi’s decision to pull the t-shirts may, on balance, have been a good one for Australia.

Aldi’s Strategic Blunder

But I digress.

Aldi and other department stores, like Big W, made a strategic decision to support Australia Day 2014 by selling certain celebratory Australia Day products, like the t-shirt we have been discussing above.

Given that most people in Australia are not political activists, career academics, beach bogans, or rednecks, Aldi’s decision to sell the t-shirt seems to have been a pretty reasonable one. Australia Day marks the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, and the slogan references this historical event in a kind of cheeky way which makes Australia sound more like a product or a company, “Australia EST 1788”.

The vast majority of Australians would have been happy to consider buying the t-shirt without a second thought, and certainly without any thoughts of racism or excessive nationalism.

But, you can’t please everyone.

A small vocal minority of political activists and arm-chair critics decided that they didn’t like the slogan. They assumed it was racist. Racism, after all, is as good a reason as any to get angry about something.

And so, on Aldi’s own admission, “[t]he decision to remove the Australia Est 1788 design from [its product] range was taken following comments by a limited number of concerned customers.”

To avoid offending the vocal minority, Aldi removed a product that was never designed for them in the first place.

By retreating from the situation, Aldi implicitly confirms the accusations made against it and, at the same time, reduces its ability to profit from the Australia Day celebrations.

Aldi did make efforts to apologise for its actions stating, “Aldi Australia wants its customers to know it puts the community and their wishes first.” But the apology begs the question, which customers and which community does Aldi put first?

By trying to be all things to all people, Aldi has disappointed everyone. It has simultaneously been cast as a racist and disappointed a large number of ordinary, fun loving, law abiding Australians who would have been happy enough to buy its Australia Day t-shirt, and enjoy a cool beer by the pool.

A loss for Aldi, a dubious result for Australia, and as one Twitter commentator put it:

Know Your Customer

Shrewd Insights and the Role of Consultants

The take away lesson: pick your consultants carefully

We had an interesting conversation with Tat Biswas today about whether consultants should provide “shrewd insights”.

The catalyst for the discussion was yesterday’s post, in relation to which Tat made the following remarks:

I am wondering why you … decided to use the term ‘shrewd insights’ in today’s post?

“We remain, as always, a publication which provides business leaders, management consultants and top students with shrewd insights on… “

I feel the term shrewd has a negative connotation. Being a consultant myself, we all perhaps know after being in the industry for a while that Consultants do draw a lot of flak for coming up with shrewd solutions for organisations which are often not in the best long term interest[s] of the community.

I think the consulting world needs to a do a lot more … to position itself as leading ‘holistic thinkers driven by [a] human-centered problem solving approach and not shrewd strategists driven mostly by monetary rewards. Being shrewd strategists is also perhaps not the right image we should portray to students who want to enter the world of consulting attracted by the prospect of challenging problems and good money. It works very well for consultants themselves and the organisations but not for the wider community and definitely not from a humanistic stand point.

Tat’s comments raise two good questions:

  1. What does the word “shrewd” mean?
  2. And, what should be the role of a consultant?

1. What does “shrewd” mean?

We have always tried to provide shrewd insights, and were disheartened to learn that this may carry negative connotations.

To explore the matter, we looked at OxfordDictionaries.com which defines the word to mean: “having or showing sharp powers of judgement; astute”.

This is the meaning we had hoped to convey. We are aiming to provide you, dear reader, with astute insights which demonstrate sharp powers of judgement.

So, why the negative connotations?

To double check things, we Googled the answer, and clicked the first link that came up. We landed at TheFreeDictionary.com, one of the world’s most reputable online dictionaries, I’m sure you’ll agree, and found three definitions for shrewd, the second one being “disposed to artful and cunning practices; tricky.”

This definition plays up to the typical consulting stereotype: “Consultants are people who borrow your watch, tell you what time it is, and then walk off with the watch.” And this appears to be the source of the confusion.

While consultants can sometimes provide astute insights, they can also just as easily provide carefully power pointed presentations full of information you gave them the week before.

The take away lesson: pick your consultants carefully.

2. What should be the role of a consultant?

Tat made an interesting observation that consultants tend to come up with shrewd solutions for organisations that work very well for the consultants themselves and the organisations but which are often not in the best long term interests of the community.

An example of this would be a consulting firm which recommends redundancies, resulting in a short term win for the company’s bottom line, but potentially long term hardship for its former employees. 

Where should a consultant’s duty lie?

On the one hand, consider lawyers. When a lawyer is admitted to practice, he or she takes an oath to the law society. Even if the lawyer’s client pays for the advice or representation, the lawyer has a duty to the court to obey certain rules and uphold certain codes of conduct. A lawyer who breaks the rules can be barred from practicing.

Management consultants, on the other hand, take an oath to nobody. And owe a duty to no one but their client, which is normally the company’s CEO or members of the senior executive team.

Is this a problem?

Well, from the perspective of society, it may well be.

In a world where many large corporations are publicly owned, and where CEOs are under pressure from investment analysts to meet quarterly earnings estimates, is it any wonder that key corporate advisors, the management consultants, tend to provide advice that serves the CEOs short term interests?

Short-termism puts money in the pockets of executives and the consultants who serve them, but it forgets about the shareholders, the long term survival prospects of the company itself, and the interests of the societies in which these companies operate.

New Year and a New Start

New beginnings. The new year is a time when we have the opportunity to reflect on what has happened, and what we could do better

Dear Reader,

Happy new year!

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and an enjoyable new year period spent with family, friends and food!

The new year is a time when we have the opportunity to reflect on what has happened in the previous year, and what we could do better.

If things did not work out as we would have liked, then we have the opportunity to ask ourselves “what do I need to change?”

Did I possess a negative attitude? When new opportunities passed my way this year, did I think of why I could fail rather than why I might succeed?

If this is the case, then you may need to re-examine your beliefs. Remember that some people do succeed, and some people do enjoy lives full of happiness and prosperity, which means that success is possible.

Success, for you, is possible.

And remember also that complacency and mediocrity are a very dangerous place to rest. So many people describe themselves as “just getting by”, “doing the nine to five”, or “looking forward to the weekend”. And if you settle for these mediocre thoughts, then you will be surrounded by mediocre people. People with whom you will be forced to compete. And there are a lot of them.

The ladder of success is not crowded at the top, and so it is much safer to climb. Take a positive attitude and set out on a journey to become truly excellent at what you do.

Alternatively, you might ask yourself “Did I lack the relationships to enable success?” Are my friends or colleagues holding me back? Do they encourage the worst in me? If this is the case, then it may be time to reach out and find new ways of engaging with new people. You could join a speakers club, volunteer for a community organisation, or sign up for a Spanish or Mandarin language class. You never know who you could meet.

Alternatively, you might ask yourself “Did I lack the skills needed to perform at the highest level?” And if this happens to be the case, then perhaps you need think about further training, obtaining another degree, or seeking the counsel of a trusted mentor who can guide you in the right direction.

Here at the Consulting Blog, we have been doing some reflecting of our own. We have been asking ourselves, what do we need to change?

What could we do better?

After some soul searching and deep reflection, we have come up with a long list of exciting changes that we plan to make this year.

Without giving everything away, we would like to announce the first change for the year, which we are rolling out this week.

1. New Domain Name

We have changed our domain name from “tomspencer.com.au” to “spencertom.com“.

While our heart will always lie in Australia, our thinking and insights are not similarly bound by geography. And so, to avoid confusion among new readers who might reasonably (although incorrectly) infer that the “.com.au” domain name means that the Consulting Blog is relevant for Australians only, we have decided to make a switch.

The old domain will redirect to the new one, and we hope this avoids any confusion or inconvenience.

We remain, as always, a publication which provides business leaders, management consultants and top students with shrewd insights on consulting, strategy, general business, the universe, and everything in between.

Wishing you a happy and productive start to the new year!

All our best.