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MARKS & SPENDERS

Stuart White
THE WORLD IN BLACK-N-WHITE

Last week’s article was all about a visit to my bank, a less than happy experience but far from an isolated case.  If you follow local consumer postings on social media, the banks come in for a good deal of criticism which goes right across the board in terms of poor service delivery and customer care. 

The complaints range from long queues, insufficient ATMs and machines that run out of cash at critical junctures, indifferent staff, invisible managers, excessive and unnecessary administrative requirements and many more too numerous to mention.  What’s more they seem common to all banks, with no one branch or brand standing out as a shining example to the rest.  And on the rare occasions when there is praise for a single helpful staff member at a single branch it serves only to stand as the exception that proves the rule.

All of which makes you wonder how this public perception affects the reputation of the brands in their wider context.  With the obvious exception of one local banking institution, all of the other banks in Botswana have their headquarters overseas.  They are global organisations with representation in countries worldwide and when they appear to be offering us here a second-rate, third-world service, does anyone in the food chain ever stop to question how this affects the bigger brand?  Presumably not!  And judging by financial reports and share prices, nor does it seem to affect their bottom line; it’s a rare thing for a bank to go belly up in normal trading conditions.  They are in the money business and in the business of making money and whilst it’s true to a certain extent that every customer’s account plays a part in overall profitability, to misquote George Orwell, all accounts are equal but some are more equal than others!  Banks make big money from big corporate clients and those sort of clients never set foot inside a normal banking hall.

The real problem here is that we all need the services of a bank but the bank doesn’t need us nearly so much;  and even worse, we need the services but we don’t receive ‘service’:  And though studies have shown that most people exhibit an apparent loyalty to their bank and an extreme reluctance to change, this is more because of the sheer inconvenience and effort  of changing  than an endorsement of the brand.  It is a loyalty born or necessity, not love.

It might seem a little over the top to use the word ‘love’ in reference to a corporate brand and yet according to his 2004 book Lovemarks, that’s exactly how we view our favourite products, according to author Kevin Roberts, CEO of the global advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi.  In the book Roberts described how some companies and some products become so essential to our lives that our loyalty to them can be defined as love and how their logos become the Lovemarks of the book’s title.   And of course, key to building that love is branding and marketing. The concept took the advertising agency in a very focussed direction which is the core company belief to this day.  Consider this statement on the company’s website: “Saatchi & Saatchi is The Lovemarks Company. “

Lovemarks thinking is the unique way we look at the relationships people have with products, services and entities. Lovemarks are the future beyond brands because they inspire Loyalty Beyond Reason.

Lovemarks transcend brands. They deliver beyond your expectations of great performance. They reach your heart as well as your mind, creating an intimate, emotional connection that you just can’t live without.

Take a brand away and people will find a replacement. Take a Lovemark away and people will protest its absence. Lovemarks are a relationship, not a mere transaction. You don’t just buy Lovemarks, you embrace them passionately. That’s why you never want to let go. They are about Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy”.

Now in case you think that’s just more advertising hyperbole, consider for a moment what your own personal Lovemarks might be.   It could be a particular car marque, for example  so whilst you might change your vehicle model but you are always loyal to the manufacturer.  It could be your choice of smartphone or running shoe,  your soft drink  or chocolate bar.  It’s those brands that as the Saatchi & Saatchi site says, you embrace passionately and protest when they are not available, those brands whose loss you mourn and really feel you can’t live without.  Those brands whose corporate lovemarks, or logos, you recognise instantly and imbue you a warm glow.

Of course it’s no coincidence that this branding concept and effect was identified by an advertising agency because that’s where the love and loyalty starts and ends.  You may be a committed Coke or Pepsi,  Nando’s or Kentucky, Apple or Samsung fan but it was most likely smart advertising that drew you to make your first purchase and even smarter advertising that keeps you coming back, whether you know it or not.  And some advertising campaigns are deliberately designed to tug at your heart strings . 

Coca Cola, for example, spends billions of advertising dollars promoting their core product as a precious part of your childhood, as wholesome as apple pie and the American flag, yet still trendy, sharing and sociable.  The ads change year by year but by and large the message never does.  Toilet paper is sold with cute puppies – who wouldn’t love little fluffy Labrador babies tugging at the toilet roll as well as your heartstrings?  And if those coffee pods are good enough for George Clooney, surely they’re good enough for you?  You can’t afford his lifestyle but you can share a cup of Joe with him.

But there are also clever bank ads too, the ones that tell you they’re there for you when you need them, how they help you achieve great things in life and how they’ll still  find ways to  comfort you and keep you in comfort in your old age.  They are ads that take cold institutions and personalise them so that you might feel towards them just as warm as you do towards a bottle of your favourite cool drink  but that’s where the comparison ends; because where the latter promises consistency of quality and satisfaction and is able to deliver, the former comes down to customer service and real-life experiences in the average banking hall and you know what?  You just can’t bank on it.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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