Search This Blog

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Customer dis-service

As everyone predicted, yesterday was the biggest online shopping day so far, as we all rushed to splurge on that perfect gift. I joined that rush. I found the perfect gift, paid my money and got my online receipt. Then today I received an email which said

In the interest of online payment protection, please respond to this email to confirm that you as the Paypal account holder placed the order.
Your order will now be held for 48 hours from the date at the top of this email. Failure to verify this order will result in the order being cancelled and a full refund will be processed.

Call me old fashioned but this seems to be the equivalent of being held at the store exit until I show my passport. I'm a new customer. I stumbled onto their site, bought a rather expensive gift and should be on my way to a wave of monumental customer service, designed to build my loyalty and secure repeat business. Instead, my first 'touch' from this company is one which doubts my humanity.

At this time of year when everyone is a little bit more frazzled than usual, we all have a great opportunity to win new business and pamper our existing customers. Imagine if your website was a physical store. How would your assistants behave?
  1. Can you look and buy products without registering?
  2. Is the Search button obvious to find and easy to use?
  3. Do you ask for the same information twice when you could prepopulate?
  4. Does your content read like an instruction manual or sound like you're having a conversation with your visitor?
  5. Do you say thank you for their custom and then keep them engaged with other links to follow?
Bring back the ho ho ho this season or risk finding yourself on Santa's naughty list.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Who are your best customers?

Best can mean
  1. most profitable - relatively easy to find the biggest spenders
  2. most loyal - harder to quantify, but generally a better measure. If someone spends 100% of their overall budget with you, their trust in your product/service is undeniable. These are your advocates.
  3. most beneficial - perhaps hardest to quantify, these are the customers who will bring most value to you in the long term, buying whatever you produce, sharing their purchases online and staying with you even when their circumstances change.
Each group has engaged and invested in your company. Your marketing needs to reassure them they made the right choice, keep them engaged and give them that feeling of exclusivity that makes frequent flyers clammer for the first class lounge.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Communications - Speaking your customers language

One of the delights of living in Edinburgh again, is hearing the English language spoken in a Scottish accent and readjusting to the colloquialisms that result.

The current summer exhibition at the National Library for Scotland, beautifully summarises this It not only shows how Scotland has been portrayed through the ages, but also how using local expressions might have rewritten the famous big screen one liners.

Often our working knowledge results in us speaking a different language to our customers'.  If you are an SME or even a larger entity launching a new product, the chances are your customers' won't search by product name or description. They'll look for what they need, using their terminology. Reflecting this, in your on and offline marketing, is a great way to build confidence and encourage your visitors to read/hear more.

Where to start
  1. Customer conversations. Note the words your customers are using and try to incorporate them in your marketing. Ask your sales team, attend events or simply talk to them.
  2. Google Adwords Research tool. A free and easy way to see which words and phrases are most popular when you're deciding on keywords
  3. Google Suggest. Similar to Adwords this helps you find related words and phrases for particular search enquiries
  4. Join relevant LinkedIn group so you can monitor the discussions for terminology, how people typically describe your product/services etc. It's also a great way to test ideas by participating in such groups, but that's another blog post
  5. Read your industry blogs. Not just the technical ones but especially the customer focused ones. They are likely to shape perceptions, plant words in the minds of your web visitor and generally provide a window on best communications
What you want to say to your customer may be very different from what they hear, so build your communications as you would a conversation. Think about how much a particular group already know about you. Do they need education, reassurance, guidance, a reason to buy? It's likely to be a mixture of many things, so tailor your outreach accordingly.

Haste ye back.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

H2H (Human to Human) communication

Anyone crazy enough to be reading this blog will know that I recently moved house. A month ago it was all Queens Jubilee hype in my metropolitan hub and now, with not a hint of bunting left, my new world is finally emerging. More space, less pace and sighs of relief all round.

The thing is, 21 days of being Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn free, has given me a new perspective on how much we rely on these tools to keep us informed, carry our news and generally stay in touch. We're so keen to define ourselves as B2C or B2B that we've forgotten the subtle art of H2H (human to human).

I'm rediscovering the joys of talking to people on the phone rather than texting them. Buying things in store rather than on line. For some this may seem like stepping back in time, but for my Generation X it's a revision course in communications. It's how marketing all began, how brands were originally built and how I suspect the world has always worked, for those wealthy enough to enjoy personal service.

It might even be time to start writing letters again ......

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Moving house or rebranding?

I'm moving house. Not just house, but city. Not just city, but country. A perfect excuse to spring clean and tackle those chores that have been on the bottom of the 'to do' list for years. Will this change be enough to transform my thinking and turn me into a marketing goddess overnight? Probably not.

I've recently been working with a client who's rebranding. Rebranding is all about change. People will take another look if things are different enough, but like moving house if the people and products and processes remain the same, a new name will not be enough to increase visibility or radically impact sales.

Rebrands often fail because expectations are too high. Management levels want to embrace the new look and feel, but ultimately it's changing what you do rather than how you look, that truly moves a company forward.

If you're contemplating a rebrand make sure
  1. your focus is on positioning your companies offering against best alternatives in the market
  2. all stakeholders are bought into the vision behind the new name/logo and not just the design
  3. realistic expectations are set across your company with supporting internal marketing
Rebrands are generally expensive and time consuming projects, which in my experience, promise more than they deliver.

Perhaps you just need a relaunch, but that's a whole other blogpost.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Two Sentence Value Proposition

Ah the value proposition. Stuff of legend, cure for all ills and generally most overlooked tool in the marketers box. At its simplest, your value proposition needs to show how your product/service benefits your customer from their point of view.

Two, well thought through sentences, is all it takes. The first should show the value of your offering and the second puts that value into context, positioning it so the customer understands what's in it for them and how that compares with the other possibilities open to them.

Sounds simple enough, but let me break that down further.

First sentence - Why what you've got to sell matters

a) Who is it for?

b) Why do they need it?

c) What's your product service called

d) Statement of benefit

Second sentence - Confirmation that your customer is making the right choice

e) Position your product against your main competition

f) Show what differentiates your product (what makes you unique/what makes you different?)

g) State how this is money well spent/prove that benefits can be delivered

E.g. For a)start ups who need b)a marketing resource to increase their visibility in the market, Marketing123 is an c)online, 24 hrs a day network of d)marketing professionals and self help resources who can answer your questions and provide fast solutions anytime, anywhere.

e)Marketing consultancies generally involve long term contracts and take time to show return, but Marketing123 f)lets you pay by the hour as and when you need us and gives a 100% money back guarantee if you're not completely satisfied. g)We've already helped over 700 start ups this year and 99% of our customers would recommend us to their friends as a one stop shop for all your marketing needs.

Value propositions are a great way of ensuring you and your employees are all clear on who your company is and what you do for your customers.  I would urge you to write one for each of your products/services.

One final tip. Once you've crafted your value proposition apply the 'so what?' test. Ask yourself whether what you've written describes real customer benefits and clearly states how you help customers solve their main problem. If not, keep tweaking until it does.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Why bother with social media?

We've all been sucked in, one way or another, to the brave new world of social media. For most small/mid sized companies, having a social media presence is generally top of their list, as both the problem and the solution to all their woes.

Before you rush to join the huddled masses though, make sure you know what you're trying to accomplish with social media, so you can measure your success or lack of it and hone your outreach accordingly.

So what should you be monitoring/doing to make the most of your social media push?


- Wall posts
- Comments
- Likes

The more people who interact with your wall posts, the more visible and potentially viral, a post becomes. You should aim to both react to relevant posts in your business newsfeed and get your wall posts featured in other influential newsfeeds.


- Look for relevant questions about you/your company/industry
- Reply to requests for information and support about your industry
- Monitor for complaints and feedback
- Look out for competitor mentions
- Follow influencers (find who they are via Wefollow)

Where possible say thank you, retweet, save to favourites, reply and connect with your potential clients.


- Check LinkedIn Answers at least once a week
- Join relevant groups and contribute to their discussion groups

This tool is still primarily friend to those selling B2B, but everyone needs to network so don't rule it out if you're not in that space.


- Search keywords, product names etc to see what people are saying about your brand
- Ripples let you see your posts spread across Google+ who's sharing and influencing?
- Use the social analytic reports to measure +1's
- Watch out for new tools that Google+ adds around analytics

The jury is still out, but love it or hate it Google+ has a following and your potential customers are likely to be part of it.


- Use tools such as PinReach and PinPuff to view engagement and influence levels
- Use it to build a community around your brand
- Ask for repins (add a price tag to your pins and a link back to your website)
- Add your website link to pins to boost your SEO

As the newest, yet fastest growing social media site people you can benefit from showcasing the personality behind your brand.


- Track relevant blog articles
- Read the comments and jump in if you have something valuable to add
- Do any of the articles written about you link back to your website?

Blogs are here to stay and now that RSS feeders condense what people choose to read, the opportunity for pinpointing your ideal customer or target market, is huge.

As ever, knowing who your customers are and which social media tools they use will help you to build the right presence in the right place.

Happy tweeting, pinning, liking etc. etc. etc.

Monday, 16 April 2012

10 principles of great content

  1. It's not about you
  2. Pick a hot topic and stay relevant
  3. Be independent 
  4. Support your story with facts, preferably data, better still if you generated the data
  5. Use real life customer stories and reference third parties
  6. Share what doesn't/didn't work. Negatives are news
  7. Empathy and honesty with your audience at all times
  8. Write with confidence but remember that credibility matters
  9. Make it good enough to share
  10. Keep it simple.  Communicate one idea at a time

Friday, 6 April 2012

What's trending on twitter today?

Social media guru Alicia Cowan recently tweeted that twitter trends could make good blog posts. What a great idea, I thought and then I looked to see what the twitter gods might inspire me with.

In London the tweeting public care about

Kim Kardashian & Kanye West Are DATING
Simon Cole
Happy Easter
We Love Gaga's New Car
Bustin Jieber Is Our Everything
Canning Town
Jim Marshall

In Glasgow it looked more like this

Samantha Brick
National Tell A Lie Day
RIP Jim Marshall
Kurt Cobain

A few hundred miles apart but thankfully Easter and Marshall amp appreciation provides common ground.

As the farside cartoon says 'same planet, different worlds.'
Happy Easter!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Is your marketing just sales prevention?

I am a 'seasoned' (read, old) Marketer. Decades ago when you wanted to make a sale, you had to first educate potential buyers about your product/service - what it was, what it did and why you'd be mad not to buy it.  Sellers had power and a sellers marketing had significant influence, because these were the days before social media.

Today, potential buyers educate themselves. They talk about your brand, they discuss their experiences, they poll for answers to their questions, reading the blogs and reviews along the way. What the seller has to say is almost irrelevant to the sale.

For marketing time and money to be well spent, you now need to concentrate on helping the buyer make their choice - making it as easy as possible to interact.

  1. Can they find you when they search? (are you both using the same search terms?) 
  2. Does your website answer their questions? (or is it a just a product features pitch?) 
  3. Is there an easy checkout/download/try now process? (or is this 10 clicks & all your personal details required?) 
  4. Do you know what your current reputation is and are you fixing/building on this with your marketing? 
  5. Are you helping them to know that their money will be well spent i.e. do you address all they can expect post sale or is your marketing solely pre sales focused?
Without getting into the minds of your customers, your marketing is likely to be preventing rather than promoting sales.  Would you buy from you?

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Alicia Cowan/Keren Lerner Workshop Review

Seminar Review: Social Media for Business - can you afford to ignore it?

As a break with tradition, todays blog was written by the very talented Eileen MacCallum (  

Last week I really joined the conversation. That's to say I went along to one of the workshops run by social media guru Alicia Cowan ( and equally clued-up designer Keren Lerner from Top Left Design (

The day-long seminar aimed to demystify the main social media channels for the common business bod. So folk from all walks of work followed the cheery Muppet-themed (we know, that's why we're here) directions down to the comfy basement of a North London office.

Both prolific tweeters and bloggers, Keren and Alicia talked us knowledgeably through LinkedIn, Twitter, blogging and You Tube (no Facebook due to time constraints), rounding up with a bite-size guide to planning your social media strategy.

Along the way they shared a ton of practical tips, best practices, information sources and tools to make joining the big social media conversation that bit simpler.

Attendees ranged from complete novices to recent enthusiasts. When someone asked, "What is SEO?" they got a relaxed, jargon-free explanation. Another had concerns about how best to manage the degree of personal exposure regular social media interaction can involve. (Solution: dive in but always keep your business goals in mind.) Worries about time-munching Twitter habits were countered with advice on planning and tools, from Buffer ( to Listorious (

I've had my toe in the social media sea for a wee while now and am keen to improve my online marketing. What I gained was a fuller understanding of each platform's role, plus plenty of practical advice to help me manage it all more effectively.

The volume of information was perhaps bamboozling for the beginner - I did see some eyes go a bit fruit-machine by the end of the day - but regular breaks for energy-boosting cupcakes and some light networking helped ease the pace.

As most of us know, social media is all about sharing. Over this informal fact-packed day Alicia and Keren shared all the stuff they know, to help us share the stuff we know, and I for one left feeling all fired up to chat. #timeandmoneywellspent

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

What does success smell like?

Have you ever thought about the return you're getting from all the time you spend on line? It would be terrifying to calculate the weekly social media hours count, but now that it's an everyday distraction, we've almost stopped noticing how much time updating the world via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ etc takes.

As a small business, time is money, so while Olly and Molly (youtube above) may seem like another timewaster, I think the idea of a physical indication of how you're doing online is something that really resonates.

To measure your success (in sweets or smells or any other way - watch the video!), you need to know what your social media strategy is. Most obvious uses for social media are
  1. Visibility - you need people to have heard of you and know what you do. Brand building. 
  2. Find your fans - ideally you want to build a community of like minded people who share your passion for 'insert your company passion here' 
  3. Customer choice - you can find out what people like/don't like, measure content views etc. to turn interested parties into customers. 
  4. Show your brand is up to date - if you're not on the web, 90% of people won't trust you 
See, it's not time wasted after all.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Marketing Don'ts - the door to door salesman approach

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

I'm still surprised that anyone sells anything by going door to door.  Once it was the only way to shop.  It promised innovation, a little treat for the bored housewife, even if it was only an ironing board cover.  It used to work because people lacked both information and choice.  Not anymore.

If your marketing is generic, (no idea who you're writing to), only showcases product features, (rather than highlighting customer benefits) and completely disjoined from your brand, (not in the same colours, fonts or imagery), then you're basically doing a door to door job. Your results will be down to luck and your efforts in the recycle bin without ever being read.

Given the time and energy it takes to produce marketing materials, can you really afford to live on hope?

Generic says "we don't know who you are and we don't care".  Product Features with no context show "it's all about us" and lack of attention to detail is really just laziness.  If you wouldn't be delighted to receive what you're about to post (whether off or online), don't send it.

Your customers are not unknowns waiting behind closed doors. They're yours to learn about, inform, educate and delight. They are at least as smart as you and face the same time/energy pressures, so stop thinking about them as 'them' and start thinking about them as 'you'.

I can hear you crumpling up that flyer.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Localisation for everyone. Speak your customers language.

Back in the humble beginnings of my career I worked with a software company.  My title was 'Localisation Coordinator' and that basically meant making sure that our products and communications, were in the right language for the purchasing customers we were trying to reach.

Decades on and while my job has changed, the underlying assumptions of that role still hold true. It's so tempting to jump on the social media bandwagon, fighting to produce content for LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Google+, Path, Pinterest etc. Ultimately, you only really need to use the tools that make sense to your target audience, or your ideas will be lost in the noise.

There was an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal this week which showed the following image.  Are you as surprised as I am at how much more time is spent on Facebook than anywhere else?

  1. Where are my target customers today? Do they favour Twitter over Facebook or are they all busy contributing to LinkedIn groups? If you're not sure ask them.
  2. Who do my target customers already trust? Identify the bloggers, publications, competitors, thought leaders and content providers that your potential customers are already following/bookmarking and generally influenced by? Look at their approach.  Make friends with them.  Be seen in their space.
  3. Which tools are the trusted advisors mentioned above, using
Like you, your customers only have 24 hours in each day.  Go where they already are and speak to them in a language they understand, if you want to be heard.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Should you be interested in Pinterest?

First there was privacy, or at least a degree of everyone minding their own business. Then came social media, subtly at first with things like friends reunited and then in a great rush of tools to make sure everyone knew everything about your world at the touch of a button. Now there is Pinterest, where pictures speak a thousand words, providing users with virtual pin boards to share their thoughts and ideas.

Although 'just' another social media tool, Pinterest primarily seems to be the new hangout of the creative community. Artists, foodies, photographers, designers, have all rushed to set up their boards and create a feast for the eyes. So if your business is one where visuals matter, it could be worth getting onboard.

Where should you start?

If you visit the Pinterest homepage you will see a big red button “Request an invite.” Click on that button, type in your email address, and soon, you’ll be ready to go.
  1. Create your profile by clicking your name in the top right hand corner. You can then “edit profile” and add your company logo as a picture, with a short summary of your business, and your location (make it easy for potential customers to know who you are and what you do)
  2. Click “Add” and then “Upload a Pin” to add photos from your website or browser. There's an iphone app too which lets you pin on the move
  3. You're ready to start pinning and creating your own boards, with names that create interest and ideally build your brand
  4. Be original in the pictures you post. Each image links back to the website it came from and the description you add to your visuals moves with the picture as its repinned (the main aim)
  5. Think of it as a virtual shop front and arrange your images like a narrative. Make it beautiful and dynamic and don't be afraid to add video as well as static imagery (youtube is a wealth of inspiration)
If you think Pinterest might work for your business then there's no harm in donating an hour investigating the possibilities. As always my advice would be to consider who your audience is and how they might respond to this medium before you put any real time or effort in. Shiny things have a habit of being distracting and my guess is that none of us have fully mastered facebook, twitter or linkedin yet.

There's no doubt that Pinterest has already become a household name in the US and it's only a matter of time before we're all pinning (I'm already hooked.  Find my boards at vlindsaymof3). Cameras at the ready ........

Monday, 20 February 2012

Lessons learned from building my website

1. Never get a puppy the week you're meant to go live. Would you rather stare at those eyes or the computer screen? Point made.

2. No matter how much of a business/marketing whizz you are, you can't beat a proper designer to help you curb your colour experimentation before it's live (you should have seen it before!).

3. Record (audio/visual or written) what you want to say about yourself and your business before you start to build content. Blank pages equal writers block, but having a clear outline of what's important for people to know, will shape whether you need 1 or 10 pages as well as how they appear. Planning is not as exciting as doing, but without it the doing takes a lot, lot longer.

4. Imagine your ideal visitor in as much detail as you can. What will they be looking for? What will turn them on/off in terms of design, tone and content? Build to their taste, not your own.

5. You don't know what you don't know until you start this process. On paper I should have nailed this in a week, in reality, it's taken months, but I've learned so much along the way that it's been worth all the angst.

6. It's not perfect, but isn't life always a work in progress? I'm already picking holes in my new site and driving the web folks mad with my daily questions, but I know this journey will help me to be a more informed voice for my clients and a more understanding critic for the future.

See the results at  All comments welcome, but be gentle and think of the puppy ........

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Virtual love on valentines day

They say a picture speaks a thousand words and this one speaks of virtual love. 
Valentines cards have come a long way and my inner geek rejoices.

Yet this is not only a gimmick, it's a tool which builds the brand. A whole new generation of coffee drinkers, much more techno savvy than the original target audience, now see the brand as caring and sharing and far more than just a hot drink. Are your differentiators this good?

With all this distraction, probably better to order 'extra hot'.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Websites, not as easy as they look

I've had a holding page for a very long time now. Not a website, just a link to my twitter and LinkedIn feeds, but enough to show I'm a real person (sort of). Like one of the cobblers children, I never had time to consider building something for myself, while helping others with their marketing and online adventures.

Then [gawr-juhs] came along and behold, I am soon to be a real entity, with an official site. It's a bit like walking in your first pair of heels - you've seen it all before and it looks easy enough but it takes time to walk gracefully. Despite years of experience I'm finding my own website build much harder than I'd expected.

It's definitely a work in progress, so I thought I'd share my journey and what I've learned so far.

Problem #1
Writing about yourself sucks.
Whether you're a 'solopreneur' or an SME, writing about yourself is tricky and quickly becomes a list of facts and features which might make a CV proud, but will put your customers to sleep.

I had a friend interview me and summarize what she heard. Speaking your answers saves your vocabulary from business speak and helps you perfect your pitch all at the same time.  Genius.  Finding someone supportive to work through this exercise with, is a great way to test your differentiators and discover whether your unique selling points really exist. (I can highly recommend

Problem #2
First impressions count.
You can generally control what you wear, say and do when you meet a new client in person, but online your website or more specifically the page people land on, can be make or break in helping them decide to read on or bounce. You have approximately 3 seconds to make an impact. Eek!

Think about the websites that are most appealing to you. How much of the appeal is visual? Which elements of the layout, look and feel, grab you? Now, imagine your ideal client. Think of them in as much detail as you can. What's likely to turn them on/off? It might help to consider alternative websites they could be visiting, so that you can replicate navigation, location of search and any other key elements. I had an excel sheet with 3 columns - sites I like, why I like them, what level of importance my clients might give them.  If you're part of an SME, it would be worth asking several team members to go through the same exercise.

Problem #3
A perfect website is never live. 
In other words, you can spend months 'tweaking' the finer points and remain invisible to the world in the process, or you can work on a 'good enough' policy and refine in situ.

While your website is an important part of customer perception you can thankfully supplement your efforts via blogging and social media. Remember that different audiences read different media and in my own experience, my RSS feeder regularly delivers information, which lets me by-pass a number of worthy websites.

Good luck to those of you who share my pain .......

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Piracy. An irrational fear?

I've lost count of the number of times I see small businesses hide their best work behind member only logins and forms which would take an entire lunch hour to complete. Why the secrecy? In a word - piracy. The fear that once out there 'people' can freely distribute the information, sharing it with their friends, quoting it in their presentations and potentially never crediting their source. That's all possible, but even if it happens, is it really such a bad thing?

I always encourage businesses to give some information away. I know that might make you stop reading, but stay with me. When I find some useful free stuff on a website, my perception is always 'well, if they could give that away, they obviously have a lot more to say on the subject'. Giving, adds credibility to you and your ideas.  It puts you in the position of thought leader, encouraging your readership to find out more. This blog is about proving my marketing worth and hopefully at least some entries will succeed.

It's the lamp element. Help others to see something new. Share your thoughts, your ideas, your predictions, while your business is still small enough to reap the benefits of the publicity, even if that doesn't come in the form of direct accreditation

So, vow to make at least one great piece of content to give away each month. I've listed some of my favourite 'giver' examples below, to get you started.  Most use pdf's to retain an element of publicity, but all are crafted to be shared and I haven't even touched on the SEO benefits that brings.

1. Hubspot free ebooks and case studies
2. MarketingProfs free articles all packed with links for further research
3. Econsultancy blog, reports and presentations

Happy downloading.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

What makes us choose?

We make hundreds of choices every day.

Some are completely down to us. Snooze button or get up now? Car or bus? Start that big project or give in to the distraction of email and just one more caffeine break?

Others involve third parties, helping us to make up our minds, through marketing and brands. Buy coke rather than Pepsi. Nike versus Reebok. 

Marketing gives products and services an irrational value. It adds personality, helping you to decide that product X will meet your needs better than any available alternative. In the end, you make the choice, but it's heavily influenced by how marketing has shaped your perception along the way and the brand promises i.e. what you've been led to expect from a product/service, that you've bought into.

As you encourage your customers to choose, your marketing should evoke specific reasons to help customers justify their decisions.

1. Why would customers buy your products over the competition?

Its worth revisiting why existing customers made their purchase - ask them, either personally or via a service like surveymonkey Try to narrow this down to specific words. Perhaps the great customer service builds trust, or it could be the prestige attached to being able to afford a particular service or be in the same league as others held in esteem.

2. What one attribute could your company/product/service be known for?

Volvo cars are associated with safety. Virgin is a brand that does things differently and is therefore regarded as innovative. An internal poll might give some fascinating insights, but be sure to ask suppliers, distributors and anyone else involved with your company, as well as your customers, for the most balanced view. It's fine to mean different things to different groups, but you should find there's an overarching trait that everyone agrees on. 

3. Build your marketing around your findings

Sounds like a no brainer, but so easy to overlook.  Since Volvo have established 'safety' in the minds of their buyers, their marketing plays to the FUD principle (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt).  Example  It's important to note that they lead with a solution to customer safety fears rather than building on the fear, which would result in negative connotations for the brand.  

Emotional triggers are powerful things so use them wisely.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Burns night communications

"Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm."

It's the first verse of Robert Burns 'Address to a Haggis' and unless you're Scottish, it might as well be written in martian.

Do you speak to your target audience in a language they understand?

I've been reviewing a number of small business websites recently and there's a lot of over hyped business speak out there. Everyone is 'results focused', 'world leading' and 'delivering exceptional value' in the 'fast paced environment'. Some are 'engaged in intersecting the world of traditional media with social media'. Which means what exactly?

Think about how you would describe your product/service if you were having a conversation, then look at the language used to do the same job on your website, powerpoint presentation and sales materials. Have you flipped into business speak just because it's in print?

In our modern world you can write as you would speak. Craft communications to be understood by your target audience and don't be afraid to let a little personality shine through.

Enjoy your haggis!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Marketing is like playing 'snap'

You know the game. You turn over cards until two pictures match and then everyone yells snap. The more turns that go by without a match, the higher the level of anticipation and the louder the eventual shout.

Small businesses often approach marketing like a game of snap. They produce some content and then throw it out there - in print, online, maybe a bit of telemarketing. No real strategy in place. Then the waiting game begins, until a lead is found and everyone can claim success (yell snap).

Marketing is not a game of chance. At it's simplest, it's about communicating your message to those who want to hear it, to help them choose your offering over the competition.

It takes time to produce great content, so you owe it to yourself and your customers to get that communication right.

Group 1 - Total strangers to your brand

Let's think of them as future customers. All marketing that you do to this group is going to be interruptive, since they've never heard of you before. We all hate junk mail so whatever you say has to be compelling in 5 seconds or less. Imagine you're at a tradeshow. What could you do/say to stand out?

Group 2 - Previous interactions and existing Customers

They've heard of you/your brand before and may have even purchased something. The marketing that this group needs should move them along the sales cycle. Educate them. Expand your content to build on what they already know. Challenge their assumptions. This group needs engagement. Show them why they should care and you'll see results.

Group 3 - Repeat customers

Your biggest supporters. Repeat customers are marketing tools in their own right. They can tell you what they like/don't like (product development) and build your brand through word of mouth (PR). This group have invested time and money to keep you in business and the content they receive should reflect this. You need to validate their decision to stick with you. Can you offer them sneak peaks, exclusive news, invite them to participate in a way that acknowledges their status? Social media makes this easier than you'd think.

So, when you've produced a great white paper, webcast, press release, blog entry etc. think about how it can be reworked to meet the needs of each group. Then think about how each group will want to receive those messages - smart phone, ipad, social media, direct mail, youtube video etc. Its a sure fire way to get lots more snaps ; )

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Keeping Pace with change

I found it amazing to watch Richard Branson's latest launch.

The time, effort and people skills needed to create this 3 mins and 26 seconds of wonder is undeniable and the wow factor created, reinforces the brand as forward thinking and innovative.

My children (7, 5 and 2 years respectively), were under whelmed. In their world the iphone has always existed. Their entire lives are on a hard drive. Their minds are wide open and everything is possible. Does this make it harder or easier to grab their attention? What kind of consumers are we raising and how can we keep them interested?

I think the answer lies in three little words
- Anticipated
- Personal
- Relevant

Those of you who follow Seth Godin might recognise these terms from 'Permission Marketing' published in 1999. I'd urge you to read it if you haven't already Thirteen years on it's comforting to find that while technology seems to evolve daily, human nature takes longer to catch up.

Stop worrying about which social media platform to master next and instead think about
- what you have to say
- who you're going to say it to
- when they need to hear it
- why they'll bother to listen 

Small businesses only need to keep pace with the changes that are important to their customers. Build your marketing around what's in it for them and you'll have a loyal audience no matter how or where they find you.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Do you meet my needs?

I read an article recently which stated that customers were generally 60% through the sales cycle before they engaged a sales person. Its called self education, or in plain english, the online researching, discussing with friends and family, article reading and general background checks we do, to convince ourselves that our money will be well spent.
In marketing terms it's the consideration phase and it's important. You've got a need in mind and you want to know that the company/product/service you choose, will help you meet that need. So, how do you evaluate? In a word - positioning.

Positioning sounds rather old fashioned now, but it's simply creating ideas, images and feelings in the mind of your customer. Some examples of great positioning
  • answering the questions your customer is likely to have through web content, tweets and facebook discussions, before they need to ask them directly 
  • recognizing the bigger reasons around a need and playing to them i.e. I want a watch but if I get a Rolex all my friends will know it cost a lot and be jealous. Rolex play to the idea of prestige rather than the ability to tell time 
  • creating an emotional link to a brand i.e. John Lewis (never knowingly undersold), gives the impression of being on the customers side and having their best interests at heart. They are selling integrity as well as merchandise 
Of course the most obvious example of positioning is whether you consider yourself to be a Mac or a PC. Apple positioning their products in the world of Art, free thinkers, rebels and creative geniuses. The Apple brand has created a loyal fan base who will sleep outside to be first in the queue for the latest gadget. They're convinced of greatness as soon as they see the icon. Now that's positioning.

Ask yourself

  • Who is my product/service for?
  • What do they expect it to do for them?
  • Will my product/service meet my customers needs better than the alternatives they can choose from? (in other words help customers choose you over the competition)
Thinking as the buyer rather than the seller will help you position your offering and see where improvements can be made. If you don't position yourself, others will, so make sure it's your choice to gain maximum advantage.

Now, Pret or Subway for lunch?

Do I know what you do?

I wrote an earlier post on the first question which we all ask when making any kind of purchase decision, "have I heard of you?" and "do I know what you do?" is the logical next step.  These days we're all time poor, and if we don't understand, its easier to walk away than take the time to learn.

Telling the world what you do starts with a simple business description.  It's the text you need to fill your profile page on LinkedIn, or Twitter or Facebook (assuming you've build a business page).  It should be clear and concise and free of jargon.  Think of this step as a foundation stone.  Your business description/profile should be the facts without frills version of what you do, but attracting customers means taking a step further and building familiarity.
  1. Think about your ideal customer.  Who are they?  What age are they?  Where do they live?  What do they do?  How much spare time do they have to hear your message?  What are they reading your message on?   The language you use to describe your business is key.  Which words would your ideal customer use to describe what you do? (It's often helpful to get a friend or family member to tell you what they think your business does.  If your mother doesn't understand your description, there's a good chance no-one else will).
  2. Does your company produce products/services which mean the same to everyone? If you sell ice cream then most people know what that means.  If you're an applications developer then explaining what you do to a technical audience, requires the use of terms they understand and would expect you to use for credibility.  An applications developer pitching to the marketing team needs a different slant.  Don't leave any group to assume they know what you do.  Tell them.
  3. Familiarity comes from meeting your ideal customer where they already are.  Often I hear SMEs moaning about the uphill battle to attract customers.  These days we all have so much choice that its unlikely we'll go looking for the next big thing unless it comes to find us.  Having worked out who you want to target, consider where those people are now.  e.g. Twitter is a great tool for finding others interested in what you have to say.  Type relevant words into the Twitter search bar and it will return lists of those already talking about that subject.  Also think about the publications/blogs they might read.  If you know who's already influential to their world, you can work on a plan to be seen in the same space etc.
  4. Be there when people are looking for you.  Seems like the opposite of what I've just said above, but now that we're all so google dependant, make sure that you can be found when someone types in a search term relevant to your business.  It seems so obvious, but without visibility there can be no familiarity.  Your google rankings is a whole other blog post though.
Have you guessed what I do yet?

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

4 Traits of the small business owner

The advice I would give anyone who has made a resolution to start a small business? You will need curiosity, kindness, stamina and a willingness to look stupid.

> Curiosity because the internet is full of wonderful, free tools and advice to get you started. There are groups to join, blogs to read, sites to bookmark, you just need to be interested enough to go looking for them. Feel free to ask for recommendations.

> Kindness because your first steps into the small business world are about building trust. No one has ever heard of you. They don't know what you do. Be prepared to give away some of what you know, take time to network, whether its on the school run or at a designated event. Since people do business with people, kindness is a rather under utilised way of differentiating your brand from the rest of the noise.

> Stamina is self explanatory. There will be ridiculously late nights and early mornings. Moments when you think its just not worth the effort. Days when you're fed up self motivating. Just keep going. Having a small business is a labour of love.
> The willingness to look stupid comes from the daily revelation that no matter how long you've been in business there is always something you won't be prepared for. In my case this always surfaces around tax return time.

I'm in my third year of being a 'solopreneur' now and I'm still working on each of these traits but I know I'm not alone. Go on, you know you want to.

Thursday, 5 January 2012


A morning coffee with some fellow freelancers kicked off the generalist versus specialist debate. Which is best and does it matter? Should one be more expensive than the other?

On reflection both attributes carry equal weight and we all need to balance the generalist and specialist elements of what we do for the companies and products we represent.

Generalists because
  • everyone needs a level of education to make sure you're not assuming anything e.g. top of the funnel* marketing messages designed to set the ground rules 
  • customers want value for money, knowing about lots of different areas, how they interact, what to consider, where to prioritise etc. before making further investment. Think wikipedia versus squidoo pages
  • wisdom is gained from experience and generalists tend to have a wealth of experience to draw from, earned from a number of years of 'doing' 
*in the spirit of not assuming anything, top of the funnel refers to the lead generation or sales funnel where lots of potential customers start the sales process and the aim is to retain as many of these as possible through to actual sales.

Specialists because
  • audiences like 'boxes'. She's a social media expert, he's a copywriter etc. Putting a label on who you are and what you do is essential to finding and retaining your audience 
  • the devil is in the detail. Specialism drives differentiation (giving your customers a reason to buy your product/services over the available competition) 
  • narrowing your focus ensures you can keep up with the latest developments in your field, spotting the opportunities, increasing your usefulness in a particular area and as a result the likely success of the endeavour. 
As to whether one should be more expensive than the other, I think your customers will ultimately decide.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Excitement of new

The above came from Santa. A present for my 7 year old, who was delighted with the box but disheartened when an hour later all he had was a pile of bricks and a seemingly endless instruction booklet. Trying to restore the joy, 5 further hours of parental input had the dream model complete. Waking up to success is not as fulfilling as taking the time to get there yourself though and I fear this model will now be just another thing to dust.

The lesson? I'd like to think we all start the New Year with a sense of excitement. Even if you haven't made any resolutions, hope is renewed by the possibilities ahead and how we might do things differently in the next 12 months. Trouble is our focus tends to be on the outcome and not how we get there. Doing, is a huge part of the initial excitement and eventual satisfaction. It's the learning along the way that actually changes our outlook, pushes us forward and renews our passion.

This is my first day back at work post Christmas holidays and I'm going to use the excitement to set myself some SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time sensitive) goals to help me enjoy the journey. Some may call this stalling. I see it as breaking myself in gently ......

Happy New Year.