Category Archives: Strategy

Why print is not dead: the case for the defence

With all the talk of the Royal Mail privatisation it reminded me of the amount of times I have been told that direct mail and print marketing are dead. Whilst they may be seeing a decline they are far from dead, and I firmly believe that print has a crucial role to play in many marketing plans. Here’s my case for the defence of print marketing.

Digital is easy to ignore and forget

Yes, digital marketing is relatively quick and cost effective, but how many times have you forgotten the date of an event or a URL you intended to remember? We skim-read online more than we do for print, and consequently our ability to retain and recall online information is less effective.  Print materials take slightly longer to read and therefore your message reaches your customer in a different way.

Print hangs around

It’s easy to hit the delete button on an email, and yes, print too can be binned, but if the message is one of interest customers are likely to hang on to the leaflet for reference. Emails get rapidly pushed down the inbox and are as good as forgotten.  Meanwhile your print item is stuck on their notice-board at home.

Greater reach than digital

extend your reachHow many people see the contents of your email inbox? Probably just yourself. How often do you forward an email offer on to friends? Rarely, if ever? A print leaflet can be seen by every member in the household, can be shown around friends and shared.  This is particularly helpful if other members of the household are the decision maker or influencer.  For example a college may contact their future students by post – in order to get in front of the parents too. You’ll reach more people with each communication.

Make the intangible real

Particularly in services marketing we face the challenge that the thing we are selling is intangible – you can’t pick it up.  That can present some communication challenges.  In particular, if your service is high-value customers will want something they can hold in their hand as proof that the service exists. Think holiday brochures, wedding venue brochures or university course prospectuses.  Digital content can change from day to day or even be deleted, whereas if I have an official printed copy in my hand there is some certainty to what I am buying.

Print speaks for your brand

Whilst great design, photography and copywriting all say a lot about a brand, print has the added dimensions of paper and print quality. These provide marketers with another opportunity to communicate brand values and make an impact on their prospective customers. Personalisation and other innovations make print an exciting field, so think beyond the standard letter or flyer and get creative.

We’re not all digital natives

According to the Office for National Statistics, 17% of UK households still don’t have internet access. For some this is about price or security concerns, whilst a significant number just didn’t feel the need for it. If your target audience includes some ‘anti-internetters’ then print is the ideal medium with which to reach them. Let’s not assume that everyone is online all the time.

Push the envelope

Print is not just about flyers, posters and letters.  Print materials have a range of uses which are great for spreading the word and keeping your message front of mind – think ‘leave behinds’ at meetings, calling cards, postcards, vouchers etc. How you use print will depend on your marketing objectives and distribution method.

I’m a big advocate of print marketing – used appropriately, well designed and written, and produced by expert printers, print can have a fantastic impact.


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Why language makes all the difference in business

A recent project brought home the impact that language can have when engaging with an audience.  We found that a phrase, which until then was being used as the team name and service descriptor had a hugely negative impact on the main target audience, and was in part the reason why the audience hadn’t been engaging with the service.

The outcomes surprised the project team, and will mean that they need to adopt a whole new vocabulary when talking about their service to their audience.  Whilst I can’t share the specifics of this project, the insight is one which can apply to business communications strategies across industry sectors and audience segments.

Challenge assumptions

You may think that there are some obvious differences in the use of English language to appeal to say younger vs older audiences. However I challenge that assumption as younger people (Generation Y and Z) don’t necessarily want their brands to talk to them in text-speak or use their jargon.  If your brand is delivering a serious product or service then they want you to speak with authority using proper English. If your brand is fun and social, then copy in line with their vocabulary is more likely to be acceptable to them.

Use of younger language could mean that older generations (Baby Boomers) simply can’t understand what message you are trying to get across, but at the same time this generation like their advertising to be intelligent and not patronising.

Gather insight about your audience preferences

It is wrong to assume that all of your audience will have the same reaction to language based on their age.  How often have you understood something different to your friend or colleague, even if you were listening to the same words?  We interpret language differently based on a huge number of factors, such as our age, gender, socio-demographic group, experiences and so on.

green appleAt a team-building workshop years ago the facilitator asked us for our first response when she said the word ‘apple’. The majority of those in the room responded with ‘crispy’, ‘red’, ‘fresh’ and so on. My response was ‘snow white’ – which seemed completely left-field to the rest of the group, but to me demonstrated that I was much more creative than my peers. It also helped us all to understand why we sometimes had difficulty communicating within the group! From then on, we appreciated that we sometimes needed to say the same thing in different ways, in order to get a message across to the variety of personality types in the team.

So, the lesson is to understand your audience in terms of the language they would like you – your brand or company – to use with them. Don’t make assumptions based on their demographics as that could easily lead you down the wrong path. Good market research is crucial, so that you get qualitative information to feed into your strategy.

Adult-to-adult, adult-to-child, peer-to-peer

Without realising it brands can slip into speaking to their audience like an adult to a child. This ‘telling’ way of speaking is rarely successful as the recipient feels patronised.  I’ve often seen it used by professional services firms, where they are trying to impart advice or knowledge, and are therefore the ones in the know (unlike the audience).  Their challenge is to get across that they are the experts, without making the audience feel stupid for not having that expertise.

There are also many examples of peer-to-peer language used inappropriately that make me cringe.  Finding the right relationship with your audience is an essential step in defining your tone of voice. It’s partly about your brand positioning, partly about your target audience. Get it wrong and you could sound like a grumpy uncle, or worse – daddy on the dance floor!

Learn to speak your customer’s language

What can a business do, if the service you offer is legal advice, but your customer research indicates that they feel ‘legal advice’ has negative connotations – for example they may feel that it is likely to be expensive, an old fashioned business, full of confusing jargon…and so on.

The answer is to develop a new set of vocabulary for you to use, in dealing with customers and in your communications.  Find out from your customers what they would want from a business that helps them with legal matters, and how they would like you to speak. Test some different phrases with them, let them create their own, and you will find a direction starts to become clear.  From there you can create new ways of talking about your service which will be in the language that makes sense to your customers, and uses phrases that they want to hear.

Your business should reap benefits in terms of delivering a better service to your customers, and marketing communications will be much more effective as your message will be clearly understood.  Language is a very powerful tool in business, but its importance is often sadly overlooked.

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Filed under Communications, Copywriting, Marketing, Strategy

Social media: there’s more to social than Facebook

You might be forgiven for thinking that Facebook is the one and only place to interact with your customers online. With a broad demographic of members, a range of apps and marketing tools it’s increasingly seen as the must have social media presence for any business.  However, there’s danger in this single minded view of social media marketing.

Is Facebook right for you?

First of all, as some of my previous post highlight, you need to be sure that Facebook (or any channel) is the right marketing vehicle for your specific business. Ask yourself who your customers are, how do they behave, and where is it appropriate to introduce your business to them.  What is your business trying to achieve with social media marketing – and find the networks that best fit with your objectives.

Create a balanced social media strategy

Secondly, there are such a wide range of networks out there, that cater for different demographics, behaviours and markets, that a single-minded strategy is a bit short sighted. Yes, social media marketing requires a time investment, but it is never wise to put all your eggs in one basket. A strategy that identifies, for instance one primary network, plus a couple of secondary networks for your business is much more balanced in terms of risk and reward.

Own your digital presence

All social media channels are rented real-estate – if Facebook decides to change your terms and conditions or page layout there is little you can do about it. By contrast, your own website is entirely under your control and is owned by you.  To have a Facebook page and no website means your digital presence is on shaky ground.  By starting with your own website, and building social media profiles on top your business can always change its social media strategy without losing everything that you have built up over time.

Innovation good: innovation bad

The digital landscape and social media in particular are continually innovating. That’s part of what makes it so exciting, but also creates a challenge for businesses to keep up to date with what’s happening.  Recently, for instance Facebook relaxed its competition rules (good news) but Facebook now determines how many of your page posts to show to your fans/followers (bad news).  If you rely heavily on Facebook to communicate with your audience/customers then your business fortune is at their mercy.

information overload
It’s a game of many players

Meanwhile, MySpace has relaunched with a new look and better functionality, and LinkedIn is making moves beyond it’s business networking and recruiter home-ground towards all-round information source with it’s new university pages. Let’s not forget the other big players Google+, Pinterest, Twitter, Flikr, Instagram, Etsy, Tumblr and so on and so forth. Don’t ignore the other players who are relevant to your business or market as they may one day become more profitable for you than Facebook.  They are all continually innovating, and who’s to say that their next update won’t offer just the marketing tool your business needs.

People moves

At the same time as the networks changing their functionality and design, their user bases are shifting and changing. Facebook was once the exclusive home of US college students and is now home to a very broad demographic, with young people leaving the platform now that it is now used by their parents and grandparents.  Keep in touch with published audience figures such as this one to help you determine whether their audience matches your audience.

If Facebook is working for your business and you’re happy to follow the whim of Facebook’s developers, then great. If you’d like to take a more balanced approach then maybe it’s time to review your social media strategy and check out what the other networks can deliver for your business.

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Filed under Digital, Marketing, Social media, Strategy

Have a break from your Wi-Fi life

Kit Kat have scored an ace with this campaign where they created wifi-free zones in Amsterdam for people to ‘take a break’ from their digital lives.

Apart from the great on-street presence, and PR-worthiness of it, they have made Kit Kat relevant in the digital age by providing busy people with a chance to get away from it all, relax and have a break.

Their ‘take a break’ strapline is now even more relevant to our lives…

kit kat

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June 10, 2013 · 4:17 pm

Social media road-crash: Amy’s Baking Company

Just in case you missed it, Amy’s Baking Company in Arizona is the latest company to get social media wrong – oh so wrong – and on an epic scale.

The company already suffered from poor reviews on the Yelp review site, to which owners Samy and Amy responded with insults – thus inviting further negative reaction.

Amys-Baking-CompanyThey then featured on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Their intention was clear – they wanted Chef Ramsay to re-enforce their own opinion that the food was great and prove the reviewers wrong.  When the 14-Michelin starred chef gave them feedback that their food wasn’t great, and that frozen shop-bought food should not be served up as home-made, they simply couldn’t take the criticism. It’s the first time Gordon Ramsay has walked out on a struggling business in his TV series.

After the show aired things went from bad to worse, with the store’s Facebook page being used by owners and commenters alike in a running battle of capitals and abuse. Quite what they thought they would achieve from such a public rant is beyond comprehension.

The latest instalment is that a PR consultant has been hired to turn things around for them, starting with the dubious claim that their Facebook account had been hacked, and it wasn’t actually them posting the abuse.  Secondly there is now a re-launch planned to enable customers to meet the real Samy and Amy.

A selection of links to the show Facebook pages and stories are below, and I’m not even going to talk about the other allegations made against them, or how they came across on the show.

This road-crash is however a prime example of how NOT to manage your social media channels:

  1.  If you receive a negative review, don’t defend by attacking. Take note of what they have said and make changes to your business.
  2. Don’t swear or call your customers names online. It is not professional!
  3. Don’t make threats against reviewers. Apart from it being nasty you could be legally in the wrong.
  4. Using capitals = SHOUTING – it’s not friendly, so don’t do it.
  5. Don’t respond to every negative review – sometimes it is better to stay silent.
  6. Don’t get personal. Amy and Samy started to attack Gordon Ramsay’s credentials as in ‘what does he know’. Judging by the success of his business; quite a lot more than you apparently.
  7. Don’t challenge reviewers to a showdown. ‘Bring it on’ will be taken up as a challenge by social media commentators and you will not come off looking the best.
  8. Don’t attempt to take on a battle publicly via social media channels.  It will look nasty and it’s there for everyone else to see.
  9. Don’t lie to your customers – the claim that their account was hacked has not been believed and has invited yet more criticism.
  10. Don’t dig yourself a bigger hole – if things are going badly call in professional help fast. In this case a PR consultant has been brought in, but way, way too late to be able to turn this business’ reputation around.

What’s next for Samy and Amy at Amy’s Baking Company? Some social media etiquette training?

Useful Links:

Amy’s Baking Company Facebook page

Yelp review site

Kitchen Nightmares show (C4 has blocked most of the Youtube links to the show due to copyright issues in the UK)

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Social media: why its not ‘one size fits all’

One of the common misconceptions about the use of social media for marketing is that there is a single ‘magic formula’ that, if followed, will lead to easy success. Whilst digital marketing is accessible to all, that doesn’t mean that everyone should be using it the same way.

I’ve interviewed a few organisations who are completely disillusioned by social media because they have been advised that if they do X, Y will happen, and when it doesn’t they are put off digital media all together. This (bad) advice is typically based on the ‘one size fits all’ model of social media marketing, which is unlikely to work for the majority of businesses.

One size does not fit all

Consider these two example organisations:

  • a local clothing retailer targeting teenagers
  • a consultancy business targeting national and international business decision-makers

A social media plan developed for one for is never going to work for the other. Their objectives, proposition and target markets are too different. One is trading clothing items, the other is sharing expertise.  One is local, the other global. Their tone of voice and objectives will be different. Their target audiences won’t be using the same social networks, have the same needs or be behaving in the same way.  Each business requires their own digital marketing plan tailored to their specific needs.

Use best practice guidance in context

social media hand printThere are clearly some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ for each social media channel, and some great case studies of what has worked for other businesses. There’s also a wealth of best practice guidance available online from some leading thinkers.  Such guidance should be taken on board by anyone planning to use social media as part of their mix, but it should always be taken in context of your organisation’s own marketing needs and adapted accordingly.  How, for instance, would a social media guru in the USA know what the right frequency/timing of tweets is for my UK based business? Do they know my target audience like I do?

Create your own social media strategy

There are so many social networking sites that are available for businesses and marketers to use, that selecting the right one(s) forms one of the first steps of any social media plan.  That resolves one question, but exactly how you use the channel is equally important. Are you sharing useful resources, creating a community or offering special offers? Being clear about your objectives, and planning how you intend to interact with your audience are critical steps towards social media effectiveness.

So next time you are advised that you must do X, Y or Z, take the time to relate it back to your business objectives and adapt it to meet your needs. Otherwise, you are delivering someone else’s marketing plan, and not your own.

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Student academic experience – why Communications can make a difference

Despite the alarmist headlines on the BBC, the recently published HEPI and Which? survey on student academic experience shows that the vast majority students are satisfied with their university experience.

There are however three important points that are particularly relevant to university marketing and communications teams that I pick up on in this post.

1. University experience – expectation and reality

In the survey students were asked whether academic experience lived up to their expectations, and nearly one third stated that contact hours were fewer than they had expected.  The other key outtake was their perception that the course was poorly organised.

Whilst there will be truth in both of those statements, we cannot take the statistics at face value.  These results are symptomatic of the difference between university style self-directed study and the coached, directed study students are used to at school or college.

Coming from the guided world of college or school it may well appear by virtue of contrast that their university course has fewer contact hours than expected, and that it is less organised (or less structured) than their previous academic experience.  That is not to say that there is necessarily anything wrong with the way the university is delivering it – it is purely a miss-match between the students’ previous experience and the university set up.

students graduatingUniversity marketing departments need to ensure that contact hours and modes of delivery are clearly explained in course literature, and that the difference to school is highlighted. Clear information will enable students to make that transition from the structured school environment to the university experience.

2. Perception of value for money

The survey does highlight concerns around value for money, and without entering into a political debate about student fees.  There has been a clear increase in the percentage of students who thought that their courses represented poor value for money compared with students who had enroled at university when the lower fees were applicable.

Assuming that fees stay as they are, it is the responsibility of organisations to ensure that they provide and demonstrate value in their interactions with students.  This should result in students understanding and appreciating the wealth of knowledge and support universities can offer.

The Generation Y perception is that information is freely available online, which presents the knowledge providers at universities with a challenge to demonstrate the enhanced value of course content. For instance, students need understand that the lecture notes added to their VLE were created by their learned professor based on years of experience, and are therefore more valuable than information they can access via Google or Wikipedia.

Otherwise students might wonder what the value of going to university is at all, if all information is available via the Internet anyway.

Universities need to convey to students that there is added value from physically attending a lecture, perhaps through additional content or sharing of ideas that they wouldn’t get through reading the lecture notes later. Without explicitly explaining this to students we can’t expect them to ‘get it’ as it differs so much from their earlier educational experiences.

3. The importance of student communications

Communications with students whilst they are at university also play an essential role in conveying value.  If the organisation does not highlight it, how will students know about the extensive investments in campus facilities that are taking place up and down the country. Tell them what is happening and how it will benefit them personlally whilst they are at your university.

HOW you communicate is as important as WHAT you communicate.  Sending too many emails becomes counterproductive, and other channels such as posters or social media have their own pros-and cons. Each has its place for different types of messages, and there are few hard-and-fast rules.  However, a clearly thought out comms plan is essential if you want students to understand the value that is all around them.

I’ve heard students in focus groups saying they would have liked to have known about a particular investment, even though the internal university department believed it had been communicated.  The lesson to learn from that is that broadcasting is very different to communicating.  To be an effective communicator the message needs to have been heard and understood.

The sector needs to accept that students now see themselves as customers paying a high fee and expect to see value in return.  Value, in terms of knowledge, experience and investment are all around them whilst at university, so it is our role to make that value more apparent to them.

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Filed under Communications, Education Marketing, Marketing, Strategy, Youth Marketing