Category Archives: Creative

networking

Networking nibbles

The scepticism surrounding networking which frequently surfaces makes me smile. We hold a relaxed business get together once a month for local people on Twitter who want to meet up face to face and we call it ‘Cruddle’. It’s held in a quaint country pub where the regulars are understandably protective of their territory and wary of outsiders. A conversation overheard at a recent meeting went something like this; “Who are that lot over there?”. The whispered response, “N.e.t.w.o.r.k.e.r.s”, resulted in a knowing look, a nodding of the head and an equally low-toned reply of “Ah! Networkers!”, firmly setting us aside as something more than a little ‘strange’.

Now I have to confess I’m a networking devotee. As someone who dreaded cold calling, it has aided my escape from being confronted by a Rottweiler or similar deterrent guarding the door to the decision maker preventing any likelihood of making contact. Networking events are (usually) Rottweiler-free and even if your ideal client doesn’t attend the same meeting as you, there’s a fair chance that someone in your group is able to give you an introduction and referral. It’s not always about the business done and dusted on the day, but more about the potential of being put in touch with the right people at the right time. Generally speaking fellow networkers don’t bite.

However, if you want to get the most out of networking, you need to be generous. That doesn’t mean offering the people sitting at your table a share of your breakfast, or buying a round of drinks at the bar. It’s about being on receive and not only using the transmit button when you’re engaging in conversation. There’s nothing more irritating when you’re given a designated 10 minute slot to chat with someone, only to find they use the entire time to sell you a service or product without asking a single question about your business. Admittedly it takes conscious effort to develop good listening skills in the same way in which there’s an art to being a good speaker. I love the William Jennings Bryant quotation; ‘Two people in a conversation amount to four people talking. The four are what one person says, what he really wanted to say, what his listener heard, and what he thought he heard.’ Although establishing business relationships within a group takes time to build an element of trust, this inevitably results in a network of ambassadors who will essentially help you to expand your business contacts, while you in turn help them to expand theirs.

These observations should in no way be perceived as discrimination against Rottweilers, some of whom I’m sure are the gentlest of dogs. It should also be noted that although networkers may not bite, even friendly ‘puppy dogs’ are known to bark aggressively if you’ve caught them on a particularly stressful day. In this case, it may actually be wise to share your breakfast or offer them a drink. Give and take. That’s what good networking’s about isn’t it?

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Cross selling chances

By sheer co-incidence the subject of cross-selling came up several times this week, along with a discussion on ‘opportunity’ during a networking breakfast, which prompted me into giving both more thought. As one would expect when companies are experiencing challenging times within their niche business, some reach outwards in an attempt to capture a larger share of the market.

It’s becoming increasingly common to see businesses making the most of an existing service by offering add-on compatible services and products, enhancing the value of the brand. Recently we’ve seen a local florist open a café integral with the shop and a pet store with an on-site veterinary practitioner. This is by no means a new concept. During the recession in the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s, when retail sales were depressed, the Garden Centre industry in particular seized the opportunity to branch out into a wider area of retailing. Previously known in the main for simply selling plants and plant products many became an attractive venue to spend leisure time, with an in-store restaurant, gift department, special events and gardening seminars delivered by experts. The introduction of cross-selling of new products and innovative services gave them an advantage over the increasing competition from supermarket and DIY chains who had also moved into the market by opening plant areas within their stores. Plant nurseries, often owned by second or third generation family growers, became astute retailers, adapting to the needs of their customers, offering a one-stop shop for the leisure market.

The horticultural industry is a prime example of how by branching out and seizing an opportunity and giving the customer what they need, rather than simply what we want to sell them, secures repeat custom and enhances the value of our core business. This doesn’t have to be limited to retail. Bussroot has been approached by so many clients asking for tips on how to get up and running on Twitter that we now offer one-to-one mini tutorials on joining the Twitterati and starting to tweet.

It’s not simply about the shoe shop selling polish when you buy a new pair of shoes. You’d be happy for them to offer you a cup of coffee while you’re waiting wouldn’t you? To quote the Greek orator and statesman Demosthenes; “Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises”.

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Good customer service

One of my favourite poems ‘How They Brought The Good News From Ghent to Aix’,  written in 1838 by Robert Browning, begins with the line “I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he; I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three”. The fictitious incident telling of the news which alone could save Aix in Flanders from its fate came into my mind when I decided to put down a few thoughts on customer complaints.

Way back in Browning’s time all news; both good and bad took an age to reach the intended audience. Now, with no need to saddle up, the message travels at a lightening speed, by email, internet and the viral medium of the social media sites.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon has said that if you make six customers unhappy, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make six customers unhappy who have access to the internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends globally. It makes sense that if the complainers had been offered support for the problem when it occurred it’s unlikely they would have felt the need to tell the world about how unsatisfied they are. Poor customer service is like a smoldering fire waiting to ignite and spread out of control if it’s not checked. Statistically it’s said that you only need two or three negative comments to change a consumer’s mind about your service or product.

Staff who may not be directly involved in selling still need to be aware of the value they can add when engaging with the customer. Exceptional service begins at the first touch point, often with a telephone call. If the initial response is offhand or brusque, the caller is likely to assume that this is an indication of the poor level of service throughout the company. Many years ago I had an office junior who when asked if anyone had called the office, replied. “No. Apart from a man”. When I asked for his name, her response was simply “Just a man”. I’d guess that not a lot of communication went on there then! It still pains me to recall it today, imagining that it may have potentially been our very best customer ever in the history of the business.

I try to make an effort to be polite and friendly to all callers. They may be attempting to sell me something today from a call centre in a faraway land, but tomorrow the same person may be a corporate CEO and a dream client. The last thing you want to read on Twitter or other social media sites is how poor a response someone has experienced when dealing with your company. If they’ve been unable to get through to you they may well find that complaining over the internet saves them from having to sit on hold waiting to speak to someone, or even worse, listening to an impersonal answer phone message. If that happens, you’ll not be pacifying just one dissatisfied customer, but potentially hundreds if not thousands who now have a negative view of your business. Get it right however, by creating a good experience at all levels and points of contact and the positive message will spread far and wide.

By the way, has anyone tried riding the 95 or so miles from Ghent to Aix at gallop speed on one horse with no rest breaks to deliver a message? Now that’s what I’d call good customer service.

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What flavour is your business?

Some time ago we ran a mini survey asking clients the thought provoking question ‘If Bussroot was a box of chocolates, what flavour would they be?’ A feature on local radio the other morning discussing the potential of bottling Kent air and what fragrance that would have, triggered a thought. If you had to describe the essence of your company what would be the resulting blend?

The professionals tell me that perfumes are usually a combination of top notes, heart notes and base notes. So where does the business connection figure here? If we take the top note as the brand image, the heart note as the empathy and customer service at the core of the company and the base notes as the foundation and business strategy, does this start to make sense? Hopefully that’s a ‘Yes’.

Over time we become immune to a fragrance and similarly we may no longer see our brand as others see it. The essence of the business can become stale and unappealing. If one area of the business is stagnant the overall perception of the company will be contaminated. In the same way in which we fail to notice that others may find a perfume unpleasant, we close our eyes to the negative effect poor business practices may have on our clients. We choose perfumes for a reason, and our unique ‘smell’ creates a lasting impression on the people we come into contact with.

I’ve always felt there’s something dependable and trustworthy about a man who wears ‘Old Spice’, probably by association and down to the fact that it was my father’s favorite. So if we bottle our business essence, containing all of our company values founded on a bedrock of sound decision making, blended with a warm, welcoming customer service, crowned with a seductive and memorable brand image, I reckon we’ll have the aroma of a sweet smell of success.

So take the top off your bottle and tell me, is your business on the right scent?

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Marketing vision

When you’re on the starting blocks ready to kick-start your marketing strategy, do you have a clear idea of where you’re going and which elements of marketing you should take along with you for the journey, or will you just take a stab in the dark and hope for the best?

Effective marketing calls for a careful selection of tactics, with a clear idea of identity from day one. Building from scratch with blank-page marketing enables you to deliver your company vision to a target market with a strong brand message and no dilution of communication. How will you demonstrate your passion about your product or service and outshine the competition? Think ‘marketing’ and people generally think ‘big budget’, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Marketing campaigns can grow organically, gradually improving brand visibility in line with return on investment. What does your sales revenue need to equate to in order to cover the cost of effective advertising? It may not be as high a figure as you think.

Most would agree that for the majority of businesses a website is crucial from the outset, with all branding running seamlessly with this. Please though, not one of those bland template ‘one size fits all’ sites! You know the ones, with an image of a girl holding a telephone, a suited businessman carrying a briefcase or a guy with a spanner in his hand. We came across a company who passed off the group on the website as their sales team, naming each one individually. Which was fine until the same group surfaced as models on an online photo stock library, shattering the illusion of personal attention and trust! It’s not worth the risk is it? We often work co-creatively with a professional photographer for websites and brochures, enabling the client’s identity and corporate image to shine through. Regular blogs increase curiosity, cost nothing and encourage returning traffic to the website, sharing comments and opinions, ensuring it isn’t simply a ‘one stop shop’. A website should show your individuality. However, marketing doesn’t begin and end with a stunning website. Never miss the opportunity to increase brand visibility. Something as simple as business cards or logo’d promotional items which will stand out from the competition with eye-catching designs, are invaluable but relatively low-cost marketing tools.

Ultimately, your aim is to motivate your customers into action, to persuade them to pick up the telephone and talk to you, visit your shop or office, or test drive a product. People are looking for benefits and for a reason to choose you ahead of competitors. Is your marketing strategy heading in the right direction or do you need a creative sat.nav to get you back on track?

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Birth of your brand

We all know of the brain teaser, ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’ .The subject came up during a recent Twuttle meeting of the local Twitterati and at the time there seemed to be no connection with this and how we do business. Not that we engage in idle banter during these gatherings of course! However, having been prompted to put some thought into the subject, certain aspects came to life!

The egg, the core idea or brand thought, is a single word which brings together all facets of your brand and a strong identity means that consumers will think of your company first when they think of your product category. Beans = Heinz, Vacuum Cleaner = Hoover, Biro = Bic. Everything is built around this, starting with the logo, running seamlessly throughout all the marketing material and the website. A few years ago, when the fashion brand Tommy Hilfiger prepared to launch their collection in the UK, billboards were simply covered with the brand name and supported with magazine adverts, saying nothing more than the news that Hilfiger was coming! Without any preview of the clothing range, potential stockists were pleading to be on the approved list of outlets and the success of the brand was established without a single piece of the collection being seen prior to the UK release.

We tend to view the brand as something which develops after the product innovation, but which really comes first? The Brand should represent the soul of the company and be there at the birth, followed by the marketing strategy, corporate objective and brand message. It’s the foundation on which every essential feature grows and should be in the forefront of your mind when you originate the idea for a product or service. Customers may come and go and products evolve and develop, but a strong brand message will survive change. It’s your value promise, both visible and audible, connecting the name, logo and strapline (slogan) to the product, building a relationship with the marketplace.

Should you decide to launch a new product under the established brand name in the future, the identity should be strong enough to support a credible brand extension. Bear in mind that this needs to be compatible with the brand’s foundation. You wouldn’t for example, expect McDonalds to open a chain of greengrocers. Whilst adding a new product can strengthen and benefit the parent brand if it’s relevant to the core brand message, deviating too far from the original product can damage perception, even more so if it proves to be a bad egg!

Bringing us back to the chicken and egg condundrum, the other question posed in the discussion was who first made the decision that a boiled egg and soldiers would be an improvement on the raw ingredient? One of our early entrepreneurs do you think?

GETTING FRESH!

I’ll let you into a secret if you promise not to let anyone else in on it. Every year, when winter ends, I take out my summer clothes which have been packed away in a trunk and replace them with my cold weather togs ready for my husband to put the trunk back up in the attic for the next 6 months. In reality it may not actually get as far as the attic as it’s never high on his agenda and the trunk is likely to sit in the corner of the bedroom until finally the grand opening day arrives with the start of the next season. I eagerly anticipate the pleasure of sifting through the contents until I’m confronted with the same old uninspiring collection I’ve been hoarding for years. An overwhelming aura of boredom sets in almost immediately. So where’s all this leading? 

There seems to me to be a distinct similarity between both a Corporate and a personal identity. We are consciously aware that we need to refresh our personal image on a fairly constant basis, but may ignore the fact that the visual identity of our brand can become jaded and outdated. The brand image is reflected in the Company logo, typography, literature and product packaging. Although a strong and memorable logo will stand the test of time, even the most outstanding brands need to move with the times with the identity being tweaked as it progresses. If we compare my tired looking wardrobe with a corporate identity, potentially a creative agency serves as both a personal dresser and bespoke tailor. It can be easy to lose touch with how we’re perceived by our customers, to see ourselves how others see us. Ever had a shock when you’re confronted with your reflection in a changing room mirror and can see yourself from all angles? How often do we take a step back and make an honest appraisal of our brand image or ask for an outside honest opinion of how the brand is perceived, the ‘top of mind’ or first impression we make on our customers? 

How many websites do we visit where the copy is out of date, the images are no longer relevant to the brand message and there’s no evidence of a blog or optimization of social media? If we can spot this failing in others, can we be as objective when we review our own on-line marketing strategy? Whether off-line or on-line, the brand personality may well have been spot on when it was originally created, but as with everything fertile, it needs to continue to grow and adapt to an ever changing marketplace. If the image isn’t refreshed from time to time, the reaction from the customer isn’t going to be far removed from mine whenever I open up that clothes trunk. 

How’s your spring image looking?

PACKING A PUNCH

When we’re browsing the supermarket shelves, are we aware of how much our emotions affect our choice of products? What entices you to reach out and select one item from a multitude of others and in effect reject the competition? 

Product packaging has a unique personality which either connects, or fails to connect with the consumer. The choice is actually instinctive rather than rational and we generally make unconscious decisions within a few seconds, based mainly on colour and shape. If anyone was watching a recent episode from The Apprentice, you’ll have seen the design for a cleaning product using the colour black shot down in flames. The apprentices had believed that black would stand out as ‘different’. Consumers on the other hand see black as ‘dirty’ and green, fresh colours as ‘clean’. Black used in this context just didn’t have the feel good factor essential when making emotional contact with the purchaser. 

Packaging design should be original but also needs to be relevant to the product inside. It needs to speak to the target audience in words they will understand and relate to. This informative brand voice is supported by the typography and colour palette, building a unique niche in the marketplace, enabling specific audiences to be targeted effectively. Putting it simply, if you’re hoping to attract the teen market to purchase your product, a picture of a granny sitting knitting in a rocking chair isn’t likely to hit the spot. But it isn’t that simple is it. Blue for example is considered to be an appetite suppressant and is the least common colour in the foods that we eat, but is the most favoured colour for toothbrushes! Blue is also not gender specific, appealing to both men and women. Yellow is the happiest colour in the spectrum and stands out from surrounding colours, while Green represents the Ecology and is used worldwide as a sign for safety. Pink has a calming effect but makes us crave sugar, so we’re likely to be seduced by cakes packaged in a pink box. Red, is widely used to promote energy drinks and products associated with love and passion. Red text stands out prominently in the foreground, impossible to miss in a warning sign.  

Traditionally retailers’ own brand products have competed with the leading brands by producing bland packaging with minimal text and little attention to the visual appeal. The consumer isn’t likely to connect on an emotional level but will purchase due to price alone. The one advantage the own brand has is consumer loyalty and the fact that the customer has chosen to shop in that particular store gives a head start. They feel comfortable with the brand. However, the retailing of own brands has moved on considerably. We now have Taste the Difference, The Finest, The Best of the Best of all the Rest with packaging designed to compete with the mainstream competitors on an even keel. My son once suggested that the most basic budget range, packaged in plain white boxes and black text should be branded ‘If the best just isn’t for you, then this will have to do’ range! 

Now the question is, if you were a package what colour and shape would you be?

PICK AND MIX

When you’re sitting down ready to plan your Pick and Mix of the year’s marketing strategy, do you see a clear scheme ahead or do you feel lost and confused? E-Shots and DM’s, cold calls or a constant round of networking? 

Isn’t the simplest solution to put ourselves in the recipient’s shoes? How many of us are convinced that firing out multiple emails indiscriminately will achieve a high percentage of success? I find that I’m becoming increasingly wary of opening a message in my Inbox with the concern that if I don’t recognise and trust the sender, I may well risk downloading a virus or malicious software. With the current deluge of spam from legitimate businesses and constant bombardment of unsolicited sales messages and special offers, overkill on the sending of E-Shots can actually damage a brand. Spam Ratings who monitor this, estimate that 75 per cent of emails received in the UK can be classified as unwanted or nuisance emails. 

So what are the better alternatives? A recent survey by Which magazine reported that the majority would like to see cold calling banned, especially the ‘silent’ timed out calls often made from overseas centres. By the way, in the last 30 minutes I’ve taken 4 unsolicited sales calls from suppliers bearing no relationship whatsoever to our Company profile. In any event, most cold callers fail to get past the ‘gatekeeper’ to reach the decision maker. Twitter, the social networking, microblogging site probably combines the equivalent of e-shots and cold calling in an effective way. Messages posted in 140 characters or less will be easily read by your followers when it’s convenient for them to do so, with the content reaching a wide Twitter business network. The only outgoing from the marketing budget is your time. 

Networking plays an important role in fusion marketing. Meeting face-to-face with the business community gives the opportunity to build connections in a relaxed environment. It requires some research to figure out which groups are going to be most rewarding in the long term and what style of networking you feel comfortable with. Selection on the basis of how big the sausage is on your plate at a breakfast event isn’t likely to equate to the size of business it brings in if your fellow networkers aren’t the right contacts. 

Notably, the more traditional postcard is back in fashion. Custom designed, with a powerful message, an eye-catching and memorable image this has the potential to sit on the recipient’s desk for future reference, unlike an easily deleted or forgotten email message. I quite often rummage through my desk drawer to respond to a piece of direct mail I’ve been saving for when the time was right to use the product or service. I very rarely throw anything away. Royal Mail says that 80% of Direct Mail is opened by the over 65 age-group. Perhaps I’m ahead of my time, or maybe I believe the more mature know that sometimes traditional methods can be trusted not to let you down. 

What’s going into your marketing Pick and Mix for 2011?

TWITTERING ON….

What a difference a year has made for those of us who can be considered Internet or Digital Immigrants, defined by the Urban Dictionary as ‘someone who has not grown up with the current technology’. I meandered into the world of Twitter around 12 months ago, unconvinced of any business benefit. The words of the comedian Bill Bailey spring to mind when he said something to the effect of “I posted on Twitter that I was eating a sandwich and 17 people immediately tweeted to ask what kind of sandwich”. But then on thinking about it, at least the Twitterati were aware of his existence. They’d noticed him. If something as inane as eating habits caught the attention of however many ‘followers’, shouldn’t tweeting business news and links to your blog or website work as effectively? If you’re reading this in response to our Tweet, then there’s proof that it does. We all like free advertising, even more so when it gets results. 

If like me, you’ve arrived late on the scene and are blinking slightly at the bright new world of technology, you may need to hook up with an Internet Native who will translate the language of microblogging and social networking to kick start your fusion marketing. Internet Natives, those in their 20’s think differently. They want to access information rapidly, send messages instantly and they thrive in a networking environment. We, the immigrants still talk of ‘dialing a number’, or ‘looking things up’ instead of ‘searching’. We’ve arrived late on the scene and our accent and vocabulary give us away. If we remain resistant to the ever rapidly changing technological landscape we run the risk of missing out on a valuable business tool. However, Twitter on it’s own, even if used effectively, still needs to be reinforced with face-to-face networking and interaction on sites such as Linkedin. We have local Twuttles and Twuddles, meeting up with followers in a relaxed environment, where we can learn to adapt to our new environment at ease, putting a face to the Twitter name. It’s true that we may need to weed through what may seem to be pointless babble on sites such as Twitter and Facebook but if 100 of our followers take note of what our business has to offer and this is then read by all of their followers, the message spreads far and wide. To quote the BP President Bill Schrader, “Almost overnight, the internet’s gone from a technical wonder to a business must”. 

So, what’s in your sandwich today?