Copy candor

How many times do you feel you’ve been mislead and let down in an advertisement, especially when ordering from the internet? This may well become less frequent  now that the digital world has come under the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority with strict new codes, bringing it in line with off-line advertising.

This is good news for the consumer but is something of a wake up call for companies to ensure that websites are ASA compliant. The new regulations call for all online retailing, advertising, sales promotions and direct marketing to be accurate and honest about a product or service. Claims that promise to double your income, are risk free, or advertise schemes that will deliver overnight results are outlawed. A guaranteed delivery assurance has to show clearly under what conditions this may not be met. Bait and switch offers where an advertised product is no longer available and a higher priced item substituted will contravene the new code. If the special offer is no longer valid it should be removed from the website. The ASA by the way, doesn’t differentiate between marketing which sets out to deceive you from that which unintentionally fails to reflect the true facts and leaves the consumer with the wrong impression.

The regulations state that a company should avoid exaggerating statements and must hold documentary evidence supporting claims of how much a consumer can save by purchasing a product or service. So called ‘testimonials’ displayed on a web page will be closely scrutinised for validity. Viewing a new website recently for a local care home which isn’t due to open for another month, showed testimonials from a ‘relative’ enthusing on how well Dad is being looked after, and another on how friendly and welcoming the staff are on every visit. As the home isn’t yet operational and has no residents, this is an obvious contravention of the ASA code. Customer reviews and testimonials have to be supported with written evidence of the recommendation and the name and address of the person supplying the testimonial must be available on request.

Now we come to the social media platforms! The new regulations for online marketing also includes all unpaid advertising and marketing communication through networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, You Tube or Linkedin which is under your control. You are now longer free to post derogatory comments about a competitor (as if you would)! The code states “Marketers must not unfairly portray or refer to anyone in an adverse or offensive way unless that person has given the marketer written permission to allow it”. That’s unlikely to happen then!

Where does it leave those of us with a website? The regulations came into force earlier this year on March 1st and companies have been given 6 months from this date to comply or face being named and shamed, have their paid-for search advertising removed and the ASA may place advertisements online highlighting an advertiser’s non-compliance. Essentially this would mean that if your company name was typed into one of the Search Engines the warning about your false or misleading marketing would come up first. Bear in mind that Google have donated considerable seed funding to the implementation of the new regulations.

It’s essential that you read through the code  thoroughly and then review your website copy ensuring you’re able to back-up all of your claims. Remove anything which you can’t substantiate or which you believe falls into a grey area, or for peace of mind have a professional health-check carried out on all of your website copy.

Honesty will definitely be the best policy!


Brand promise

We all love special offers don’t we? How often though can we trust them to live up to their promise? There’s a very wise piece of advice that if something appears to be too good to be true, it probably is. Nothing causes loss of confidence in a company or a brand more than when they fail to deliver on their word.

A promotion which falls flat on its public face is often referred to now as the Hoover effect. In 1992 the British Division of Hoover when faced with the predicament of how to reduce the surplus stock of washing machines and vacuum cleaners in their warehouse, came up with a marketing plan to offer a free pair of round trip tickets for flights to Europe for every sale over £100. The response was completely underestimated and to add to the fiasco, Hoover were unaware of the looming disaster and proceeded to enhance the offer by introducing a second promotion offering return flights to the USA. The company were immediately flooded with applications to redeem coupons and it became impossible to keep up with the demand. It cost Hoover close to 50 million pounds and involved a lengthy court case, spearheaded by the Hoover Holidays Pressure Group.

You may be curious as to why I’ve resurrected the 20 year old account of a failed marketing campaign. I’ve used it as an example of how, if a company fails to calculate the consumer’s positive or negative response to a special offer, the cost in both damage to the brand reputation and loss of profits can be immeasurable. The promotion currently running in a national tabloid newspaper is a prime example. The launch of a new ‘rewards club’ requires readers to purchase the weekend editions over a number of weeks, register membership online and send in a series of coupon codes for a variety of £5 gift vouchers to be redeemed in supermarkets, petrol stations, restaurants etc. It sounds fairly simple doesn’t it? Apart for the fact that the marketing team presumably underestimated the number of uptakes, with launch vouchers still sitting in the warehouse after several weeks due to an ‘unexpected level of demand’. Another fatal error when you’re offering your customer a good deal is to fail to make it clear what the terms and conditions are. If you try to wriggle out of what the consumer believes to be a perfectly legitimate claim, it’s hardly going to put the company in a good light. In a number of newspapers the coupons were missing. An instruction advised readers to call a designated number ‘today’ for a coupon code (at the callers own cost), with no date. If you didn’t read your magazine supplement until a day or two later you’d have missed the deadline for claiming the missing code, with just a pre-recorded message telling you ‘today’ referred to Sunday only. Their mistake, your loss. Admittedly not likely to result in a court claim, but aggrieved readers on mass may well reduce sales.

A special offer as with any product or service has to live up to the brand promise or your consumers will feel they’ve been hoodwinked. Your market audience may not come baying for your blood, but they may well lose confidence and take their business elsewhere. Now has anyone got that missing voucher code?

bussroot business card

Business card bewitch

I came across a discussion recently on whether business cards are a thing of the past and should join the obsolete items along with telex machines and comptometers. Anyone remember them?  Or hand-written personal letters. You don’t see many of those now either, apart from the thankyou letter you may send your granny when she’s knitted you a balaclava or a pair of gloves during a cold snap. That’s called ‘good manners’. Although these days Granny may now be too busy surfing the net!

If business cards were banned, (I’m asking you to use your imagination here), would you miss them? I can guess that many of you will claim that technology has replaced the need to hand out cards when the contact details can be scanned into an iphone, blue tooth etc. This leaves me out in the cold then with my basic mobile phone, an ancient Nokia that I’m as comfortable with as an old pair of slippers. So for those of us who can’t scan or input and download, how professional are we going to appear if we scribble our details down on a scrap of paper or the back of a cigarette packet? Thinking about it, there aren’t many cigarette packets around now to scribble on either!

The visiting card began its life in 15th Century China and arrived in Europe in the 17th Century in the form of trade cards, usually with a map showing directions to the business address due to the fact that buildings generally weren’t numbered. The Japanese still treat business cards with time-honoured respect and consider them to be a sign of professional credibility. If Japan is seen as one of the most advanced in modern technology, maybe it’s significant that the Japanese never attend a meeting without them. They accept the card you’ve offered them with both hands, ceremonially. You’ll never see them scribble on it, flip it across the table or fiddle and fidget with it while they’re talking to you. If you stuff the card they’ve given you into your back pocket it’s considered the equivalent of sitting on them. This card represents their standing within the company. Disrespect the card and you disrespect them.

I believe that we’re missing an important point when we talk about business cards being redundant. Above all, I believe they should be treated as a valuable marketing tool and an extension of the brand message. If we trust the law of seven touches or points of contact before a brand is registered subconsciously for future recognition, then surely the business card must play an important part, together with emails, direct mail, other advertising mediums and social media etc. This is assuming the design is appealing and clearly says what you do and who you are, giving all points of reference. Is your card memorable and does it stand out from the rest?

I’m a tactile person. I like to hold the card I’ve been given and refer to it when I’m back in the office. If the design on the card is distinctive, I can instantly recall the meeting, when it was given to me and who it belonged to. If you leave me with your business card I’ll treat it with respect and although the collection may be growing rapidly, I promise it won’t end up in the bin. You don’t even have to be Japanese!


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?


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”.


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.


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?


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?


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?


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?