29 January 2009

Marketing needs to be meaningful, not just entertaining

My social network

Image by luc legay via Flickr

There are certain things in life which are definite. For instance, you can always answer the question “Is the Pope a Catholic?” with a “Yes.” Or “Will the French go on strike this year?” can be answered with a confident “Yes.”

Other certainties used to be that marketers entertained their audiences with spectacular advertisements or beautiful websites.

But we, the audience, have changed. We have greater freedom to express ourselves with our own blogs. We gather information and news from social networks and spread them around our own networks rapidly.

For instance, three days ago on Twitter, I picked up a Tweet fro Stephen Fry about a complaint to Virgin Airlines from a passenger about the food he was given during the flight(http://tinyrul.com/virginfood). It was one of the funniest articles I had read for a long time.

Naturally, I ‘Re-Tweeted’ the article to my network and emailed to some friends and family. Three days later, the breakfast news did a piece about it. It was old hat by the time it came up on the BBC news and Virgin had already made statements to say that Richard Branson had seen the letter and they were taking action.

Furthermore, consumers will soon be able to watch TV programmes when they want to rather than when the broadcaster tells them to watch.

So, marketers can no longer interrupt their audiences to grab their attention, when it is more likely that consumers are already gathering an opinion about their product through their networks which has for more impact than the biased opinion of the marketer.

So, how do you work as a marketer in the new world to grow your business? Marketers have to ensure that they make the experience with their brand a meaningful one so that the perception of it is transformed. You have to go beyond entertainment and move into providing branded applications which give your audience a service which enhances their experience with your brand.

For example, the VW web site is a wonderful piece of work which makes choosing car easy. Rather than having to do cumbersome comparisons as you do on other sites, you can filter down using a simple set of tools on one screen. They provide a set of tools to help you make sense of the wide variety of choices and options in their cars.

As someone said to me the other day, "...when you get in a VW, it feels like they know what they are doing."  I agree. It does not get much better than that in marketing. No flashy videos showing me how the car is good at missing puddles. Just branded applications to provide a meaningful experience.

It was so good I bought a VW.


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28 January 2009

Getting to Objectives

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Knowing what a client wants to achieve is a basic need for an agency developing digital solutions. Yet, this is very often difficult to achieve in the fast moving world of digital design and development.

It is tough enough sometimes translating a designers web site design into something which a web developer can make work behind the scenes in a web solution.

A client may not be able to give their objectives for several reasons. For instance, they may not want to reveal their budget for what they are asking you to do so that you don’t bill up to their budget for something that might be achieved more cheaply.

Or the client may have a whole string of ideas which they would like to have included in their project which, in fact, is a ‘wish list’ rather than a brief and they are looking for some guidance on how to make it work.

It could be that the client does not know what they want to achieve but they are being forced into a position where they feel they need to catch up because their competition is ahead of it.

In the end, our job as an agency is to understand a clients’ objectives for their project. Of course, we can build their ‘wish list’ but it generally makes for a bad project which takes a long time to build, it may not do what they hoped for, it may cost them a lot of money and time, as well as causing business relationships to break down.

Finding a client’s objectives makes our job so much easier. For example, an agency will need to know how much revenue they would like to generate. Or how many people they want to reach, money they wish to save and so on.

And it takes trust from the client that we will keep their objectives confidential. It is all about trust. Trust takes time to build (as well as a few contracts!). But, objectives are the basis for delivering a good project for a client.

Get beyond wish lists and get to objectives.

23 January 2009

Two Handed, Ten Fingered Computing


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I was a bit of an academic 'waste of space' at school. One teacher, who was trying to be supportive, said to a gang of about five of us one day, “Many other teachers think of you as wasters”. That was a surprise.

Most people studying for their ‘A’ levels studied three subjects. My poor results at ‘O’ level meant that I was doing just two ‘A’ levels which meant that I had some spare time to fill.

I was duly dispatched to study statistics ‘O’ level and, much to my embarrassment at the time, typing. Well, I failed the statistics exam, although I quite enjoyed the  lessons, and I passed the typing exam.

For many years, the typing qualification was useless. In the Army, I was learning how to clean weapons, carry out platoon attacks and lead a team.

When I left the British Army, I soon found myself working with computers and I quickly picked up touch typing, which had been a distant memory from school.

How ironic. That one skill is probably the single largest barrier for people learning how to use a computer effectively. Typing with two fingers is no fun and it is exhausting if you are looking at your fingers all of the time.

The use of computers in schools, business and the home is now all pervasive but there has been little change in the format of the computer and how we interact with it for a long time, until recently.

Apple really kicked things off with its iPhone, allowing you to touch the screen with more than one finger or your stylus (which I was always losing).

Suddenly, the computer, albeit a pocket-sized computer, was something the masses were touching.

For sure, there have been ‘Tablet PC’s’ around for some time. But they never had the capability to recognise more than one item touching the screen at once.

Last week, I saw ‘Microsoft Surface’ computing for the second time at the BETT Show in London. The beauty of it is that it is a touch screen computer but the screen is the size of a small table. And, you can touch it with more than one finger.

Big deal. But, the beauty is that a user can, say, bring up a picture imageand move it around the screen with one hand while bringing another picture into view with the other hand. This is technically difficult to do. Imagine having ten people using ten mice on the same computer!

Suddenly, this technology breaks a barrier by removing the tools, such as mice, keyboards, pens and single digits, which have traditionally required us to learn a new skill just to start using the computer.

Now, the computer is a step closer to us.

I can see some great applications for these computers in schools helping Classroom Assistants to help children with reading and arithmetic, to help them become more engaged in the most important skills. 

The price of a ‘surface computer’ is pretty steep now but they will become increasingly popular and accessible.








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15 January 2009

Google Analytics on your desktop

Adobe AIR

Image via Wikipedia


If you have not heard of Adobe AIR before then it may not be a surprise. However, if you are a marketer and you have not heard of Google Analytics then I would be flabbergasted.

Tracking your visitors and web traffic through the use of Google Analytics is an essential activity for most web marketers these days. This data is one stream of many pieces of information being fed to you all day and everyday as part of your job. It’s a tsunami of information which needs to be tamed and used effectively.

This is where Adobe’s AIR comes in nicely. You don’t really need to know much about AIR if you are not a developer. You just install it for free on your PC or MAC and forget about it.

Then you can download a free tool from the Adobe web site called ‘Google Analytics Reporting Suite’ which sits on your desktop and provides a very nice way to analyse your Google Analytics Analytics tool information in a much more user-friendly way than from the web site.

In the jargon, this is called a ‘Rich Internet Application’ which is software which allows you much more control over how the information that is important to you gets displayed. It’s good and you will see a lot more of these sort of tools which take information from the web and present it to you in a much better way than previously possible.

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14 January 2009

Star Wars Mouse


I saw this on Microsoft’s homepage and it took me a while to understand what it was. It’s their new mouse and it looks great.

It’s as though it has come out of the Apple design studios it’s so different. It’s about time we had some different looking hardware and this mouse is great.

Compared to these old fashioned looking things which 3 Microsoft Wireless Mice v.s. Apple Wireless ...we are all used to.

Image by williamli1983 via Flickr




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Overspending on web development for small businesses

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Some years back, I set up and launched an online delicatessen which sold the produce of small farmers and producers. There was a demand locally and nationally, and it was differentiated from other delicatessens.

I hired a web design company to set up a super web site which had e-commerce capabilities. But, I had no money left to market it effectively and it broke the business.

The lessons were that I should have spent far less on the web site, more time building my business at small markets to begin with, more time writing a blog about food and producers which pointed to my web site and developed my business more cheaply using suitable web methods.

If I had done this, then I would have enabled the business to survive and kept vital cash in the business while still promoting it through my blog and web site.

There was no Twitter at that time and Facebook was barely off the ground. Google Adwords did work and brought me some nice leads, but even then, it cost more money than I had left to market it correctly with the lack of money to do it.

Web sites are important for small businesses but you must keep your scale and your ambitions in check and invest in your web site in line with your clear marketing strategy and budget.







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13 January 2009

Surveys just waste our time

Common rubbish in a bin bag.

Image via Wikipedia



I had to laugh this morning watching the BBC’s breakfast TV show this morning while eating a slice of toast. One news item talked about a new survey which was revealing which fast food retail outlets were the worst offenders for causing litter in the UK.

Why on earth do you need a survey to tell you that? You just have to look at which are the most numerous fast food outlets in your local town or any town you pass through on your travels to make a pretty well informed guess at which those fast food outlet offenders are likely to be.

Of course, it is not the fast food outlets causing the littering. They merely provide the materials for people with less than adequate socials skills to make their statement about not caring about their environments.

It appears that the BBC is littering the airwaves with these nonsensical surveys which just waste our time and don’t reveal anything that we don’t know already.






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Will LinkedIn and Twitter kill telemarketing?

I have recently joined a great small business which develops digital Telemarketing officesolutions for its clients and produces very high quality work. I have been hired to develop new business so that they can continue to grow their profits and expand their capabilities.

The small sales team is very good and highly committed. In the past, to generate new leads and appointments they hired the services of a telemarketing company. They pay them £400 per appointment made as long as it is qualified to their requirements.

Fair enough, you may think, for them to pay the telemarketing company that sort of money for making them appointments according to their brief. But, if they make five appointments for them a week the bill soon mounts up (£2,000 a week if your maths is a bit tired!).

I have been encouraging them to use LinkedIn and it was easy to see that using this tool will be far more effective for the sales team to find new clients than paying a telemarketing company.

Using LinkedIn, I found a prospect in the group of one of their existing key clients. We asked their current contact if he knew the person in question and he replied in the positive. We now have an appointment with contact found on LinkedIn and it cost us nothing bar a couple of phone calls and an email, saving us £400.

So, my question is simple. Will LinkedIn, and other tools such as Twitter, kill telemarketing companies when it is far easier and cheaper to find key prospects using these tools?


Image via Wikipedia


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09 January 2009

Keeping it simple

Keeping it simple in sales is very important.  To paraphrase Ivan Misner on ‘Entrepreneur.com’ ’Learn how to communicate what you do in a way that’s relatable to your customers and their contacts.’ It’s good advice but surprisingly difficult to achieve.

I have just started a new role with an excellent company of software developers who are very skilled and whose business has been expanding very nicely in the last year and a half despite the difficulties in the economy.

I have come aboard to find us new clients in order to profitably continue the growth.  I have been tasked with developing our strategy for finding and delivering new business. This is a great challenge and it is fun.

The first thing I have asked them before I start talking to prospects is a simple question “What do we best and better than anyone else?” It is always interesting to hear what people think and say when they are asked this question. It is a question which is quite difficult to answer and I am working on it with them.

We need to ensure that we can tell our customers exactly what we do because if we don’t know how can our customers and prospects expect to understand?

I am working on this now before moving onto reworking how we express our services on our web site.

Here is our web site. www.mmtdigital.co.uk If you have any suggestions on how we can improve the message on about what we do, I am very interested to read your suggestions.




07 January 2009

Selling like they’re your friends

This is a great article about selling to customers as though they are your friends.


Back to social networking blues

Three days back at work and you wouldn’t know that you had been off work. Well, apart form that I have just started a great new job in an exciting business.

My first day was very revealing about the use or misuse of Facebook! The number of people who had written their true feelings about going back to work was noticeable. Some had written about how they would rather break their leg than go back or about their overwhelming reluctance.

People forget just how public their Facebook profile is and it was fun hearing people squirm when their boss commented on their comments!

One social networking tool I have been using is Twitter. Initially sceptical, I am starting to see how useful it is for picking ideas and information and for finding people who are interested in the same things that you are interested in. Addictive is the wrong word for Twitter.

It is a step up from just Googling to find interesting information. With Twitter, you search for terms or topics you are interested in and sign up to or follow the ‘Tweets’ that people write about that and other details.

More often than not, I have picked up information, news and articles which I would never have found through just Googling them.

After a short while, I noticed I was getting a bit overwhelmed with Twitter and following ‘Twitiquette’ which involves politely saying ‘thank you for following me on Twitter’ when people start signing up to hear your Tweets.

So, I found some interesting tools including ‘Tweetdeck’, which sits on your desktop and draws down your Tweets from the internet automatically. Also, there is ‘Tweetlater’ which politely respond to anyone who follows your Tweets for you.

Twitter looks like being a useful tool for seeing what people are saying about your business, or information you are interested in a much more active way than Google or other search engines.

03 January 2009

VOIP and virtual classrooms

Using VOIP in conjunction with virtual classroom delivery of training, is good if it works. But with some virtual classroom systems you can enable the delegates to record a version of the session to their local machines. In my experience, this can make demands upon the VOIP system of the virtual classroom which negatively effects the voice quality.

Also, if you use VOIP which is integrated with the virtual classroom, when the virtual classroom service is interrupted, so is the VOIP with it. This leaves the delegates 'stranded' which is why I always have a normal 'phone bridge backup in case this happens.

I work with another phone bridge provider which provides a good service compared to most phone bridge/conference call services by way of offering an 'all you can speak' product thereby stripping out all of the variable, price per minute services on the market. For example, for one phone bridge number we pay only £39-95 per month no matter how many conference calls we make per month on that number.http://www.allconferencecalls.co.uk .

Alternatively, you can use Skype with a virtual classroom. I have used some good services which combine phone bridge with Skype ( http://www.hidefconferencing.com/) so you can enable your delegates to use either VOIP or a normal phone line in a session. This is quite cheap to use and it also has good chairperson controls to mute everyone if there is a lot of background noise and to control the questions being asked so that the trainer can keep his course on track.


The trainer must set the rules at the beginning of the course to say when he/she would accept questions live and when he/she would answer them through the usual Q&A tools in the VC. To me, this sounds like a case of poor virtual classroom preparation by the 'training company' and the trainer.

There are large financial benefits to be gained by using a virtual classroom system compared to a 'bricks and mortar'. If we were not using our partner status with Microsoft, we would only be paying £100 per month for an account with one of their service providers in the UK for Live Meeting 2007. Add this with our 'all you can speak' phone bridge service (when we are not using VOIP) then the cost benefits are easily seen over a traditional classroom. A traditional classroom in the UK can be rented per day for about £250 to £300 for a non-technical classroom.

The virtual classroom makes business sense as long as the product is sold correctly and, to re-iterate my earlier comments,any virtual classroom course needs to be run in a very particular way to ensure that the learning value is not lost.

If you would like any further input and advice, please do drop me a line. I have run virtual classroom based courses with my own business, for the UK largest IT training company and also for Hewlett-Packard over the last three years and I have a lot of experience in how to run and manage them.



02 January 2009

Using virtual classrooms

I have been using and trying virtual classrooms for three years and have used Webex and Live Meeting mainly. I have also looked at Citrix's 'GoToMyMeeting'. I have been using Live Meeting as our choice of virtual classroom in my own live online learning business (www.retendotraining.com) for a year now.

Of all of the systems I have used, Webex was the most reliable but the most costly. Live Meeting is cheap (if you are a Microsoft partner), GoToMyMeeting) is good but lacked VOIP capabilities when we looked at it. I looked at Moodle but it required too much development for us at the time.

As for effectiveness, that really comes down to the trainer and the content. The trainer needs to be very skilled in delivering the course in a virtual classroom because they need to keep the delegates engaged which is much more challenging than in a normal classroom. They do this through asking questions, by using whiteboard scenarios onto which delegates write responses, using polls and running live demonstrations or videos, as well as asking for feedback on whether the course is running too fast or too slowly.

Most of the virtual classrooms enable these capabilities. Webex is strong and reliable and enables you to add on modules to help administrate courses. Live Meeting through Microsoft can sometimes be unreliable when using the VOIP.

The content needs to be delivered in a different way which, in a nutshell, requires it to be broken down into chunks which are delivered in no more than two hours at a time in the virtual classroom. We deliver two modules of two hours each per week through a virtual classroom per course, for instance. But the main point is that you need to make sure that the content is delivered in a very engaging way to make up for the lack of face to face contact.

As for delegate reaction to this form of training, my experiences are mixed. Some like it, some don't. Those that like it, like the variety (we mix up live sessions with self-paced learning, practical work and modular assessments). Those that don't like it are usually trying to learn when they are at their workstations which can be noisy and distracting which inhibits effective learning.

Dr Ruth Clark has some very useful information about using virtual classrooms effectively. http://www.clarktraining.com/.

In general, don't expect that a course designed for delivery in a normal classroom can be delivered through a virtual classroom without being adapted to the online environment.

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