The Importance of Communication

July 25, 2017

Events of the last few weeks have reinforced the importance of good communication. It doesn’t matter a hill of beans if your actions are right, if no one understands them.

Like everyone else, I feel so saddened to hear the news about Charlie Gard, the baby whose doctors refused to allow experimental treatment in the US.

Five years ago, our six week old son was admitted to Great Ormond Street Hospital with a stomach condition that left him unable to feed and seriously weak. We were lucky. He had an operation that reversed his condition and he now lives a completely normal life.

As this is a professional blog, I won’t dwell on the anguish that we suffered at the time, but feel it’s important to share this story at last, as it has reminded me so much of challenges faced by Charlie Gard’s parents, pitted against such an influential and important London hospital.

Whilst GOSH did a terrific job of fixing our son (and thank goodness they are so brilliant), their communication with us as his parents was horribly vague. Our son’s operation was delayed and we hardly ever saw a doctor.

In this situation, it’s very tempting to look elsewhere for support.

I’ve never written about this before as I feared that spreading any negative feedback about this incredible British institution might jeopardise funding for the research and care that GOSH provides. My message is… GOSH please look at your communication strategy with parents. Explain why your decisions are right, ensure your staff are well trained in communication, regardless of how senior their clinical expertise. As in business, communication is just as important as the decisions you actually make.


How to Plan an Effective Marketing Strategy

July 28, 2016

Marketing_Planning

If you run a business, how do you build an effective marketing strategy? It sounds so easy, doesn’t it?

If you’re not sure of how to plan your marketing, the worst approach is to adopt a scatter-gun approach. The following are statements that are heard too often in companies who have just realised that they should be doing more marketing: “It worked for so-and-so”, “Look, this is new so we must try it”, or conversely “We’ve always done this so let’s keep on doing it”!

Let’s bring planning, analysis and objectivity into decision-making around marketing.

You shouldn’t even start on your marketing plan until the business plan for the company is in place. Marketing is not a panacea for the business. You must know who you are trying to sell to, in what markets and have researched the competition. Pricing and product design needs to be just right as otherwise your marketing will not work.

So assuming that you have a business plan in place, budgeted targets for the year to come, and know who you are selling to and what you are selling, how do you put together your marketing strategy?

Discussion and research are the next steps. In B2B marketing, the number of people who really matter is small. So find them. Find out what they read, which events they attend and how they like to be contacted. If you’ve not marketed your business before, put together a plan that includes a good spread of different activities so that you can measure the results and fine tune your offerings.

How to Measure Marketing Activities

Here are some simple measurement tools:

Your website: Install Google Analytics and become familiar with the reports. You can look at everything from the number of visitors to the geographical locations of visitors, to their journey through your site. Look to improve your site to remove or edit poor performing pages. Do more of the things that work.

LinkedIn Posts: Get into the habit of logging shares or Likes for your content and comparing the performance of different types of posts.

Social: Use Twitter’s professional reporting for stats on your engagement. You can log into your YouTube account to see simple figures around views in the Creator Studio dashboard. There are a large number of social media monitoring packages out there such as Hootsuite. Check out this useful article.

Events: How many people attended? How many people did your team engage with? How many followups / orders resulted from the activity?

These are just a few of the measurements that will help you analyse your marketing activities without needing to turn yourself into a premier data scientist (with a huge team and a budget to match). This sort of analysis (effectively Marketing KPIs) should form part of your assessment of your success every month, quarter and end of year.

What’s the Best Format for a Marketing Plan?

If you don’t have a specialist marketing software, start with a scaled down approach where everything is plotted out in Excel. Create a front worksheet for general company marketing and then create a worksheet for each business line that you need to promote. List all the forms of marketing that you will use for each business line. Typical headings would be: Website and Digital, Email Marketing, List Purchasing, Events etc. Under each heading list each activity with the date of the event and the budget. Add another column for the Actual Budget.

Marketing_Plan_Example.png

If your plan requires you to market a lot of products or business lines simultaneously, it helps to add all activities into a digital calendar so that you can see week-by-week what you have to do. Google Calendars enables you to colour code each product or business line so that you can keep track of them.

Having done all of this, if you need a summary document to explain it all, you can create one in Word. Some boards need an executive summary.

If you would like the sample marketing plan in Excel shown above, ask me to send you one here.

 


How to Select Images for your Website

November 2, 2015

I’ve written on this issue before and to be honest, I could write about it dozens of times. It is incredibly hard to pick images for websites and worth all the time and attention that you can throw at it.

We’re currently working on a new Zoe Buckingham Ltd website (coming soon!) and I have to say that selecting images for your own website is much harder than selecting images for someone else’s! I guess it’s all too close up and personal.

Without knowing your company, it’s hard to guide you on the right style for your site, but I’d like to give you some pointers from a stylistic perspective that really are worth considering.

  1. This is the most important point… The images must be similar stylistically. For example, choose all photographic images or all illustrations. Don’t mix the two. It simply doesn’t work. To fine tune this, if you are using photographic images, choose photographs taken in the same style. For example, don’t mix a sepia image with a bright colourful one. In the same way, don’t mix illustration styles.
  2. Find out the measurements of the images on your website and crop your chosen images before purchasing them. Only a very experienced designer will be able to gauge whether an image is suitable purely by eye. You could find the most amazing image in the world, but the best bits of the image could be lost in cropping the image to the correct size. Most image libraries will let you download a watermarked image in low resolution and you can usually load this into your website to get a feel for how it will look.
  3. Seek out well priced stock photography libraries. The market is changing all the time – stay agile. The best libraries continually refresh the content on their sites.
  4. As a general rule, when searching for photographic images, avoid cliché and clothes on models that look too fashionable. These will date incredibly fast. If you’re in business and your site is targeted at lawyers, for example, beware of photographic libraries that show pictures of endless models in their twenties in poorly cut suits giving each other “high fives”. Look for integrity in the way that you represent your brand.

I hope that you’ve found these pointers useful and that perhaps they’ve even raised a smile. Stay tuned for further updates.


Why Spend Money on Social Media? Yes Really.

January 18, 2013

Social_Media_Image_purchased

Over the last few days I’ve been interrogating the rationale behind social media. I’ve been suffering from an existential angst that all this social media stuff is at best a kind of ‘branding wallpaper’ and at worst a big waste of company profits. OK, maybe this is an oversimplification, but bear with me while we consider it further.

These thoughts have arisen from a number of conversations with people I respect in various marketing-related areas.

First, in conversation with a published leader in creative thinking and ex Creative Director of several major ad agencies, the prospect arose that “Social Media might just be a big South Sea bubble.” I assume that my co-debater’s rationale relates to the overwhelming hype surrounding social media and the proliferation of platforms, some of which have questionable influence. The same person also cited Apple’s strategy in not engaging in social media – no Facebook, no Twitter, just strong brand building using other channels.

Second, reading an article about new Facebook measurements which set more store by local popularity. The tenet of the article based on the work of a company called Social Bakers was one of “look at who’s now up the list and who has gone down” as if it was some sort of beauty contest.

Third, working with a client whose family business has been running since 1947, who expressed the wish not to be a ‘busy fool’ – he wasn’t specifically referring to social media but the way that various forms of promotion can involve expense, effort and, in the end, er, perhaps not the anticipated profits.

So why spend money on social media? Here are just a few answers to consider:

1. There isn’t another way  to reach your customers and other interested parties such as the press and investors with such reach and immediacy.

2. If you are not controlling the conversation about your brand, someone else will – and it might not be favourable.

3. Social media enables you to engage in a conversation with the market, to learn more about customers’ views of your products and services and to ensure that the market views your company as open and approachable.

That said, social media can act as an enormous money pit and it is important to consider the objectives behind every channel and campaign. As with any off-line marketing, think about audience carefully – as each channel has a different profile – then allocated resources accordingly. Ensure that communications within the channels you choose are fitting in terms of style and tone. Measure all activity using both online tools and offline tools such as client surveys and even just talking to customers to understand where they go for information.

Many of my clients are businesses who make money by selling to other businesses. For these companies, social media is equally important but the channels may vary. Facebook is relevant for some B2B businesses and LinkedIn and Twitter are probably relevant for all.

On reflection, social media should be an important element of a company’s marketing strategy but I’m glad that I considered the question This is because it is easy to become over-influenced by the social media industry. The social media industry is like any other business. It’s there to do a job but it’s also there to make money. Make sure that social media activity is strategic, regular in order to be effective, engaged and well managed. Above all, focus on measurement and the bottom line.


Burgeoning Asia

September 18, 2012

Hong Kong – Just One of Asia’s Burgeoning Economies

Last week I was fortunate to be invited to a seminar on the burgeoning Asian economies of Korea, Japan, China and Hong Kong organised by the redoubtable and charming Mei Sim Lai, businesswoman, this year’s Master of the Worshipful Company of World Traders and senior member of the City of London IOD.

Japan continues to dominate the Asian economies despite the recent disaster at Fukushima. The country is one of the seven leading global economies with a strong emphasis on research and intellectual property. Japan boasts and enviable portfolio of successful global companies and is rated one of the safest nations in the world with the best infrastructure. In many ways the the country’s handling of the recent earthquake’s aftermath has reinforced Japan’s reputation as secure and well managed and communications specialists have much to learn from the smoothness of the country’s public relations surrounding the disaster.

Korea has grown 144 times over since it was devastated by war 60 years ago. There is a wonderful quote from Warren Buffet that “Korea, which has intellect and passion, can’t help but succeed”. The country is a technological powerhouse with the highest broadband penetration in the world, a position in the top seven for R&D investment and an IT industry worth $271 billion.

China is of course growing rapidly but the figures, when seen in black and white are astonishing. No longer just a production base, there are 5.4 million mainland private enterprises and an annual GDP growth of 9.4% over the last 10 years. China has a growing middle class that currently stands at 300 million, which is leading the country towards travel, wine purchasing and luxury goods. The country is now the second largest luxury consumer market in the world.

As one of China’s two independent territories (the other being Macao), Hong Kong is a gateway to mainland China with simple taxation and easy communications links. Hong Kong is undergoing an incredible rate of infrastructure development including five new railway projects, the development of the Western Kowloon Cultural District, a bridge linking the territory to Macao and a new Cruise terminal.

Clearly there are enormous opportunities for both trade and consumer business across these markets. There is much in Asia to occupy Western CEOs and Marketing professionals can be sure of enjoyable – if heady – ride. A word of warning came from David Cairns, now with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and formerly Director of UK Trade & Investment in Japan: beware of ”hot and cold’ marketing within Asia, particularly in Japan. Business Development must be seen as a long term strategy in order to win respect. This is a challenge for public companies where the temptation is often to tweak marketing budgets from year to year depending on last year’s performance.

If you’d like to discuss market development in Asia or anywhere else, I’d be delighted to share some ideas.


Marketing Trends for B2B Businesses

September 1, 2011

Marketing Trends: Running Forward not in Circles

We’re often assaulted from all sides by the newest marketing trends and for many companies, there’s just not enough time to sift through and work out the worthwhile. It’s all too easy, then, either to stick with the known or to jump into the newest trends without much thought or research.

As a marketing consultant, I spend a lot of time reading up on the latest techniques and also trying to make assessments as to what has worked, and not worked, for my clients. I’d like to share some recent thoughts based on both my own experiences and research.

Workable Marketing Trends for B2B Businesses

1. The website. OK, we all know that you need a website, but I’m really talking about a constantly evolving, compelling website that knocks the socks off the competition. Dedication to Search Engine Optimisation strategy, good writing, excellent design and links to the right kind of social media sites.

2. Networking. This is critical to any B2B business and should involve strategic networking with potential clients and industry influencers. It can include conferences, seminars, networking events and online networking using social media tools such as LinkedIn. Don’t believe me? A recent study created by Citrix Online showed that events and breakfast meetings were ranked as the highest scoring strategy at 37.8%, with public relations running shortly behind.

3. Public Relations. Never, ever underestimate the impact of your company’s name in print or online. Get there first, make your opinions heard and this will put you ahead of your competitors. There are also secondary benefits to mentions of your company URL in terms of the links it will provide to your website.

4. Social Media. The impact of social media is growing. We are now seeing a real online community developing, and as time goes on, I really believe that it will be better managed and more closely mirror the offline world. So for example, whereas we sometimes need to ignore badly run LinkedIn groups or vacuous Facebook pages for business, increasingly we will see a higher level of scrutiny and approval by the online community. Essentially, as people become more confident and familiar with the online world, they will be become more demanding and start to filter those that they do – and do not – want to hear from. Social media of this decade will be about utilisation of fewer channels and a higher quality of communication. Remember the dross that used to pop up on internet searches? Notice how the search engines have refined search results? Watch this happen now with social media.

5. Multimedia. Video is the new photo. We really will see a great deal more use of video and interactive media to illustrate points and promote companies. There are SEO benefits here too.

So those are my views on future trends. Let me know your thoughts on the way that marketing is heading.


Growing Your Business in a Recession

February 2, 2011

 

Keep a Sense of Focus in Recessionary Times

In November, I posted on How to Market in a Recession, explaining the importance of free information, relevance and careful testing of marketing strategies.

The more I talk to clients and consider the best ways to grow my own business in the current climate, the more synergies I see. So I decided to share these learnings in the hope that they are useful to others.

It may seem hard to imagine, but there is indeed much business in the current climate. It’s just a case of identifying where it is and tailoring your proposition to fit. Here are some thoughts on how to run your business in a recession:

1. Explain the value in your proposition. Don’t just give your customers value, explain where the value is. Your customers may need to justify their spend either to a board, their colleagues or even themselves.

2. Provide open pricing models. Offer a variety of different pricing options with the services very clearly defined for each one. This puts customers fully in control of how much they buy and for how long. This is true whether you are promoting office maintenance services to companies or running a restaurant for tourists. By providing an ‘a la carte’ or ‘set menu’ offering, customers feel in control of their purse strings and are more likely to want to buy from you.

3. Understand your client’s business in depth. By tracking your client’s business, you can help them stay on track and understand the challenges that their business is facing.

4. Deliver quality. Quality is always a prerequisite, but look at the details. What more can you offer to enhance your service offering? What can you do better?

5. Sweat the detail. Think about everything that’s important to your customer and make sure that your products and services meet those needs. For example, if you are running a tourist restaurant next to a beach, what would make someone visit your cafe instead of the one next door? Then, no matter how inconvenient to you, make those changes. If there are fewer customers on the beach, you want them to be eating lunch with you, not your competitor down the promenade. It sounds Darwinian but it’s true. If you are running a telecoms service for businesses, what annoys clients about the way other companies send their bills, extend lines of credit, send their engineers, pick up the phone? Take every one of these points and do them better in your organisation, even if it means taking tough decisions.

6. Continue to market. There are some cuts that need to be made in tough times, but make sure that everyone knows you are still there and open for business. Use innovative strategies, challenge pricing models, by all means, but make sure you promote your company with as much energy as in the good times.

I hope that these thoughts are useful. It would be great to hear your experiences.