Saturday, 28 March 2009

Advertising: rumours of my demise are exaggerated

There is a huge debate raging online about the future of advertising. Started by Eric Clemons, a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, on Techcrunch last weekend, even the mighty Google has become involved.

Professor Clemons argues that advertising is not trusted, not wanted and not needed. His target is internet advertising, but his comments might be said to apply to advertising in any form.

The main premise of his argument is that pushing a message at a potential customer when the message has not been requested and when the consumer is in the midst of doing something else, is destined to fail. He goes further and says that advertising is misdirection, almost a crime.

Nobody minds a point-of-view, but Professor Clemons is wrong and shows a lack of understanding of marketing and brand development. Advertising placed with the right frequency and in the right place works.

Search advertising is one of the most powerful forms of advertising precisely because it does not misdirect searchers, nor interrupts them, but instead provides the answers they seek: classified ads in print work for the same reason. A well designed brand advert in a glossy publication can be said to be an enjoyable part of the browsing experience while at the same time creating positive associations for the advertiser.

Businesses need to be visible and consumers buy from brands that they know and trust. Advertising supports these aims. While it is fair enough to wax lyrical about blogging (ahem), Twitter and other forms of PR, not everybody has massive reach through these media and nor are they always appropriate to the marketing objectives and target audience.

Advertising can be a money pit and there are alternatives, but the fact that there are options doesn’t discredit it as a tactic. Indeed, with the economy in turmoil, there is no shortage of places to advertise and prices are being driven down to acceptable levels. Don’t rule it out.

PS. If you think we should put our money where our mouth is, take a look at the back cover of South East Business this month.

Article by Eric Clemmons
South East Business - April edition

Saturday, 21 March 2009

If you can’t measure it, should you do it?

There is a famous marketing saying: ‘Half of my advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half’.

The internet has brought great improvements in the measurability of certain types of marketing activity, but that doesn’t mean to say that anything which isn’t online or that can’t be measured in terms of short-term sales should be abandoned.

The goal of marketing is to build relationships, whether that is with existing customers or prospects. Frequent communications – newsletters, alerts, articles of interest, anything that ensures constant contact – are vital, as of course is the content and quality of those communications. Customers don’t want glossy brochures boasting of capabilities and achievements, they want something that adds value and provides an opinion. This might be substantive updates on issues that are important or the sharing of ideas and best practice. Whatever it is, by communicating often and communicating well, we are keeping in touch and reminding our customers that they are important to us.

And we shouldn’t only communicate when there is work on. Maintaining contact during the quiet periods is key to keeping the relationship alive. Ideas include:

  • Keeping in touch with regular emails, publications and phone calls

  • Sending articles and clippings - ‘I saw this and thought of you’

  • Dropping in to see the customer on occasions (not so scary really)

  • Suggesting networking opportunities and potential introductions that might benefit the customer

  • Using entertainment and hospitality.

The measurability of these pursuits is sometimes difficult to gauge, but only doing what we can measure will lead to many valuable activities being abandoned. Staying close to customers by increasing the level of contact now will stand every business in good stead when the economic conditions improve.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Not such a twit after all

A few months ago I posted about Twitter and asked if Twitter is for twits: a fair question at the time and reflective of my healthy cynicism towards anything that feels more suited to people with an unhealthy aversion to daylight than a growing business.

Friends, colleagues and followers will have noted that my use of Twitter has increased in recent weeks and it’s fair to say that some of my initial views are changing. Hands up, I’m genuinely enjoying Twitter. I’m not a voracious tweeter, but I do try to post regularly and it’s becoming a lot less taxing to remember to do it.

In these days of information overload, it is indisputably helpful to have delivered daily a selection of items that inform, inspire or amuse me by people that I follow and respect.

An interesting an unexpected side effect of Twitter is that I feel closer to the people that I follow. There is an immediacy and dare I say, intimacy with the medium that I’ve not found elsewhere. I don’t think I’m alone in this: yesterday, and for the first time, I was discussing supplier selection with a client who said to me that she preferred one supplier over another because he tweets. Clearly a level of trust had formed through observing and engaging with the individual’s 140 character pearls of wisdom. Is this a one off, or a sign of things to come?

A businessman at heart, I still approach Twitter with a commercial mindset. I have objectives for Twitter and if I don’t fulfil them, I will stop. (The businessman in me also can’t help wonder when and how the founders will make money from it).

For the record, and so you can monitor our success, my goals for Twitter are to:
  • Build The Marketing Eye brand
  • Earn the respect of my peers
  • Be visible
  • Chart our progress

Twitter shows great promise as a tool to build the brand. The power and excitement is in its viral nature and there is a glow of satisfaction whenever a tweet or blog post is re-tweeted. This is still a rare enough event for it to be a real buzz.

Traffic to the blog and the website has definitely gone up. I can’t specifically attribute a new client to Twitter yet, but I’m willing to be patient. At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s a tool for direct selling – or not that I’ve discovered yet. If all else fails, Twitter is fun. To say that it disconnects us from real contact and relationships is nonsense. I also think it is harsh to say that people who Twitter don’t have enough real work to do. For some maybe, but Twitter for me is part of a strategy and merits the time that I apply to it.

An article in The Telegraph today (thanks @sammcarthur) says that 700,000 small businesses are now on Twitter. Surely we must be able to sell to them somehow.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Making brand values valuable

Brand values originated as a concept somewhere in the 1990’s when the understanding of branding evolved from being simply an exercise in corporate identity to it becoming a definition of the overall emotional experience.

Like most original thinking, however, it was not long before everybody jumped on the bandwagon and brand values became commoditised – a box ticking exercise devoid of any original thought.

I have lost count of the number of businesses I have seen that define their values as professional integrity, customer focus and team orientation, perhaps with a bit of politically correct social conscience thrown in for good measure. Frankly, if we don’t all have these values in our brands then we shouldn’t be in business in the first place.

So, if values are meant to be the foundation of a brand and the things that make it stand out from a crowd, what is the point of them if they are all the same?

Brand values have to be about more than just words. Rather than turgid mediocrity, we need to think about defining and measuring brands in terms of their emotional impact, both inside the organisation and outside it. This means:

  • Attraction - the capacity of our brands to be a magnet for attention
  • Energy - how our brands motivate action
  • Stature - what we are respected for
  • Spirit - how our brands can generate excitement and inspire.

Whether these are brand values or not, I don’t know and don’t much care. What I do know, is that this is what a brand should offer and stand for. Time spent working out how to deliver these elements will be far more rewarding than time spent looking through a thesaurus for a new word for 'integrity'.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Finding your niche

This guest post is by Sharon Wilding, Chartered Marketer and an associate of The Marketing Eye

One of the most important factors in any business, and therefore in any marketing plan, is knowing and understanding the customers you are going after. You have to recognise that it is impossible to market your product or service successfully to all people equally. It doesn't matter if you are a large or small business, you should still be defining the groups or segments of customers you want to appeal to.

The trick is to define the segment as tightly as possible. This is the essence of niche marketing - focus down on a group of customers that you can get to know very well and then ensure what you offer gives them the value they are looking for. Niche marketing helps you develop your products directly for their needs, and can save you a lot of wasted time and money in communications.

At the Healthy Business event I attended recently, a number of previous attendees gave testimonials about what they had gained from the last sessions. The most powerful one came from Alan Noakes of
The ICELAB. His business was developing websites, but he knew this was a crowded market where it is hard to differentiate yourself. The business seminars he went to helped him think differently about what he could offer to make him stand out from the crowd. The answer was to focus on the niche of ecommerce where companies are looking to create or upgrade their website to expand their online sales. Alan researched the local market and found that direct competition in this niche was limited. This gave him the opportunity to claim the ground for his own and establish himself as a real authority in this area, for example by establishing the Ecommerce in Kent Awards.

Of course you can target as many niche markets as you can handle, as long as you stay true to your brand. Alternatively, you can create new brands to target customer groups who might be very different to that for your core offering (there are sound strategic reasons for not wanting to be limited long-term to just one market - if it contracts or disappears you may be left high and dry).

Once you are clear who your customer is (and who is not) so many other things fall into place. Decisions about how you let them know about you and what you do come more easily the more you understand what your customers' needs are and how they tend to buy. If you feel really creative you can give them fully-rounded personalities and lifestyles: age, gender, life stage, where they live, what is happening in their lives and when they need you. Give them a name if it helps!

Narrowing your target audience through niche marketing does not narrow your chances of success - it actually improves them by narrowing your options in that particular circumstance and helping you choose more wisely where you put your effort. Limited resources mean that even products with mass market appeal have to start somewhere!

So grab a piece of paper and answer this question now for your business - who are your customers? How much do you really know about them? And are your marketing efforts really tightly targeted to what they need? If not - do something different!

Friday, 6 March 2009

Brands without chains

Jo and I had lunch today with Erika Uffindell, brand guru and founder of leading brand agency, Uffindellwest.

While we were speaking, I couldn't help wonder if it is possible to create and manage a brand anymore: it strikes me that we are entering a new paradigm where brands aren't defined by businesses, but by their customers.

Twitter has been thrown open to the world - and look at the results. Everywhere, people are creating applications and 'follow me' icons to turn Twitter into what they want it to be. What would have happened if it had been locked down with brand guidelines and IP protection?

David Meerman Scott talks about losing control in his World-Wide Rave - having an idea and releasing it on the basis that the rewards will come later from advocacy and followership. Perhaps it's not suited to every business, but it does seem that the organisations that are opening themselves up are the ones creating a new kind of brand awareness and loyalty, setting the stage for the next economy.

Is this a revolution or a return to basics? Listen to our customers, act with integrity, abandon manufactured values and deliver a brand that customers want: perhaps it's not rocket science after all.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The future's bright, the future's...


The representative from Yell came to see me on Friday to talk about the clients who we look after the Yell advertising for.

I had my speech prepared on how the printed Yellow Pages were dead for anything other than plumbers and double glazing companies and for our clients at least, it was now all about

To a large extent, he got the speech. He put up a good fight though and I was encouraged by many of the things that I heard. There are some interesting developments available now or on the horizon, which show Yell has been listening to its customers.

The objection about a lack of measurability of advertising in the printed directory has been addressed with the introduction of call-tracking. Call-tracking routes all calls through a dedicated local telephone number and allows accurate response statistics to be provided. Most business have no idea how many calls their Yellow Pages adverts are generating and this is, therefore, a step in the right direction.

More exciting is a move to pay-per-call charging. Using the call tracking system and combining it with predictive data, Yell will be able to base its pricing on the number of calls generated. Customers will decide how many enquiries they want over a certain period and Yell will use its data to advise on the size of advert required. The charging will be based on a cost-per-call and monitored through the tracking system.

I am told that cost-per-call should be available on within a few months and for the printed directory in 2010.

Another innovation that catches my eye is the introduction of video into This gives businesses a great opportunity to talk to visitors and stand out from the crowd. At £1100 for a Yell produced video (which can also be used for other purposes) or £350 to up-load an existing one, the pricing is within reach of many businesses and is something that I will be talking to clients about. We might even try it ourselves.

To see innovation inspired by competition and changing customer needs is encouraging and reminds the rest of us that we need to react, not submit, to changes in our own markets.