Friday, 28 January 2011

Real Business #8 - Achieve More

Real Business is a series of posts that analyses the marketing opportunities and challenges of real businesses in the South East. The articles are also appearing in The Courier.

Ruth Malone's recreational activities have always revolved around health and fitness, particularly when indulging her passion for climbing. Like many before her, she decided to turn her hobby into a means of earning a living and so started down the road of establishing herself as a mobile personal trainer.

A few months passed before she was introduced by friends to Howard Spary who had been made redundant from his training and development job with Axa PPP in Tunbridge Wells. They found they had a lot in common and shared similar views and aspirations. A 50:50 partnership was born.

Six months ago they moved the business to a location in Vale Road, Tunbridge Wells, taking two floors above a café - the middle floor devoted to personal training clients, and the upper floor to treating injured athletes by using chiropractic, massage and other rehabilitation techniques.

The defining moment came a few months later when, out of the blue, the new business partners were offered the opportunity to acquire the café itself. Given that nutrition and diet play a major role in overall fitness, it was agreed that, although moving into catering had not been part of the original vision, offering healthy food to customers was a logical extension of the physical activities.

Today the company is a truly “one-stop health shop” with three distinct elements: personal training, treatments and the café. All three are profitable.

New clients often become so by walking into the café in the first place simply to buy food. Others tend to come through referral by existing clients, word of mouth, or through social networking sites such as Twitter.

Forays into advertising have not been a success, but investment in a good website has paid off. There are currently 25-30 “active” clients and the company is on the verge of signing its 100th customer since opening its doors for business 18 months ago.

The business challenge is to achieve optimum capacity for all three strands of the business. If the model works, more branches may be opened.

The main marketing challenge is to bring the three main elements under the umbrella of one brand and make the brand more visible.

The Marketing Eye says:

This is a really good example of brand extension – expanding your offer, but keeping it closely enough aligned to the original business mission that it adds value and doesn’t become a full diversification.

Many people wouldn’t have seen the link between a café and a fitness business, but it looks to be a stroke of genius. The café is a great way of pulling people in off the street and creating the opportunity to sell the fitness offering.

There is little reference to the café on the Achieve More website; instead Ruth and Howard have elected to create two separate websites. They shouldn’t shy from bringing the two together, because it is the combination that makes the brand unique and provides the platform for expansion to other locations in the future.

The business needs visibility and the alternative to advertising is PR. There is a good story behind the brand and the press will be keen to follow it. Press releases and articles should be distributed to the local media on a regular basis. Advertising, if it is contemplated, is a long term strategy that requires a commitment of anything up to two years.

Achieve More already has a good presence online through effective use of Facebook and Twitter. Businesses are too often dismissive of social media because they don’t understand it, but Achieve More does and is 'achieving more’ as a result.

Ruth and Howard are on the right path. They need to maintain what they are doing - perhaps adjusting the volume of their marketing every now and again, but never allowing themselves to turn it off completely.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Social media for Accountants: an opportunity for publicity or a threat to your practice?

Martin Pollins, founder of Bizezia and a client of The Marketing Eye, shares his thoughts on the use of social media by professional services firms.

Earlier this month, Ryan Babel became the first Premiership footballer to be fined for 'inappropriate' use of his Twitter account. To bring this issue closer to home for the professional services community, accountant Paul Chambers lost his job and was fined £385 when he jokingly tweeted he would blow up an airport back in November 2010.

In their effort to keep up with the times, people launch themselves into using social media without any clear idea of 'why'. Accountants are no different. Paul Chambers' defence is evidence of the naivety still present when using social media, he said: "It did not cross my mind that Robin Hood (airport) would ever look at Twitter, or take it seriously, because it was innocuous hyperbole."

The fact is, people are taking it seriously, and this can work to your benefit as long as you approach it in the right way.

Mark Lee, former chairman of the ICAEW Tax Faculty, is now one of the most networked professionals in the UK. He runs 3 professional networks, has 3 blogs and has long been active on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, accountingweb and ecademy - he is living proof that it works

And accountants shouldn't believe that their clients and prospects don't use it, A
new study has shown that the over 50's are adopting social media faster than the younger generation and they are three times more likely than the average 50+ person to earn £50,000 or more.

Like anything new, there are a few things to remember when setting out. Here is a short list of do's and don'ts that should be considered before embarking on a practice social media account.

The list includes:

• Do set clear communication objectives and question whether your 'posts' are working towards them.
• Don't start a
Twitter account, LinkedIn or Facebook page for your firm and then forget about it.
• Do communicate clearly and consistently
• Don't make spontaneous or ill-informed posts
• Do consider creating a
social media policy.

Social media is both an opportunity and a threat, it just depends how you use it. Like any form of communication you need to have a clear objective in mind, communicate simply and stay consistent.


Bizezia provides high quality website marketing applications and practice management tools to professional services firms. Bizezia's products are designed to make business easier and encourage people to to visit a firm's website through the provision of relevant and up-to-date content.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

For business' sake - interest rates must stay low

With inflation at 3.7%, why is everybody starting to advocate increasing interest rates?

The inflation in the economy is cost-push, not demand-pull. Simply put, prices are going up because the cost of goods is going up - not because demand is running away with itself on the back of borrowed money. The important subtlety is that it is import costs - principally fuel and food - that are going up, not domestic ones.

The theory is that as you increase interest rates, speculators are encouraged to buy sterling and its value goes up. The relative cost of imports therefore goes down.

But hang on a minute. The £ will only rise sustainably on the back of underlying economic strength. If that underlying strength doesn't exist, the £ will remain under pressure and we will be caught up in a perilous spiral of rising interest rates in a vain attempt to shore it up.

Economic strength comes from a strong balance of payments and a healthy business sector that is creating employment and driving domestic demand.

The consequences of a rise in interest rates now would be catastrophic for the recovery: our resurgent export industry would be dealt a debilitating blow and people with mortgages would be forced to cut back. Businesses too would be saddled with an increased cost - slowing employment and forcing some to the brink.

To load a rise in interest rates on top of an increase in VAT, the rise in fuel duty and the impending increase in employees' NI, all in the same quarter, would be a particularly vindictive form of masochism.

Interest rates will have to go up at some point - we all accept that - but only when we have an excess of demand, which is not now.

Please folks, see sense. A bit of inflation in the economy today, when the causes are readily identified and the adjustment rationally explained, is a worthwhile price to pay when the alternatives are contemplated.

Friday, 14 January 2011

In search of the ‘real’ digital native

We live in a digital world, but are we natives or immigrants?

In the summer I wrote a blog post about Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants, explaining the theory and outlining some of the commonly held opinions and assumptions. Since then, I have performed primary research in the field and can now share some of my findings.

The intended outcome for the study was to discover the differences in generational use of digital technology, with the premise that the generation born before 1980 found it harder to adapt to new technology and therefore used it in less abundance.

To sum up all the questions asked by the study in one blog post is difficult, so I will concentrate on the main three:
1. Are the generational groupings correct and a valid demographic segmentation for marketers to use?
2. Are immigrants being undervalued by some businesses?
3. What is the role of attitude?

The findings
The research revealed ‘natives’ to be more active than ‘immigrants’ in a wide range of digital uses.

The ‘neo’ natives, those born after 1990, showed a wider range and more frequent use of digital media than the natives. With this in mind, the fundamental tenant of Prensky's theory appears to be correct.

Based purely on these facts, segmenting a market by digital domicile would appear to make sense to marketers.

Marketers must not, however, make the mistake of disregarding online marketing when targeting the immigrant generation.

The results showed that around 70% of immigrants use a range of digital technologies four times a week or more - not as often as the generations that follow them, but they were found to be the most frequent users of e-commerce. Online marketing therefore needs to be at the heart of any strategy that targets the older generations.

But how old is old? If Prensky’s age grouping is to be believed, the youngest immigrants will be in their early thirties and the oldest well past retirement. Further research is needed into the segmentation of the immigrant population, but they surely cannot all be banded together as one demographic.

The qualitative research offered up a form of segmentation other than age, ones' attitude and willingness to use digital technology. This is where we find the real difference between a digital native and an immigrant. We can all think of examples of keen adopters and staunch 'refuseniks' amongst our networks of friends and contacts, be it in the use of computers in general or particular applications, for example social media.

Natives have grown up with the technology, it has always been there, they don’t have to ‘try’ to use it, they just do. The research discovered that many immigrants were determined to use it, whether to talk to a family member on the other side of the world, or to order shopping and make life that little bit easier. These immigrants went out their way to learn.

Another interesting finding was that natives and neo-natives, having always had technology, do not appear to push their digital technology skills to their potential boundaries. Indeed the results indicated that only a handful of natives or neo-natives have knowledge of ‘advanced’ technology, such as writing HTML code or using applications such as Photoshop to a high standard. The immigrant is much more inclined to explore and discover new territories.

In conclusion, it still seems to makes sense to segment generational use of digital technology into immigrant and native as the academics suggest, but a level of sub-segmentation is needed too - both by age and attitude. Businesses and marketers need to take note of the immigrants' determination to use digital technology and also of the risks of assuming advanced skills in the native generation.

We would like to hear how people perceive themselves without the restriction of given age groupings. Do you think you are a native or an immigrant?

Saturday, 1 January 2011

'Be prepared' - is the main advice for 2011 from The Marketing Eye

The Stock market has a Santa ride to a year-end high, interest rates remain low, inflation is above target, but not a major cause for concern, and manufacturing and exports are picking up.

So, what is there to worry about?

Well potentially, quite a lot. Expect an early adjustment to the stock market as soon as trading re-commences next week, interest rates will rise before the year is out and fuel will be more than 130p per litre by the time most of you read this. Hopefully, we won't have to add a series of strikes or, worse still, another General Election, to the obstacles we have to overcome during the year.

But this doesn't mean gloom and despondency.

Far from it. One of the first laws of good marketing practice is to understand your environment and if we go into the year suitably prepared for what is to come, we will have nothing to fear. As an old riding instructor once said: "There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad kit".

2010 was a significant one for The Marketing Eye. We doubled our headcount, launched a PR business and consolidated our reputation in event management. While it looks as though we will miss our stretching turnover target by a small margin, we will still achieve 50% growth - no mean achievement in a culture where, historically, the first reaction to any sign of difficulty has been to cut the marketing budget.

We are very grateful to new clients and old for the trust they have placed in us and consider ourselves fortunate to have clients that see marketing and The Marketing Eye as part of the solution, not part of the problem.

To look back on earlier posts is always amusing and, fortunately, I seem to have avoided any grave embarrassment with my predictions for 2010.

Marketing budgets were indeed hard won and major projects were either cancelled or heavily diluted. The focus on ROI was sharp - as it always should be.

Businesses in the UK made good progress with social media. Twitter moved on from 'toe-in-the-water' dabbling to an accepted way of engaging with a community that continues to grow exponentially. The non-believers, however, remain abundant. The art is to be discerning with who you follow and to build your profile with a relevant audience. Note the use of the word 'relevant' here.

Facebook fan pages have come a long way, with personalised Facebook URL's now being common place in promotional material. The Marketing Eye is using Facebook for short news items - a rolling commentary on what is happening in the business - and finding a good fit for it within our overall communications strategy.

The marketing soothsayers are out in force with their predictions for 2011. Picking our way through them, our 'Big 5' tips are:

  • Wake up to the reality of the 2012 Olympics. There will be more sport related references in marketing and sport sponsorship will become fashionable and effective. Lawyers will no doubt be busy advising on and defending against breaches of Olympic copyright.

  • Make sure your website is fully accessible on mobile browsers. There will be an explosion in mobile marketing and if your website is not accessible on a smartphone, make sure it is by the end of the year. Mobile is another reason to join in with Twitter and Facebook as these are easily and regularly accessed via smartphone apps.

  • Rein back on content generation. People are not reading reams of content online: instead, it is bite sized bulletins that can be consumed in downtime on smartphones that are needed. Be discerning in what you produce and who you send it to. - and don't forget to use PR to gain coverage in printed publications, radio and TV.

  • Don't get too excited by geo-location networks. 4Square and its compatriots are touted as the 'next big thing', but have all the signs of being a fad. There will surely be a backlash against revealing personal locations as people realise they are only of benefit to advertisers.

  • View marketing automation with healthy suspicion. Marketing automation gained ground as a buzzword in 2010, particularly in the US. Marketers must, of course, make use of all the technology at their disposal to increase the frequency and relevance of their communications. We sense, however, the same whiff of panacea as was promised by CRM systems in the 1990's. Any system is only as good as the information that is put into it and the people that access it. Marketing silver bullets will remain works of fiction. There will never be any substitute for an integrated and sustained programme of activity across a variety of media.
As well as paying heed to the foregoing, our 'be prepared' kit for 2011 will include even greater focus on client service to ensure we retain and reward the clients that we have; a new emphasis on making a contribution to the community in which we work, financial prudence to make sure we remain masters of our own destiny and a relentless commitment to building brand awareness in our core target markets.

On which note, may we wish you all a happy, successful and marketing led 2011.