Sunday, 12 December 2010

Real Business #7 - Bishop's Services

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.

Bishop's Services Limited is the archetypal family business.

Like countless other men at the time, founder Ronald Bishop returned to civilian life at the end of the Second World War to find no job waiting for him so, in order to feed his growing family, he turned his hand to cleaning windows. What started out as a temporary expedient turned into a whole way of life. Without necessarily intending to, Ronald Bishop had taken the first tentative steps towards starting the business which today boasts an annual turnover of over £1 million.

Now 85 years old, Ronald Bishop has long been retired, having handed over the running of the business to his identical twin sons, John and Mark, who joined the family enterprise straight from school in 1970. In the intervening years, the business has evolved away from window cleaning into areas that are a logical extension of the company’s original activities. For example, nowadays office cleaning represents the backbone of the company’s workload which is focused very much on the business-to-business sector. Window cleaning work is still undertaken, but is now sub contracted to reliable people outside of the firm, while other services provided include carpet and upholstery cleaning, and wooden floor laying, fitting and renovation.

As part of a “one-stop” approach, the company will also undertake to deliver related supplies such as paper towels, toilet rolls and soap.

Still based in Crowborough, Bishops operates within a radius of around 30 miles with the bulk of the work coming from the Tunbridge Wells, Uckfield and East Grinstead areas. It has 8 full time employees and 85 part-time staff, but, typical of the “hands on” ethos of the company and its founder, both twins will occasionally put aside the fact that they are directors and roll up their sleeves to ensure that overnight cleaning contracts are fulfilled on time and to the correct standard.

Most of Bishops’ new work comes by word of mouth recommendation. John Bishop, the twin who tends to take care of office cleaning, contracts, strategy and finance, said: “We are reliable, trusted and organised. I’ve been told that in the B2B world you are doing well if you keep a client for 10 years. We have clients who have been with us for over 20 years, so we reckon that we must be doing something right”.

Bishops may have its traditional values, but it is not old-fashioned. It has set up three separate websites for its contract cleaning, carpets and flooring businesses and has worked hard on search engine optimisation to ensure that the Bishops name appears at the top of the Google list in the local area.

The challenge facing Bishops is how to develop and grow the business from now onwards. Securing office cleaning work is highly competitive – Bishops often finds itself part of a three-way pitch to gain a single contract. Efforts to promote the company and market its services through traditional methods, such as advertising in the local media and sending out flyers, have been used in parallel with more modern forms of marketing, such as email marketing and the internet, and are ongoing. In the meantime, the traditional word-of-mouth route remains effective but slow.

The brothers are anxious to improve on the cross-selling activities and readily admit that perhaps they have not yet made the best use of their client base and that client relationship management techniques could be improved.

By far the most dramatic growth could come by way of acquisition. John Bishop alluded to the possibility and said: “Having bought a few businesses in the past, we are eager to add to the Bishops’ portfolio, but we don’t want to spread out too far because we need good supervisors to cover the areas”.

However, until such opportunities come along, it is clear that the brothers will not be content to stand still and will continue to pursue growth by organic methods.

The Marketing Eye says:

How reassuring it is to hear of a family business that has prospered by sticking to its core values!

The business’ strongest asset is its carefully cultivated customer base and there is every reason to use this as the principle source of organic growth. The Bishops should not shy from asking existing customers for referrals. Nobody will mind being asked if they are happy with the service. They could even consider rewarding clients who make an introduction with free cleaning for a period.

Further cross-selling could be achieved by offering carpet-cleaning or flooring services to the staff of clients of the cleaning business. Simply raising awareness could be enough although a ‘special offer’ may help too.

Online, there is little linkage between the 3 websites and this won’t be supporting cross selling. The websites are also very text heavy. While this will be helping with search engine performance, it isn’t making the sites attractive or easy to scan for new visitors. Some new investment in website design would be justified. Bishops should also make sure that it is listed in Google Places so that it is shown in the map at the top of the search engine page.

In a competitive market, it is important to consider ways of moving the decision beyond price. Trust is a big issue for anybody who is going to hand over the keys to their office. New prospects should be encouraged to contact existing clients by adding the telephone numbers to testimonials. A professionally produced brochure will create a good impression and help persuade any unseen decision makers.

What advice would you give?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Read all about it - the definition of good PR

Angela Ward, Head of PR Services at The Marketing Eye, describes how PR adds value to businesses.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what PR actually is.

Having been a journalist for 20 years, I’ve been in contact with PR people and their messages for a long time – but now, on the other side of the fence and as a PR myself, I have to explain public relations to new and potential customers and it is useful to be able to explain exactly what it is.

During my time as a journalist I came across a wide variety of PRs – from those working in the beauty industry, who supplied me with almost hysterical press releases telling me how their latest perfume would change my life, to City PRs representing private equity firms on their investments and buyouts. Both very different types of approach – but still equally important PR to the firms involved.

The New Oxford Dictionary says that PR is: ‘The professional maintenance of a favourable public image by a company, organisation or individual’ and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, which should know what it is talking about, says PR is ‘the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics’.

To put it simply, PR is about building and guarding reputations. Every organisation has a variety of ‘publics’ and this is not just ‘the public’ at large. As a company, your publics can include clients/customers, distributors, suppliers, influencers, investors, the local community and, importantly, your own employees.

If the message that your employees are hearing, seeing and feeling every day in the workplace is a positive one, then they will be going home each day and spreading that around for you – whether that’s in the local pub or just between family and friends.

What PR isn’t is advertising. Advertising allows you to say whatever you want, within the constraints of law: it obviously has a cost implication, but it brings guarantees. Your copy will be included as you wrote it. But will people read your advert? That obviously depends on a number of factors – such as where you advertise and how attractive your advertisement is.

With PR, there are no such guarantees and you can’t control what a journalist will take from your press release, but if your copy gets used or your business is mentioned on an editorial page, then you get that all-important third party endorsement.

You can shout about how good your business is until the cows come home, but people may not believe you – and the more you shout, the less likely they will listen or give credence to what you are saying. If somebody else says that you are a good company with good products or services, whether they are a journalist, a happy customer or a member of your own staff, then that’s good PR.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Osborne navigates the South East economy across thin ice

Chancellor George Osborne was optimistic in his update to MPs on the health of the UK economy during his autumn statement today, but life is likely to remain unpredictable for businesses for some time to come.

George Osborne is only offering the lightest hand to businesses as he gingerly navigates the economy across thin ice. He is gambling that net export income and new investment will percolate its way through the system before domestic demand drops due to the cuts in public spending and the impending increases in VAT and employees’ National Insurance.

While his statistics might look encouraging at a macro level, I wonder if he truly appreciates how finely balanced it is on the front line.

The uncertainty, even among those of us that are doing relatively well, makes it very difficult for any business owner to commit to significant new investment or employment. Most businesses don’t have the option of suddenly opening up markets in China and India if demand falls at home.

The availability of finance will remain another significant inhibitor to growth. Osborne shouldn't believe the bank's spin when they say they are supporting small businesses. I have it on good authority that despite what the leaders and PR people might be saying, the people who work in the dark offices behind the scenes are scared rigid of making a mistake: credit is extremely tight as a result. If we need finance to grow in 2011, we will need to look elsewhere for the investment we need.

One of the best things George Osborne could do in the next Budget is to make it even easier and more attractive for private individuals to invest in small businesses. If the banks won’t do it, somebody else has to fill the gap.

While he is at it, Mr Osborne should also look at increasing incentives to employ people by extending the National Insurance concession for new businesses that was announced in the last Budget to the whole of the UK (the South East, London and the East where notably excluded). He should also stop limiting the allowance to start-ups, as it is the established businesses that will offer the most secure employment opportunities - particularly for young people.

Finally, it is time to update the concession on VAT for marketing materials. At the present time, printed promotional materials are zero rated for VAT. This needs bringing into the 21st century by extending it to websites, email marketing and pay-per-click advertising.
Any disincentive to businesses marketing themselves effectively needs to be urgently removed.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Give the kids a chance

I attended a meeting organised by the local board of Young Enterprise in the week.

Designed to bring local businesses and local schools together to put renewed energy into the Young Enterprise Scheme, it was, in fact, a rather dowdy, curly sandwich affair with an abysmal turnout and little to suggest it was a pivotal moment in the future of the scheme.

The sad fact is that Young Enterprise in the Eastbourne and Wealden area is dead. Lacking the support of both businesses and schools, this once great mainstay of extra-curricular activity has withered on the vine. The question is why?

Entrepreneurship has never been so 'cool' amongst young people. Programmes like the Apprentice and Dragons' Den top the ratings and the young founders of FaceBook, Twitter and Skype are global icons to the digital native generation. In schools, Business Studies is now a popular choice at A-level with students recognising that it is more likely to enhance their employment prospects than some of the more esoteric options will ever do.

Local businesses too are keen to put something back. Even in a time of recession, many businesses are still looking for opportunities to develop their staff and build a corporate social responsibility agenda - particularly if it can be achieved without writing a cheque.

So what is wrong?

The mission of Young Enterprise is sound: 'To ignite the spirit of enterprise in young people throughout the UK'.

The operation of the scheme, however, is cumbersome. There is too much emphasis on producing useless tat to foist on sympathetic grandparents at Christmas and too little on great ideas and vision.

The management infrastructure is top heavy and weak too. UK Boards, Regional Boards, Development Managers, Link Managers, Finance operations and Administrative support all layer on cost and bureaucracy which has to be borne by the participating schools in the first instance and the tax payer eventually. The local representatives, while undeniably well intentioned, looked tired and out of touch.

Vitally, the schools in the region are disengaged and it is a sign of the inherent weakness of the current operation that there seems to be little understanding of why this should be the case. Is it as simple as the £500 fee that schools have to pay each year to enter the programme, or is there a deeper cause in the lack of fit with the national curriculum, or a lack of teacher time and commitment? These questions need to be asked and answered.

The Young Enterprise brand is established, but faded. The future of our young people and the spirit of enterprise in our economy is too valuable to be allowed to fade in the same way.

With university places at a premium and the job market increasingly hostile for young people, there is surely no more important time to be putting fire in the bellies of our young entrepreneurs. Small businesses employ 57% of the working population and if we don't ensure a constant supply of new ventures, we will be destined to a permanent spiral of high unemployment and decline.

Can the existing infrastructure and brand of Young Enterprise be turned around and made into something good, or is it now time to re-engage with businesses and schools, understand what is really needed in the 21st Century, and launch something new and fresh?

I tend towards the latter.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Real Business #6 - Tester & Jones

While many companies have had a difficult time recently, Crowborough-based Tester and Jones is a business which has been truly recession-proof - funeral services.

Both Stephen Tester and Glenys Jones had a number of years of experience in the funeral business before launching Tester & Jones in January 2005. Stephen admits that the first year, as with any new business, was hard.

“There were times during the first year when we wondered if we’d made the right decision, but we stuck at it and after about 12 months, our hard work paid off. We started to see the business growing,” says Stephen.

“Like any business, networking is important,” he explains. “We went along to meetings of the Crowborough Business Partnership and made sure that local professionals and places like care homes knew we were there.”

Adds Glenys: “We also took part in community events – such as the Crowborough Hospital Fete – as well as fundraising for charities such as Cancer Research UK and Hospice in the Weald.”

Over the five years, the number of funerals Tester & Jones has conducted has increased four-fold and its reputation is spreading outside of Crowborough – with services being conducted in places including Mayfield, Eastbourne and Tunbridge Wells and as far afield as London, Margate and Chichester.

Customer service has played its part in the company’s steady growth.

“We have developed strong bonds with the families who we have helped through difficult times and we are passionate about looking after people,” says Stephen.

Around 18 months after establishing the business, the team launched a bereavement support group and this has been really well received. The group meets once a month and goes on trips and organises other socials.

“Nowadays, the group almost runs itself and they are even talking about arranging a holiday” says Glenys. “It gives people the chance to sit and talk with others in the same situation.”

Moving forward, while networking has done a lot to build business locally, Tester & Jones is looking at ways of continuing to build its presence outside of Crowborough. It has recently ‘refreshed’ its advertising and is now thinking about launching a website which, so far, it has survived without.

“We appreciate that people search for a lot of things online nowadays – including funeral directors,” says Stephen.

The Marketing Eye says:

Choosing a funeral director is often a spontaneous decision made amidst a maelstrom of emotion.

The bereaved don’t spend a lot of time comparing providers and are rarely in the mood to shop around, which means word-of-mouth recommendations and being front of mind when the time comes, are paramount.

The work that Stephen and Glenys have done to raise their profile locally is excellent. They have placed themselves at the heart of the community and shown real innovation with the bereavement support group. The fact that the group is starting to run itself is positive, but Stephen and Glenys need to make sure that their brand remains associated with it. A regular communication, such as a newsletter, will help with this.

Generating awareness further afield is more difficult. Stephen and Glenys need to decide on the areas they want to target if they are going to use their marketing budget effectively.

Searching for a funeral director online is most likely to happen when the responsibility for organising the funeral falls to relatives who are in a different part of the country, or if a particular type of funeral is wanted. A website will provide the ability to explain the various services on offer and reassure potential clients that their requirements will be dealt with professionally and compasionately.

If the business is specialist in certain types of funeral, it could look into search engine optimisation and paid search to maximise visitors to the website. This can be centred on geographic locations and will make sure that the Tester & Jones name comes up when people are looking for funerals of a particular type.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Forget digital domicile, it's social domicile that counts

Earlier this month Matt White posted on the topic of digital natives and digital immigrants and sparked some lively discussion from people born on both sides of the age divide. (I am, by some considerable margin, a digital immigrant).

In many respects, Prensky’s concept can be applied to any period in modern history. We have been adapting to the constant march of technology since the days of the industrial revolution and one has to ask if there is anything fundamentally different about this latest evolution in our development.

The identification of a new socio-demographic group is, after all, only useful if it gives us fresh insight into behaviours or likely future trends.

Norman Tebbit once famously argued that the test of how well one has adopted a new homeland is which cricket team is supported when the current meet the former. To apply the analogy here, how many digital immigrants would support a fax over email or a set of encyclopedias over the Internet? By this test, immigrants we may be, but our longing for a distant digital place of birth has long since been left behind.

As immigrants too, those of us born before 1980 have become naturally attuned to finding information on a website or working out how a new mobile phone works with little or no need for instruction. Partly a victory for good design, this also demonstrates our rapid naturalisation.

To see any fundamental differences in the natives and immigrants of Prensky’s study, therefore, is difficult. Those of us born before 1980 have become so comprehensively naturalised to a digital world that there is little to be gained by treating us differently for marketing purposes – or certainly no more than traditional demographic groupings would provide.

While the date is wrong, the concept does, however, provide some insight if it is brought forward a number of years.

The evolution of Prensky’s analysis would be to set the dividing line at around 1995 and ask whether one is a social native or social immigrant. The real generational gap is not in the use of digital technology per se, but in its use for communication, file sharing and networking.

When I left school, I had about a dozen friends that I could be readily in touch with. I knew where they lived and it was possible, but unlikely, that I had their telephone numbers written down. The passage of time has meant that this dozen has dwindled away to only one (I hasten to add that I’ve made some new friends along the way!).

As my daughter now reaches an age when she could technically leave school, she has more than 1,000 friends of Facebook. Some of these contacts will be a lot closer than others, but the point remains that she can follow their movements and get in touch with any one of them at a moment’s notice.

I doubt my daughter recognises the power of her network and certainly hasn’t built it with any sense of the future in mind, but imagine how useful this could be as these contacts become the lawyers, teachers, politicians and entrepreneurs of tomorrow: people she can turn to for jobs, advice, referrals or social interaction in a very speedy and natural way.

But we immigrants have not stood frozen in the lights. As social immigrants, we have not only strived to catch up, but have developed or monopolised certain networks and free resources of our own.

LinkedIn is positioned unashamedly for professionals that want to keep in touch and Twitter is dominated by 35 – 50 year olds who want to promote their businesses or demonstrate their pithy wit to a set of followers. Now we see new geo-location facilities such as Foursquare being harnessed by a more mature audience than their creators might have anticipated.

The immigrants’ use of these facilities might lack the natural behaviour of the social native, but we are embracing the technology and adapting it for our own purposes.

Which brings us to the terminology, for it is often the immigrant that recognises the opportunity in a new land and works hardest to prosper from it, while the native watches in the wings taking for granted what has always been around them.

So what does all this mean for marketers?

For marketers and businesses in general, the principle challenge when dealing with the social native is going to be how to make a commercial gain from a group that has come to expect so much for free.

Communications, music, video, news, research and games are all now accessible entirely free of charge. This is already proving itself to be unsustainable and we wait to see who is going to be brave enough to break the mould and how they will do it. With the notable exception of Google, advertising is not proving itself to be the answer.

Secondly, marketers shouldn’t forget that we have an aging population in the UK, in which the social immigrants are the largest group and the holders of the wealth. We need to continue to focus on this group and use available media appropriately to ensure its engagement with our brands.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Woolies to expand

In an update to our post of February 2009 about the re-launch of Woolworths, it was interesting to read in Retail Week this week that has 'delivered on target' after one year of trading.

Now its owner, Shop Direct, plans to expand the ladybird brand to include toys, nursery and toiletry ranges. It is also considering selling through shop franchises or under licence.

Toys and a nursery range make perfect sense for the ladybird brand, but toiletries? Surely this is a brand stretch too far.

We correctly predicted in 2009 that the future for Woolworths was on-line and yet the owners seemingly can't resist a return to the High Street. The difference this time is that they're not doing it at their risk, but at the risk of franchisees. This should be a clue.

Potential franchise holders must take a serious look at why Woolworths failed on the High Street and have a strategy for avoiding the same pitfalls before parting with their cash. (They can read our post of December 2008 if they need a reminder).

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Real Business #5 - ITM Soil

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.

The ITM-Soil Group specialises in the manufacture and installation of instrumentation to monitor ground and structural movement that occurs during major civil engineering projects worldwide.

The company manufactures a large range of instruments for monitoring earth, rock and concrete structures, including dams, tunnels, embankments, retaining walls, piles and steel work.

Since 2002, the Group has launched in Australia and it also has a presence in China and Germany.

The recession has bought significant challenges, but the group is confident that it can achieve its ambitious growth targets.

“The marketplace has become increasingly competitive,” says Jeremy Scott, General Manager. “There are fewer projects to go round and we now have to compete with suppliers offering cheaper products, particularly from India and the Far East.”

He continues: “We need to continue positioning ourselves as offering quality products and services – as we simply can’t compete on price alone. It’s a case of reminding customers that they need a really robust and reliable product – as it might have to work under the ground for many years – and for that peace of mind, you may need to pay a little more.”

In the future, the Group is looking to continue growing its presence in Australia – particularly focusing on the mining industry. In the meantime, countries in which ITM-Soil is particularly busy include Morocco, Spain, Brazil, Singapore and Germany.

The company is currently on the verge of launching a new wireless sensor system.

“Up until now, the majority of our products have been cabled – so to offer customers a wireless solution for our specialised sensors will be a major step forward,” says Jeremy.

For more information, visit:

The Marketing Eye says:

As the number of infrastructure projects in the UK falls and competition from abroad increases, ITM needs an international marketing strategy to support its expansion.

Marketing needs to be localised to the different target markets. This goes beyond simple translation of materials and should extend to cultural and regulatory differences as well: even colour choices can have different connotations in different regions. Mistakes can be damaging to the brand, so it is important to avoid them.

Localisation could start by translating the website into several languages. This will make the site more accessible to local decision makers and will improve its performance in search engines. Localised domain names could also be bought.

The choice of marketing method needs to be made with each market in mind.

European markets are mature and media consumption remains high. Impactful design is important to achieve cut through and give the brand its desired quality positioning.

Brazil on the other hand is young and social. Mobile and broadband penetration is very high making online marketing effective.

In Asia, getting a contract relies on connections and face-to-face contact. The good news is that half of the population is below the age of 30 and very open to new ideas.

Building the brand on quality rather than price will be achieved through the superiority of service, the ability to innovate and the effectiveness of the marketing. The introduction of the wireless sensors is an important step and needs a launch strategy in its own right, not just to ensure its success as a revenue generator, but also as a contributor to the brand.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Are you a digital native or a digital immigrant?

This post is written by Marketing Executive, Matthew White.

“It wasn’t like that in my day” is something often said by the older generation to the new one.

There is probably no greater example of 'it not being like that in my day' than the digital revolution that has taken place over the past 20 years - a revolution that has entwined digital technology such as the internet, mobile phones, video games and digital radio into our daily lives.

A growing number of scholars, academics and visionaries have started to believe this latest digital generation is not only different from the last one on a behavioural and social level, but that it thinks and learns differently too.

The new generation are widely known as ‘digital natives’ - a term coined by visionary Marc Prensky. Prensky claims that anybody born after the year 1980 has grown up so immersed in digital technology that it comes completely naturally to them.

Prensky defines anybody born before 1980 as a ‘digital immigrant’. These immigrants have known life before digital technology and, while adjusting well to their new surroundings, never lose their ‘past accent’.

But is it really that clear cut?

Many scholars challenge the claim on the grounds of gender, social demography and the scope of accessibility of digital technology.

They say that boys use digital technology more than girls; people from poorer backgrounds do not have the disposable income to use it; and arguably the most prominent catalyst for the digital revolution, the internet, is still not available in 10 million UK homes. Can the 10-year old socially disadvantaged girl without internet access still be defined as a ‘digital native’?

The debate is broadened by questioning the age-groups. A child born in 1980 was 12 when the internet was invented, a teenager when mobile phones took off and 21 before broadband became widely available. This compared with a child born in 2008 who plays with ‘toy’ laptops (that are actually real laptops), toddler i-phone apps and who can now interact with the cartoons on the internet.

Can both generations really have the same level of digital expertise?

I was born in 1985 and from my own recollection did not grow up immersed in digital technology. This technology, however, undoubtedly now plays a very important role in my daily life, in fact, I cannot imagine life without it. Does this make me a digital immigrant or a digital native?

Perhaps we should be questioning the very existence of the ‘digital natives’. Maybe we are all just immigrants constantly adjusting to the rapid pace of digital evolution.

Do you see yourself as a digital native or a digital immigrant? More importantly, what does it all mean for marketers?

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Demand Generation - the theory and practise. #1 Gaining acceptance

Over the last few months, we have been immersing ourselves in the concept and application of B2B demand generation.

For those unfamiliar with the term, Demand Generation is a marketing process that nurtures and engages prospects appropriately at each stage of the buying cycle.

We have a number of client projects in progress at this time and are closely monitoring the challenges and successes that we encounter. This is in the interests of continuous improvement, practical insight and, of course, great results for our clients.

The principle of demand generation is the application of multi-touch marketing communications that respect, and are tailored to, where the prospect is in the buying process. In simple terms, it is holding back from trying to close the sale on first contact - because the attempt will fail unless the buyer is ready to buy.

As ever, matching the theory to the practice is the hardest part and the first obstacle normally occurs at the acceptance stage.

The theory says that we must stop the salesperson going in too soon. Instead, we must align the nature of the conversation with where the prospect is in the buying cycle.

When implementing a programme of this nature, early challenges arise when you have a sales-force that needs feeding. A proposal to slow the flow of leads in the interests of a higher rate of sales conversion further down the line is rarely popular with a team that likes to show it is active, if not always successful.

This is closely related to persuading telemarketers not to go straight for the appointment when all of the instincts and training are directed towards this end.

The demand generation process requires nothing short of a wholesale change in the sales process and sales culture, which is a big ask of any organisation. We, therefore, address this with a three-tier approach to gaining the support and engagement of Sales.

Firstly, we enter into open and shared communication with the sales teams to explain the approach.

Secondly, we run a dual system in which we work the new approach on a specific set of data and allow traditional methods to run on the remainder. This retains the continuity of supply and keeps the sales team on board during the transition.

Thirdly, we persuade senior management to adjust incentives relating to the demand generation exercise to reflect nurturing, not just closures.

Demand Generation requires discipline and a whole-hearted commitment to the methodology by us and the client. A breakdown in any area of the process undermines the programme - and, more importantly, the results.

In future posts, we will take a look at some of the specific 'in-life' challenges that we encounter, such as generating relevant content and managing and monitoring the process without a sophisticated CRM system.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Time to decide

So, after what seems like months of campaigning it is now decision time.

The Conservatives have the clearest and most favourable policies for business and if my vote was to be cast on that alone, it would be an easy choice.

But, of course, it's not. A few pounds off the tax bill and perhaps a little less red-tape pales into insignificance when placed alongside the broader impact of a possible return to recession.

The central issue is how to deal with the structural debt. Labour says we must continue to invest to ensure a return to growth. The Conservatives say we need to put the breaks on and take the pain now. If your business was in a similar position, what would you do? The answer should guide your vote.

Throughout the campaign, Brown has been the strongest performer when it comes to the numbers. Close your eyes and listen to the content and it is evident that Gordon Brown wins hands down on substance. He knows that some of the promises made by the other parties won't work and has been straight when saying that NI must go up to allow spending to be slowly, not rapidly, constrained.

Cameron, a polished performer backed by a successful and well funded marketing campaign, promises the change that many feel is overdue. The PR machine has worked well and he has campaigned tirelessly.

The promised change though is a risk. Cameron conceded in the Marr interview on Sunday that only 20% of the necessary expenditure cuts have been highlighted, blaming the Government for not detailing its spending plans. Are we being softened up for broken election pledges already? - it feels like it.

The argument that the Tories don't know what they might inherit is ridiculous. The Institute of Fiscal studies has been able to produce a detailed analysis of the economy for all to see.

I worry too why Cameron won't be drawn on who he intends to appoint as Chancellor - no doubt fearing a backlash against Osborne. Surely, as his potential employer, we have a right to know what the team will be.

We then come to The Lib Dems who's star has risen too early. Their policies are ill-prepared and weren't written with Government in mind. Their time will come though. This election has shown that Clegg and his team are the party of the generation that is now under 30. They will have to be taken more seriously next time and are still likely to have a significant influence on this outcome.

So, where does that leave us. The Lib Dem balloon will be pricked if not popped and they will secure around 25% of the vote. The electorate will give Labour a bloody nose in the marginals leading to the loss of many key seats.

If all this happens, we will be looking at a narrow Tory victory and I suspect Cameron will try to lead a minority Government.

I find myself, like many others, torn between the Tory promise of a new impetus and Labour's dour pragmatism on a measured return to growth.

When I enter the ballot box tomorrow, my pencil will hover between red and blue. A hung parliament might have attractions for those that genuinely can't decide, but it would be a recipe for stalled policy making at a time when we need action.

Time is running out and it is now our duty to decide. I'm veering towards playing it safe.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Real Business #4 - Durlings

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.

Launching a business focusing on commercial property as the UK toppled into recession might seem like a rash decision but, 18 months on, Durlings sale boards are a familiar sight around West Kent and East Sussex.

Rupert Farrant launched Durlings in May 2008 after a career in property. He wanted to focus on commercial property and he wanted to run his own business.

“While the market was slow when we set up, low prices did mean that there were people out there buying commercial property for that reason – possibly for the first time, he said.

“We offer a one-stop-shop – dealing with everything from rent reviews to managing refurbishments and surveys, as well as both selling and letting commercial property.”

Today, around 75% of Durlings’ work comes from Tunbridge Wells, although the team has worked on projects as far afield as Portsmouth and Arundel.

“Tunbridge Wells is a great place to be located, with a strong base of professionals from which to gain referrals, ” said Mr Farrant. “It is also ideally based for London and offers an interesting mix of industrial, retail and leisure properties.”

When the firm started out, Rupert ran the business from a shop on Mount Pleasant, near the station. However, it is now based in offices in Church Road.

“It was great to have some initial exposure for the firm,” said Mr Farrant. “However, we realised that we didn’t get people just calling in, so we moved to Church Road, which has the added bonus of parking.”

Today, Durlings estimates that around 75 to 80% of its enquiries come via the Internet.

“We have kept our website simple and easy to navigate, while we also make sure we have listings on all the major commercial property sites, ” said Mr Farrant. “We also run an email alert – which means that properties are sent round to all our clients as soon as they are available . Our boards are also still an essential way of marketing .”

Mr Farrant said that the current movement in the commercial property market is due to a number of factors – leases coming to an end; people setting up a new business; or established business owners maybe taking the opportunity of current lower prices to buy property. What is currently missing from the market are investors – buying or selling – and developers.

Mr Farrant has plans to expand the business in the future – but wants to continue focusing on Tunbridge Wells.

“Bhav has been working and training with us and it’s worked really well – so I’d like to bring more graduate trainees into the business,” he said. “However, finding good graduates is a challenge – as less younger people have been attracted to the business during the recession.”

For more information, visit:

Challenges facing Durlings:

* Encouraging investors and developers back into the marketplace.
* Growing the business as the UK pulls itself out of recession.
* Making full use of the Internet as a means of advertising properties.
* Finding good graduate trainees to build their career with Durlings.

The Marketing Eye says:

While the absence of walk-in trade wasn't sufficient to justify a High Street presence, it would have been contributing to the general awareness of the brand, so other tactics are now needed to keep the profile high.

The base of professionals in Tunbridge Wells is a rich vein of business opportunity and networking should be high on Rupert's agenda. Given the broad array of reasons why businesses move, the nature of networking should be very wide - from BNI where he will meet smaller businesses, to the Chamber of Commerce and Royal Tunbridge Wells Lunch Club where larger businesses and professionals can be met.

The property boards are an important form of marketing too. The simple and clean identity that Rupert has chosen is easily memorable and will be making the boards stand out.

The fact that so many enquiries come from the internet is a reflection of how the market now operates. Rupert is doing all of the right things to keep the visibility of his website high.

A highly visible and attractive website is appealing, not only to purchasers, but to vendors and landlords, which will ensure a continuous supply of stock - the lifeblood of any agency. The website is easily found in the search engines, which means it should be possible to reduce the reliance on the property portals in future.

Marketing can help with recruitment. Becoming active on Twitter, running a Facebook page and writing a blog are all activities that will make Durlings look attractive to younger prospective employees.

With thanks to freelance journalist, Angela Ward, who is interviewing the businesses featured in these posts.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Are Tories taking the high ground in battle for business votes?

At long last, I've had a reply from the Conservatives - a comprehensive and persuasive reply at that. The question is, do we believe there are £6bn of efficiency savings to be had? Labour are rapidly losing touch with the business community over the issue of National Insurance and it could prove to be their downfall. A U-Turn could be the only option.

The full text of the reply is shown below:

Dear Mr. Edwards

I am writing on behalf of David Cameron to thank you for your e-mail of 14th March 2010. I apologise for taking so long to reply; our office has been inundated with correspondence in recent months. Nevertheless, we are grateful to you for getting in touch, and I have taken careful note of the points you raise.

Government needs to create a climate in which small businesses can thrive and compete, both nationally and internationally. In 1997, Britain’s tax system was one of the most competitive in the developed world. But over the last decade we have become progressively less competitive and our tax system has become the most complex in the world. And astonishingly, the Budget confirmed that Gordon Brown wants an extra £1 billion in taxes out of small and medium-sized businesses.

We can’t go on like this. And that is why, if elected, a Conservative Government will make sure that Britain is open for business again.

We believe in low taxes, so we will ensure that the largest part of the burden of dealing with our budget deficit – a critical step if we are to get this country back on its feet – falls on lower spending rather than higher taxes. And, where savings can be realised from existing budgets, we will use some of these to protect jobs and businesses.

This is why we have announced plans to cut waste in order to avoid most of Labour’s planned tax increase on working people. The 2010 Budget confirmed Government plans to raise Employer National Insurance Contributions (NIC) for everyone earning over £5,700 per annum. This is a tax on jobs that will undermine the recovery. We will stop a large part of this tax increase by raising the secondary threshold at which employers start paying NICs by £21 a week, saving employers up to £150 for every person they employ relative to Labour’s plans.

We will also stop the increase in NICs for most employees. Relative to Labour’s plans everyone liable for Employee NICs earning between £7,100 and £45,400 – seven out of ten working people – will be up to £150 better off each year under the Conservatives. Lower earners will get the greatest benefit as a percentage of their earnings. Nobody will be worse off than they would be under Labour’s plans.

These proposals have been backed by a raft of high profile business leaders – Sir Stuart Rose, Executive Chairman of Marks & Spencer, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, Founder and Chairman of easyGroup, Simon Wolfson, Chief Executive of Next and Justin King, Chief Executive of Sainsbury’s, to name but a few – as well as Britain’s top business organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry, British Chambers of Commerce and Federation of Small Businesses.

We also aspire to create the most competitive corporate tax environment in the G20. So to begin with, we will cut the headline rate of corporation tax to at least 25 per cent and the small companies’ rate to 20 per cent, funded by reducing complex reliefs and allowances introduced by Gordon Brown.

And we have also outlined plans to reform government support for business, much of which is, at present, delivered through Business Link. We are considering a range of options but do not currently have any plans to abolish Business Link itself.

These proposals are in addition to our plan to allow local authorities to offer business rate discounts to help struggling firms, and to make small business rate relief payable automatically to qualifying firms.

Meanwhile, we have tried to offer practical ideas for further action. A Conservative Government will:

· reduce the burden of red tape on business with a ‘one in one out’ rule for new regulations, mandatory sunset clauses for regulators and regulatory budgets for departments;

· help small firms grow by using Government guarantees to create diverse sources of affordable credit and providing a £2,000 bonus to small and medium-sized businesses for every apprenticeship place they create;

· cut the number of forms needed to register a new business – moving towards a ‘one-click’ registration model with the aim of making Britain the fastest place in the world to start a business;

· end restrictions on people starting a business in social housing, to enable social tenants to become entrepreneurs;

· make enterprise a central pillar of our plans to get Britain working again; and

· open up government procurement to small and medium-sized businesses by reducing administrative requirements.

We know that only the private sector can generate the sustainable growth we need to get Britain out of the red. That is why we have set out these plans, and why we are proud to be the party of enterprise and hard work.

We all know that the re-election of a Labour government with more debt, waste and taxes will bring us a new recession. That is why there is a clear choice at this election between five more years of Gordon Brown’s tired government making things worse, or David Cameron and the Conservatives with the energy, leadership and values to get the country moving. I hope you will feel able to join us as we seek to change our country for the better.

Kurtis Christoforides
Office of David Cameron MP

PS. Normal marketing posts will resume shortly!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

A budget for business?

For the last few months I have been engaged in a simple, yet seemingly naive quest to get some clarity from each of the political parties on their policies for small business.

So far, I have had a hand-off from the Labour Party – who, about a month ago, promised me a reply within 15 days; an apology from David Cameron – who said that my first communication couldn’t be found and would I send it again – so he could ignore it again; and nothing from the Lib Dems – who you think would sell their own mother to get a cross in the box.

At least Alistair Darling has been forced to the dispatch box today to give me and every other business owner in the country, an account of what we can expect in the coming months should we entrust Labour with our vote.

The answer appears to be a series of modest, but well intentioned changes.

The Annual Investment Allowance, which gives us tax relief for capital expenditure, has been doubled to £100,000. Whilst the increase will provide a modest boost, it is only businesses that have the cash or the borrowing capability to invest above the current limit of £50,000 that will be able to benefit from it. Even if the allowance is fully utilised, it would only be worth £14,000 a year.

I, and I think most businesses, would prefer direct savings in tax and National Insurance over incentives to spend or borrow when business confidence is low and the availability of credit remains scarce. Liquidity is the key to our survival – not debt and new machinery.

In this respect, the Chancellor shows that he is out of touch with the real needs of small business. He spurned the opportunity to reduce the headline rates of corporation tax and made no move to stall the 1% rise in employers’ NI, which is due to take effect from April next year: a clear sign that he believes taxing businesses on employing people is the best way to reduce the dole queues.

The promise of cuts in business rates for one year from October is more promising. There seems to be scant detail available on who will qualify and for what relief, but let us not look a gift horse in the mouth – nor get our hopes too high.

The extension of the time to pay scheme is another welcome move. We haven’t needed to make use of this facility, but it is nonetheless reassuring to know that HMRC will play its part should we find ourselves in distress.

For the best news, it seems we have to wait until our ship finally comes in. Entrepreneurs’ relief has been doubled from £1m to £2m, providing an effective Capital Gains Tax rate of 10% on any gains that we make up to this level. Best get my finger out then and build some value.

The biggest factor though is not the impact of individual measures on individual businesses, but where the economy is going in general – nationally and globally. Business is about confidence and when the confidence runs out the impact on small businesses is cataclysmic.

We are in the midst of our worse crisis for seven decades and our vote has to be cast on who with think is delivering the most sensible response. Do we believe that the impact of the recession has been minimised by the present government or caused by it? Do we think that we need to make the present government see through its actions or is it time for change?

Darling has been forced to err on the side of caution and avoid any radical changes for fear of it being branded electioneering. I, like many business people in the South East, see it as a missed opportunity to give a much clearer indication that the Labour Party is the party for business.

The question remains, who is?

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Real Business #3 - Escape Events

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.

Escape Events is the brainchild of West Malling resident, Martin Anslow.

Martin has a background which combines both exhibitions and a love of travel. After gaining experience in the exhibitions industry, Martin took five years out to spend his winters in the mountains – which then funded his summers travelling.

With start-up funds of just £5,000 – saved from his last ski season – Martin launched his first event, The Adventure Travel Show, in 1995. The original show welcomed 2,000 visitors and generated revenue of £20,000. By 2005, it had 30,000 visitors and a turnover of £800,000.

Martin then began to look at other niche areas of travel and launched The Spa Show in 2004.

Martin sold The Adventure Travel Show for a seven-figure sum in 2006 and The Spa Show in 2007.

“Looking back, I sold at the right time. However, while I gained financial security, I didn’t find it as satisfying as running my own company,” says Martin.

At the beginning of last year, the opportunity arose to buy Adventure Travel back and Martin ‘leapt at the chance’.

“Relaunching has been a massive challenge – almost harder than starting from scratch,” he says. “The industry has changed quite a lot over the past four years. Adventure holidays are now quite mainstream – so travellers are looking for something more.”

In terms of the business itself, Martin has noticed that exhibitors and sponsors are demanding more for their money.

“So we are having to be more careful about what we spend our money on – particularly when it comes to marketing. Previously, we’d do a lot of advertising on the tube, for example, but now it’s more focused on the Internet.”

As with any exhibition organiser, Escape Events has to juggle the fact that money does not come in steadily over a 12-month period, but just before an exhibition. One way Martin is dealing with this is to launch more shows. He unveiled The Cruise Show last year and is identifying other niche areas of the travel sector, as well as looking to launch some shows overseas.

For more information, visit: and

The Marketing Eye says:

Marketing budgets are under pressure everywhere and Marketing Directors need to show an unambiguous and often short term return on the money they spend. Exhibitions are notoriously difficult to measure the success of, which means that Escape Events needs to clearly demonstrate to exhibitors how involvement at the shows can increase sales or improve brand visibility. Exhibitors should be provided with lots of ways to leverage their attendance before and after the event, for example with data capture, pre and post show marketing opportunities and brand visibility beyond the stand itself.

Before committing, exhibitors and sponsors need confidence that the show is going to attract the right footfall in the right quantity. A good marketing strategy provides reassurance that this will happen. The Internet is wonderful, but Escape Events should make sure it is switching to on-line promotion because it is better than off-line activity, not simply because it is cheaper. PR should not be overlooked either. There are good speakers at each event who can be engaged to raise profile in editorial.

Expansion into other shows is a wise move. Escape Events is proving to be an efficient ‘engine’ for the organisation and promotion of events, which could, in theory, be in any market. The brand is in the shows themselves, so there is little risk of diluting the Escape Events brand by expanding into new areas.

With thanks to freelance journalist, Angela Ward, who is interviewing the businesses featured in these posts.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Marketing Myth #1: Advertising and marketing is the same thing

This is the first in a series of 7 posts by guest blogger and associate of The Marketing Eye, Sharon Wilding, owner and founder of The Purple Edge.

Of course I'm going to tell you it's not, but for advertising read promotion, and I'll still tell you it's not the same thing as marketing. Whether you are using advertising, public relations, emails, websites, billboards, word of mouth, or one of the many other forms of promotions (paid or unpaid) you will be wasting your time and/or money if you don't recognise that marketing covers so many more aspects of your business.

Yes it is vitally important to spread the word about what you have to offer if you want buyers to come flocking, but only once you are crystal clear about the following:

  • What exactly is the product or service you offer? What are the elements that make it unique or special and represent real value to a potential customer? What will make customers pay more, come back for more, or recommend you to others.
  • And who do you need to spread the word to? Which group of customers (your niche or customer segment) are going to find your product most attractive and valuable? The more tightly you can define this, the better the chance you will delight and satisfy your customers by delivering what they really want, and the better the chance that you will target your promotions efficiently to this group.
  • How can customers get hold of your product or service? Which channels are you using - in stores, on line, through distributors or direct from you? Giving customers a choice, or range of options, about where and how they can buy from you could be really important in increasing your sales results and could have major implications for the profit you make on each deal.
  • What price are you charging and what does it say about the quality and value position you have chosen to take in the market? How can you flex your pricing or terms to change your success rate in sales or improve your profitability?
  • Do you have a business plan that defines the objectives you are aiming to achieve? Do you have a strategy that guides your decision making around your priorities and helps you decide what you won't do as well as what you will?
  • Does your plan identify the marketing investment (or budget) that you are prepared to make in order to achieve the objectives you have set? If not, how will you know if the cost of any promotions you want to do is acceptable or not? Or whether the return is appropriate?
  • What is the sales strategy and process you have in place to ensure you convert interest and enquiries into sales?
All these issues are aspects of or are influenced by your marketing - in fact there are not many things that you do in your business that are not heavily impacted by the marketing decisions you make. Promotion may often feel like the most visible and costly part of the marketing mix - but failing to address the above list properly is only likely to make it more visible and costly through poor execution and wastage.

Many people say to me ‘we don't do any marketing'. What they really mean is that they don't do a lot of promotions, and that may be the right decision for their business.

If you are getting all the new and repeat custom you can handle then you are obviously doing something right, and maybe you are instinctively good at marketing, but to sustain growth there generally comes a point when a more structured and disciplined approach to managing your marketing mix (i.e. all the stuff above) is going to be needed.

Be honest - if you don't have the marketing skills yourself then go out and get some help or training. Marketing is too important a business function to do half-heartedly.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Which way to vote? Finding the party for small business.

I am a floating voter.

I can’t ever recall having been so interested in the outcome of an election and my vote is there for the taking by the party that can convince me that it is the party for small business.

After more than 12 years of Labour government, and a definite sense of this being the low point, I can see the argument for it being time for a change. I live in dread, however, of the country being slammed into reverse by a Conservative party that is bent on unwinding all previous policies and that will spend at least 2 years blaming its performance on the situation it has inherited rather than concentrating on recovery.

As I have said in an earlier post, I rate Brown as a financial manager and the prospect of Osborne in No.11, who I have yet to hear say anything meaningful, leaves me cold.

To help resolve my dilemma, I have spent the morning reviewing the websites of the 3 main political parties to try and decipher their policies for small businesses.

Surprisingly, or not, depending on your persuasion, the Labour party doesn’t have a specific section for business on its website, nor does it list business under its policies. Surely, this is a major own goal.

I want to know where the Labour party stands on business in general and employers' NI and Corporation Tax in particular.

Employers' NI is an explicit tax on recruitment and it seems illogical to me to be increasing this at a time when we want to get people back into work. Corporation Tax drains small businesses of funds for investment or survival. What was the rationale for removing the £10k tax free band and, more importantly, does Labour propose to bring it back?

The Conservatives do a lot better. Business is listed as a clear policy area on the website and within it there are pledges that counter the Labour position.

The Tories promise to abolish tax on new jobs created by new businesses.

I like the sound of this and want to know more. Will the policy only apply to businesses that start-up post the election? I hope not. There should be an incentive for all small businesses to take on new staff. Established small businesses offer a more stable and secure employment environment than start-ups and are better able to fuel sustainable growth.

The Tories also say they will cut the small companies’ Corporation Tax rate. Unfortunately, there is no detail on when, how and by how much.

The Lib Dems seem destined to remain the perennial third party. They too promise to cut the rate of corporation tax and say they will do this through the removal of complex reliefs.

Digging a little deeper I find a policy that says the party will allow small businesses to choose to be taxed on cash flow rather than accounting profit. This sounds interesting. In theory, it will allow growing businesses like ours to reinvest.

As a business that has just moved premises and is investing in their improvement, the Lib Dems' pledge to cut business rates for smaller businesses and calculate rates on site values also catches my eye. The present system of total rental value penalises us for the improvements we are making.

So, a mixed bag with intriguing, but unsubstantiated ideas dotted all around.

The one thing that all the parties have in common is a promise to cut red tape and ease the burden of regulation. Politicians always make great play of this and yet never seem sure about what red tape and regulation they are referring to. This seems to be an easy line to bulk up the manifesto, without any real substance or measure of success. Red tape and regulation are nowhere near the challenges that tax and cash flow are and I wonder if it simply betrays a lack of understanding of where the real issues are.

Despite lauding small businesses as the engine room of the economy, none of the parties seem to be talking about the sector in any detail yet. I have written to each of the parties with specific questions. The best response is likely to get my vote.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Why most marketing fails

If I had a pound for every time I’d heard someone say: "we tried marketing once and it didn’t work", I could have retired long ago.

Not only does the phrase betray a lack of understanding of what marketing really is, it is often a reliable indicator of how the fateful marketing programme will have been run in the first place.

Despite many advances in knowledge and information sharing, marketing remains one of the least understood of the business disciplines. Shrouded in mystery, and slippery in its accountability, it is a topic that everybody has an opinion on and most people believe they can do better than the marketing department.

Marketing isn’t rocket science, nor does it demand significant creativity or originality (albeit a little imagination helps). Largely it is a matter of process, understanding of the human psyche and persistent effort – otherwise known as hard work.

Most marketing programmes operate like this:

A marketing campaign will be sent out. The target buyer will respond or not (most often not). Any orders will be followed up (hopefully) and the remainder will be discarded and forgotten.

This formula applies whether we are talking about a direct mail campaign, e-shot, advert, trade show or any other form of marketing.

Is it any wonder that responses are typically way below 1% and that there is no return on investment?

To run a marketing campaign in this way borders on insanity. No regard is given to the buying process and little respect is given to the intelligence and needs of the buyer. In other words, the campaign is not buyer centric.

In earlier posts, I have referred to Jolles model of the buying process and the stages that we all go through when considering a purchase. The stages apply whether it is an impulse buy or a major capital investment – all that changes is the speed with which we go through the phases and potentially the number of people that will be involved in the decision.

If we take a step back for a moment, it is clear that the buying process is highly sophisticated. The buyer operates under a whole range of influences:
– Past experience
– Peer group comment
– Social media
– Google searches
– Webinars / Seminars / Events
– Advertising / direct marketing

While advertising and direct marketing still has a role, we as buyers are much more resistant to it. We like to feel that we are researching and finding our own solutions and only want to engage the sales person in the final stages of the buying process, when our mind is pretty much made up.

An intelligent marketing programme therefore needs to take account of the buying process and run like this:

The buyer will be engaged at all stages of the buying process with methods and content that are appropriate to where he or she is in the cycle.

In the consideration phase, which may be conscious or unconscious, we need to be educating and informing to stimulate interest. This could be with White Papers, blog posts and press releases or indeed with advertising and direct mail – it is the content that is important, not the medium of delivery (which should be varied).

Once the buyer has decided to act, he or she will then start to work out exactly what they want from their purchase. Case studies, product sheets and seminars can be useful in this phase.

When the criteria are defined, the buyer will then start to look for solutions to meet those needs. Past experience, peer group recommendations and web searches will all come into play.

If our previous engagement programme has been successful, we will be firmly on the consideration list – and potentially the only name on it.

The process of converting a prospect into a client can take many months – years in some cases. Jolles tells us that we spend 79% of our time in the consideration phase, umming and ahhing over whether we have a need or not. Our marketing contact programmes must therefore be multi-faceted and continuous.

Of course, the process doesn’t stop when our product or service has been selected. We need to keep engaging the client to make sure that our solution has properly met the need and then stay in touch to ensure retention, repeat purchases and up-sell.

When we look at the buying process in this way it is obvious that simple outbound campaigns are destined to fail. Marketing must comprise multi-touch activity that builds dialogue and engages the prospect at all stages in the buying process.

The theory, when converted to practice, produces results. Recent research by Forrester Consulting showed that businesses that market successfully:

  1. Focus on lead generation as a process

  2. Profile and segment prospects based on customer behaviour (not just demographics)

  3. Design content that builds dialogue

  4. Employ some form of lead scoring / prioritisation measure

  5. Nurture prospects that are not yet ready to buy

  6. Make certain that marketing works collaboratively with sales

The Forrester research further shows that these businesses enjoy a more robust pipeline, better customer insight, improved marketing and sales accountability and ultimately improved marketing ROI.

What more can anybody want?


How managing leads pays off in a stronger, more qualified pipeline - Forrester Consulting November 2009

Adam Needles - Demand Generation Blog 2009-10

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Real Business #2 - Henry Kaye

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.

Sevenoaks-based Henry Kaye recently opened a showroom at its headquarters in Dartford Road – so that members of the trade and the public can view the company’s wide range of wedding accessories, which include bridesmaid dresses, wedding shoes and boots, hosiery, gloves, jewellery and wedding umbrellas.

Sharon Gavin bought the business in 2006 from Mr Henry Kaye, who aged 82, wanted to retire. The company was then based in Eastbourne, but Sharon moved it up to Sevenoaks and, for the first year or so, operated it out of her home. Sharon moved the company into its premises at 47 Dartford Road in November 2007.

Henry Kaye had been operating for more than 20 years and one of Sharon’s first moves was to update the range, as well as introducing new, more modern, colours – moving away from pastels to include shades such as plum and coffee. The company already had a website, but Sharon made a priority of building a new one and getting it fully optimised.

While sales have continued to grow, customer behaviour has changed during the current downturn.

“People are still getting married, but they are spending less – perhaps having one less flower girl, or not buying as many extras,” she explained.

Today, company sales are split 50:50 between the trade and consumers.

Sharon said: “We sell nationwide to the trade and are successful because we are affordable and hold everything in stock, while many other companies make dresses to order.”

Sharon has recently expanded into girls’ dresses and dressing-up outfits and has launched a dedicated website for this range called The range is also available in the Sevenoaks showroom.

Sharon is currently looking for ways of building the Henry Kaye brand.

“We are well-known within the trade and our sales are continuing to grow, but we want to be a recognised brand outside of that,” she said. “We exhibited at the National Wedding Show in London this year and our stand was swamped. However, most of the visitors were planning weddings for 2011, so that was a profile-building exercise for us, rather than one which resulted in lots of sales.”

Now that the showroom is open, Sharon wants to build on that and is looking to form partnerships with others involved in the wedding industry in the local area.

The Marketing Eye says:

Before embarking on a brand building exercise, Sharon should define the brand she wants to build.

There are two very distinct markets for Henry Kaye: the trade and the public. The trade wants low prices and ready availability. The public wants a wide range of choice, an attractive and easy to use website and good service.

Now could be the time to think about updating the brand, or even running two brands side by side. The Henry Kaye brand could be retained for the trade, as there is good recognition in this area, and a new identity developed for the public – something aligned to the proposition rather than the name of a previous owner. This will allow appropriate marketing to be delivered to each audience without creating conflict.

While search engine optimisation is one tactic to maximise visitors to the website, it is important to find other ways of building the brand and driving traffic to the business. A Google search for wedding accessories doesn’t bring up Henry Kaye very quickly, so pay-per-click advertising should be investigated to supplement the optimisation activity. Sharon shouldn’t overlook off-line marketing, such as advertising, events and direct mail either.

The fact that the stand was swamped at the National Wedding Show is a good sign that the proposition is right. These visitors are only likely to return if they are re-marketed, so capturing data and building a marketing database to stay in contact with potential customers is vital. Local shows might be more successful than national ones for consumer business in future.

With thanks to freelance journalist, Angela Ward, who is interviewing the businesses featured in these posts.

Friday, 1 January 2010

2009: A year in review - and our predictions for 2010

2009 was a challenging year for marketers. This time last year we were talking about the collapse of Woolworth's and still recovering from the shock of Lehman Bros; the banking crisis was in full swing and we were surrounded by fear and uncertainty.

Fortunately, we seem to have been spared the worst fears of the naysayers. Whether this is because of, or despite, government intervention divides opinion and we will all get our chance to record our point of view in 2010.

In a tough and uncertain climate, marketers were called on to perform in a way that we haven't been for some time. The pressure for short-term, measurable results financed with slender budgets overpowered any sense of long-term planning and brand building. We rushed head-long into social media, not I suspect, because we knew how it would work, but because it was trendy and cheap.

In the office, we had to improve relationships with sales and finance to ensure stakeholder buy-in and a seamless progression from concept through to delivery: it is bizarre to think it might ever have been any other way.

Unfortunately, little progress has been made with improving marketers' sense of self worth. The hand wringing continues, with many marketers bemoaning their lack of influence at senior levels within their organisations, yet seemingly unable to devise a strategy to put it right.

On a more positive note, the summer months saw The Marketing Eye engaged in the debate about marketing automation. Led by the US, this still has some way to go in the UK, but it is encouraging to see people trying to harness technology to support sound marketing principles.

Our involvement came about via this blog, which has proved popular in many countries and has a particularly strong following in the US. The appetite for new content in the US appears insatiable. Our post on the differences between B2B and B2C marketing still attracts more than 100 readers a month and a plethora of comments.

The year saw fewer than normal corporate re-brands, but the controversy they created was no less heated. AOL, Kraft and MSN where amongst those that offered us evolved identities. Starbucks sent bloggers into a spin with their experiment with un-branded coffee shops in Seattle.

The big story of 2009 was, however, the explosion of Twitter, which came of age with the revolution in Iran. Twitter is still growing and is now finding its natural level. We have still to see the first Twitter-born brand, but the growth in the personal brands of people like Stephen Fry and Ashton Kutcher suggests the potential is there. Compare the Market is the best example we have seen in the UK so far of Twitter being incorporated into a broader marketing strategy, building the personality of the brand via the incomparable meerkat, Aleksandr Orlov.

As a business, The Marketing Eye has come of age too. We have new people, new offices, and a recently appointed Chairman designate who will help steer the business towards its full potential. We are firmly set on a road to growth and the final few weeks of 2009 were spent immersed in strategy and operating models. Our goal is to grow the business four-fold by 2012, which we will achieve by hiring the best marketing people and staying true to our philosophy of 'every client is our only client'.

So what will 2010 hold for us? As a business, we will take on more staff, enter new markets and strengthen our internal processes so that we can continue to put customers first. For the world of marketing, our crystal ball reveals the following:
  • Twitter will continue to grow globally: its value for search and news will be realised. Marketers will still struggle to harness it for commercial purposes - but will keep on trying

  • The shift towards spending on digital marketing vs. off-line will increase, probably because it is cheaper, not because it is proven to be better

  • There will be some renewed growth in branding. Businesses that have neglected their brands over the past couple of years will now be finding that a revamp of the external and internal brand is overdue. At a visual level, an updated identity will signal renewed optimism as we claw our way out of recession. The business case will still have to be made and investment will be hard won

  • Marketing budgets will nudge gently upwards as we come out of recession or as businesses start to adjust to, and accept, the 'new normal'

  • A change in Government seems inevitable. As a marketer, I'm interested to see how the parties make use of new and old media to win our votes. As a businessman, I want to know which is the party for business.

What were your main marketing memories of 2009 and what do you predict for 2010? We'll be interested to hear your views. Whatever your role and wherever you are, may we take this opportunity to wish you a happy and healthy 2010.

Happy New Year!