Off the Edge : General

Off the Edge is a marketing blog  written by Sharon Wilding and Jim Hunt of THE PURPLE EDGE and occasional featured guest authors. It aims to provide thought-provoking and useful content on marketing and business issues. Please feel free to comment on our musings, and if there are subjects you want to discuss further then please get in touch.

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LinkedIn Endorsements - A nice idea gone bad?

LinkedIn EndorsementsI like LinkedIn. Of all the social media platforms out there I think it's the most effective for most B2B SMEs. It's easy to use, it's got great functionality, reasonable analytics and pretty good targeting capability. We use it successfully to build networks, demonstrate capability and drive website traffic. All great.

I also have always liked the capability to give recommendations for people you've worked with. It is great to be able to get some colleagues, customers or suppliers to write a few words about what a joy you are to work with, how extensive is your expertise and how professional you are.  I admit that sometimes I struggled with getting LinkedIn to actually show my recommendations but hey ho, it was a good idea.

Then they brought out that groovy new functionality "Endorsements". On the face of it this was a great idea. You list your skills and people in your network can endorse you for some or all of these skills with the click of a button. Cool and groovy. No longer do you have to sit and think up the right words to sum up the totality of wonderfulness that is your colleague. You just click a box. LinkedIn even made it easy for you by flashing members of your network up on your home page and asking if they are experts in some skill or other. "Is Joe Blogs an expert in Monkey Juggling?" LinkedIn would ask. "Yes" I could confirm with a click of the mouse. "One of the best monkey jugglers I know."

Quite often it would ask me about the skills of someone in my network that I've never actually worked with. "Does Sally Slapdash know about proof reading?" LinkedIn would ask. "I haven't the faintest idea." I would reply, and do you know what I would do? I would NOT click the little box. I wouldn't endorse someone for something that I had no idea that they could do. That seemed to me the obvious thing to do. That's the point isn't it? You endorse people for skills that you know that they possess. Saying someone is good at something when you have no idea that they are would be daft wouldn't it?

What's more my recommendation could reflect back on me. If one of my contacts had some monkeys he needed juggling and he saw that I'd endorsed Joe for this very skill, he may hire him based on the fact that I've said he can do it. When monkeys start crashing to the floor and the RSPCA are breaking down the door, what's my contact going to think of me?

Strangely it seems that not everyone thinks the same way. I don't know about you but I've had loads of endorsements from people who, not only have I never worked with, but many of whom I've never even met!

Now clearly I am skilled in all the things I list on LinkedIn so they're not wrong but how do they know? Maybe some of them have read my blogs. Maybe some of them have seen me present. Perhaps the photo on my profile shows I have an honest face!

Maybe but I don't think so.

Call me cynical but I believe that often they think if they endorse me i'll endorse them back. But do you know what? I won't. What's more I'll think less of them as a result. If they are able to be deceitful about this why should I trust them about anything else?

I think this kind of behavior brings the whole thing into disrepute. I pay no attention to people's endorsements any more and I've stopped endorsing people. It's sad but I just think it's a waste of time.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh?




Jim Hunt AuthorJim Hunt is a professional marketer with many years experience in building businesses large and small. As a speaker, trainer and practitioner he aims to explain marketing theory clearly and show how it can be applied in practice to deliver better results from your marketing investment. You can connect with Jim on LinkedInFacebookTwitter and Google+.




5 Lessons from Olympic Athletes

Lessons from Olympic athletesLove the Olympics! Love the Olympics! Love the Olympics!

What a great few weeks. I love the sport, the competition and the emotion. Blimey, the emotion. I don't think a day passed when I didn't blub about something.  Now the dust has settled I thought i'd use the athletes as inspiration. Not just for my blog this week but for our business. Hopefully you'll feel that you can take something from it too.

I really enjoyed the interviews with the athletes and ex-athletes which give an insight into what makes these people special. I mean, let's face it, they all have a talent but there is much more to their success than just being talented. There are probably a host of things they do and attributes they have that allow them to take that talent and hone it to the point where they become good enough to represent their country at an Olympic games, and for some of them to win medals and break records.

I'd like to share just 5 things which strike me as critical to their success and that we can all take and apply to our own lives and our businesses.

1/ Have a goal

Every competitor at the games had a goal. It may not have been to win a gold medal. It may have been to reach the finals. It may have been a personal best. The important thing is having the goal. If you don't know what you want to achieve how can you ever succeed? It constantly amazes me the number of small business people who don't have a business plan or at the very least a revenue or profit target. Having a target makes you start thinking about how you can achieve it. It's the starting point in proactively planning what you have to do to get what you want. The alternative is essentially - hope! Hoping that the business will come in. Hoping that something will turn up. Hoping that everything will be OK. Olympians don't hope.

2/ Have a plan

Once you have a goal you then need a plan to achieve it. The Team GB Cycling Performance Director, Dave Brailsford explained how they look at their sport on a 4 year cycle with the Olympics at the end. He explained that it was impossible to maintain an Olympic gold medal performance standard continually for 4 years. They aim to peak at the Olympics then tail off for a period before building again. Interim competitions are not all to be won. They are used as marker posts for expected levels of performance at given times, and for development of specific aspects of the cyclists conditioning. The same logic can be applied to business. You can't do everything you want all the time or all at the same time. You may not have the time, financial resources, skills etc. So plan effectively. Know what you can do when. Know what steps you can take towards your overall goal over what time periods and what resources each step will take.

3/ Have a great work ethic

In an interview Bradley Wiggins was talking about spending some time with his family following the games. He explained how he had missed weekends, holidays etc. because of his training schedule. To achieve great results we generally have to work hard. Most business people I know certainly do. The real lesson I believe is to work smart. I'm sure Bradley could spend seven days per week cycling round and round a track and not win a medal at the end of it. When he trains he is clear about what he is training for. If it's stamina, what does that mean? If it's sprinting what does that mean? The same for us business people. Work effectively not just long. Work on the important not just the urgent. Work on your plan and towards your goals. Don't just work.

4/ Measure performance

All athletes measure performance. Whether it's time, weight, height, distance. Whatever the success criteria they constantly evaluate where they are compared to where they expect to be. Only through constantly evaluating performance can they tell whether they are on-track to achieve their goals or not. By evaluating performance they can determine if they need to change their plans. This is especially true for marketing. Many businesses invest in the same promotional activities week after week, month after month for no better reason that it's what they have always done. With promotion it's imperative to constantly monitor performance to ensure that you are getting the best return for your investment.

5/ Be prepared to experiment

One of the very interesting interviews I saw was with Ian Thorpe. The Thorpedo was explaining how some swimmers were starting to use ballet in their training programmes. The logic was that ballet dancers train to reproduce very specific athletic movements perfectly time after time. This skill is also important in swimming where getting the body, arms or hands slightly out of position can cost valuable hundredths of a second. It is important to keep an open mind in business and take lessons from any industry. See how others do things that you do - can you take anything from them?  Lessons can come unlikely places. I'd extend this to meeting new people, finding out about other industries, attending seminars and training events. Even if you have to pay for these events if you only learn one thing that can be applied to your business you can usually recoup the cost. Think "If I keep one customer I might otherwise have lost or I gain one customer I otherwise wouldn't how much is that worth to me over the lifetime of the customer?" You'll usually find that it's quite easy to get a return on training.

So there are my 5 lessons. I could probably have come up with loads more but why don't you have a go. What have been your big business lessons from the Olympians?




Pricing by the hour is bad for business

Q  What do the self-employed call Bank Holiday Monday?

A Monday!

Ha! Ha! Ha! Sigh!

It’s a fact of life that too many small business owners work far too hard for far too little. Why? I'd like to suggest that for many of them the reason is that they don't charge enough.

One of the most important marketing disciplines and one which businesses often struggle with is pricing. They don't know where to set their price. They worry that their price is too high. They worry that it's too low. They worry that it's not clear. The simple fact is that they largely start from the wrong place.

There are a couple of basic types of company that I meet on a daily basis. People who buy and sell stuff, and people who sell themselves. The people who buy and sell stuff I'll address in a future blog. Right now I want to talk about people who sell themselves.

What they are really selling of course is their expertise, knowledge, or skills. Most of the people I meet who sell themselves charge their services by time. "You can have me for £XXX per  .."  hour, day , week.

As a marketer I would say "NO! NO! NO!"  As a consultant I have to admit to doing it. We do price our coaching services by time but we have moved away from that model for everything else. I don’t like time based pricing for a few reasons:

1.     It doesn’t reflect the value of your work to the client. If you truly understand the value you are creating for your customer and can communicate that value clearly and unambiguously you should feel able to ask a reasonable level of reward for creating that value. If you worked for a week with a client on a project that saved him £2000 should you be rewarded the same amount as if you had saved him £20,000? More importantly would the client be happy to pay you more for a £20,000 saving? I know I would.

2.     It focuses discussions on the time you spent doing the work rather than the outcome. No-one hires you because they like having you around. They hire you to deliver something. Do you want to be focussing the customers mind on hours and days of effort or the results he is going to see?

3.     It incentivises you to do more, add more, work longer. In a time based pay environment you are under pressure to do more work to generate more income. You may be tempted to add more into the job, stretch the job out, take on more work so that you can pay the mortgage. This isn’t necessarily good for you or the client.

4.     It limits your earning capacity to the number of hours you can work. Related to point 3. If you get paid by the hour then you can’t earn more than the hours you can work. Remember weekends? Remember holidays? What do you call Bank Holiday Monday?

What do you think? Does time based pricing work for you? Have you successfully moved away from that model? Let us know.


Loyal customers - the lifeblood of your business

cracked iphoneIt's a cliche - so it must be true.  A loyal customer is worth more to you than several new ones.  Get it right and they cost less to service so are more profitable, and through referrals and testimonials they can even contribute to you finding and winning new business.  So it stands to reason that all businesses would prioritise customer service, right?  Wrong! Businesses that mess up on customer service don't just lose one customer, they lose numerous customers.  You know how we all like a good moan - unfortunately in marketing this aspect of human nature can seriously count against you.

I can share a personal experience with you to illustrate this.  I dropped my iphone and cracked the screen.  It still worked but had to be fixed so, like so many others, I searched on the internet.  I compared the companies that came up top in the search and, based on the service promise and the price, selected the company I was going to use ( ).  I bought and paid for the repair and received excellent instructions on how to send the phone to them, and a fast and efficient acknowledgement of receipt, clearly setting out what would happen next.

Of course my first mistake was not reading the independent review sites - but when I look at those now it seems that I came off lightly!

In the email it stated that the target to repair and return the phone was 24 hours - but this could occasionally take longer. Fair enough.  However this was Wednesday.  By Friday I was getting twitchy but decided to leave it the weekend and so I rang, using the thoughtfully provided 0800 number on Monday.  Tom from customer service told me there was 'obviously' a backlog but he would look into it.  And he did return my call as promised to inform me they had new screens arriving the next day so it could be repaired on Wednesday.  A whole week later than the 24 hours quoted.  On Thursday I had to chase again and, after making a bit of a fuss, received a guarantee from Tom that I would have my phone back by the weekend.

By this time I was feeling pretty let down by this service so decided to take up the option offered in the email to leave feedback on their FaceBook page.  I was polite but expressed my dissatisfaction - along with hopes for the safe return of my phone by Saturday as promised.  Interestly the next time I looked at the Facebook page my comment was deleted.

The phone did arrive on Saturday and the repair seemed perfect.  But I would not use them again and I would not recommend them to anyone else.  Having done so many things right (promotion, positioning, website, etc.), why did this company end up in this situation?  Yes they are busy right now and may not have an eye on the long term future of their company, but it is a competitive field and customers will soon find other suppliers who can meet their needs.  Even if they are victims of their own success there are things they could have done to manage the situation and keep me on their side:

  • The minute they knew they were not going to meet the 24 repair time they should have given me an update with a sensible forecast of when I could expect my phone returned.  Managing expections is the number one rule - and I should think would have saved them lots of time dealing with phone calls.
  • Their price and service promise was way ahead of the competition and was, perhaps, never sustainable.  If they were in touch with the market they would know this and could introduce alternative service and price packages.  I would have paid extra for a GUARANTEED 24 hours repair.
  • The Facebook page was promoted in all their emails but poorly used.  People posting questions and comments rarely got a response.  Even when someone complains, as I did, the better way of dealing with this is to apologise and explain.  Social Networking is about engaging with customers not ignoring or filtering comments.  Incidentally even my, slightly backhanded, comment about the final repair being good has now been removed!

The website now has a single line on the home page stating that Due to an influx of repairs we are currently working outside of our 24 hour schedule - better but not enough!

As mentioned, if I had read the review sites it would have been obvious to me that this company has problems.  I don't think it is a scam as some claim (I received a good repair) but it surely is not a good way of building business for the long term. When you're thinking about your products, your portfolio and your marketing do not neglect to pay full attention to the customer experience you are delivering. Otherwise all your best efforts as promotion and selling can go to waste!


Missing a trick or how to look a gift horse in the mouth

Following on from Sharon's last blog about companies losing business by not being responsive; I wanted to talk about something I have experienced lately which is equally bad. I want to talk about missing amazing opportunities.

I am a fairly regular networker and travel all around Kent meeting business people at events hosted by various networking groups. One of these groups was holding a "Cheese and Wine" event on a mid-week evening and we agreed it would be great to get a local vineyard involved. Have them talk to the group about their business and their wine, perhaps a tasting and an opportunity to purchase some of the merchandise. "Great!" we thought "An interesting subject, a local business and a great event."

I took the action to find a local vineyard to participate. It transpired that there were two fairly close to the venue so I called them up. The first declined immediately. It was harvest time and they were too busy. On a Wednesday evening? The second seemed initially interested but then didn't return my emails. When I called them they explained that they couldn't do it because - well to be honest I don't know why they couldn't do it but they couldn't.

So no local vineyard turned up to the event. They didn't have a chance to wax lyrical to the 25 people present about their fruitful vines, their meticulous techniques and their beautiful wines. They didn't have the opportunity to have 25 people sample their wines or buy a bottle or two. If everyone at the event bought one bottle at say £5 the vineyard would have taken £125. Seems like an opportunity missed.

The bigger crime though is the lost opportunity to create advocates. I am a fairly active networker and I know a lot of people. On average I have heard it said that people have 250 contacts and typical business people more than that. So the 25 people at the event have at least 6250 contacts. The vineyard missed 6250 opportunities to have their produce recommended. Each of these 6250 people know at least 250 people. In total over 1.5M people! Now clearly not everyone would have recommended the vineyard to all their contacts but some would have recommended them to some - that's how word gets around. For the investment of a couple of hours and a few bottles of wine they could have achieved the sort of PR that you could pay a lot of money for through more traditional routes.

The lesson? Always be aware of the bigger opportunity. As most networkers know you don't just sell to the room, you also sell through the room.



Jingle Bells! Jingle Bells!

At a networking event a while ago I met a really nice guy who the owner of a small print/copy company in a seaside town. He was interested in what low or zero cost marketing activity I would recommend to drive some very short term revenue. To cut a long story short we agreed to meet at the end of the working day and over a beer he told me all about his business. We had an enjoyable couple of hours and I promised him I'd put a few ideas down on paper for him. One of the things I suggested was to contact all the local hotels and restaurants to discuss their plans and requirements for Christmas publicity materials: menus, leaflets etc.

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago when at another networking event the host hotel had their Christmas leaflets on the table - "Looks like my timing was about right," I thought. Now it doesn't take a genius to work out that Christmas comes around every year but what are the other drivers of business that operate on cycles? Going back to the printer, he was situated very close to an FE College. Students have dissertations to complete often towards the end of the academic year. We all know about the historic rush to book summer holidays just after Christmas and the peak in house price sales in spring and Autumn (is that still happening in the credit crunch?). Valentines day and the school terms are all very predictable.

Thinking more locally we have things like Canterbury Festival, The Whitstable Oyster Festival and the Faversham Hop Festival. All generate lots of business activity. We also have harvest time on the farms and holidaymakers during the summer months.  Less obvious are the hidden cycles that can be key to your revenue and growth. Who are your big customers and what is their budgeting cycle? When does supplier selection take place? When do budgets get set and when does spend have to be made?

So today I am asking you to think about your cycles. What are the things that happen on a regular basis that create peaks in demand. If it's not obvious look back over your sales figures and look for peaks in sales or revenue. Are there peaks that happen at about the same time every week, month, quarter, year? Do you know what causes the increased demand?

Also think about things that happen that could create demand for your products but maybe you're not exploiting right now. The key thing here understand the timescales and plan for them. How far ahead of the event will the purchasing decisions be made? 

Once you have a few ideas you can proactively begin marketing around them. Get in early, be proactive and clean up the business before your competitors realise what's happened.

If you spend an hour or so think about this and really can't come up with anything well never mind. Maybe you'll get a cycle for Christmas.

Know your (marketing) numbers

Clients either look at me with horror or stare glassy-eyed into the distance when I ask them about the numbers that drive their marketing decisions.  And I recall at university that the ‘analytical methods for marketing’ was one of the least popular modules!  People think of marketing as fluffy, creative stuff, but the reality is that numbers and analysis should underpin all your activities.  While I accept not everyone will take to this subject with equal enthusiasm, I do venture to suggest that you work out which numbers are the critical measures for your business.

Here’s a quick run through of some of the main contenders – not exhaustive by any means, but something to get you started!

1 - Targets

Marketing activity should support the overall business goals you set, for example revenue and profit in 1 year, 3 years, etc.  From a top level financial goal you can make some assumptions about the numbers of customers this represents, how much business will come from new and how much from existing customers, how many leads you need to generate and, ultimately, how much budget you can afford to invest in your marketing to achieve these targets.

2 – Profitability

The marginal profit you make per customer or per transaction is a critical piece of information needed when setting your prices.  Is it better to sell less at a higher price, or do you make more money at a set volume?  What cost per customer or sale can you afford to sustain in your business?  How can you develop your product or service to add value and drive up your margins?

3 – The Market

Define your market and you can work out how big it is – in revenue and customer numbers.  Important if you don’t want to find your targets mean you are after a very large slice of a very small pie!  Knowing the size of the market means you can estimate your own market share (current and targeted) and, if you have enough knowledge of your competitors, how well you are doing compared to other players in the same field.  It also determines the strategy that will work best for you in your sales and promotions.

4 – Sales Process

What is the average lead time for conversion of your prospects into sales?  This can be crucial in planning for high value contracts where decisions can take a very long time.  Conversion rates can tell you how effective your sales dialogue is and identify areas for improvement, as well as how good the quality of the leads are that you are generating.  Not forgetting, of course, data on cancellations if your business relies on ongoing revenue from an installed/supported customer base – these may be telling you that you need to make improvements to your product/service.

5 – Promotions

I can’t hope to describe every number that you could be capturing and analysing related to your marketing campaign activity, but the rule is ‘whatever you are doing take some measurements’.  You’ll know, of course, that one of the things people love about online or electronic communications is the way you get so much data and information about how they are working – so use it!  Make sure you have analytics on your website so you know what visitors do when they get there, ensure you can track your newsletters and emails ‘click through’ rates, and remember to record how your customers eventually come to you. 

For every method you use to promote your company there is a means to measure it, unfortunately some routes are only available if you have the money to invest in research, so you will have to add some intuition to the measures you can make.  No harm in that, the best campaigns work through ‘layering’, i.e. using more than one route to enter a customer’s consciousness, which means it is harder to isolate the impact of any individual element.

Measures of promotions success will allow you to work out your ROI (return on investment) and help you see if you are spending wisely when it comes to marketing in order to hit the targets discussed in point 1, above.

They say knowledge is power, and data can give you knowledge, ergo … so take time out each month to ‘know your numbers’ and make better decisions!

The Moral Maze of Marketing

You may or may not have noticed, but I followed the example of the French this summer and took the whole of August off!  I've thoroughly enjoyed the brilliant summer we've had here in the south-east - but I have to confess it is hard to settle back at the desk when the blue skies are still taunting me through the window.  However, now I am back I am making a short departure from the marketing myths series I started because I am driven to write about my distress at the way I have seen ‘marketing' portrayed recently - mostly because the bad press seems to be warranted.

"Marketing" (a generic term, written and spoken with a sneer or a metaphorical spit on the ground, and conjuring up pictures of sharp young execs in global organisations or ad agencies) it seems is behind many of the ills in society, be that obesity, anti-social behaviour, or the breakdown in communities.

I'll give just a couple of examples.  I was watching a TV documentary recently about how little consumers understand of what goes into their food.  An experiment was carried out, with the help of a design agency, to prove that with the right packaging, naming and imagery "marketing" could convince the buyer that the item (a meat pie in this example) was wholesome and trustworthy.  This despite the fact that the small print ingredients list identified the contents as reclaimed meat and gristle combined with a cocktail of flavours and preservatives. 

And I have recently read ‘Toxic Childhood' by Sue Palmer who sets out to explain why so many children these days suffer from learning difficulties and disruptive behaviour, and why society as a whole should care about this.  Her hypothesis sets out a complex interaction of different factors, but behind many of them is the evil hand of "marketing".  As in the previous example, "marketing" can convince the unwary public that they are buying good wholesome food while actually creating very unhealthy eating habits.  And children are specifically targeted as an audience to create ‘pester power' for foods, toys, games and all manner of merchandise linked to film and TV characters.  

All of this left me feeling quite shamefaced about my profession.  While I don't believe there is a malicious or evil intent behind these activities, I do think that the profession of marketing needs to take responsibility for the long term repercussions of its actions.  While the marketing folk involved may justify what they do on the grounds of consumer choice and meeting real needs (for speed, convenience, entertainment, etc.) the evidence is now mounting that there are downsides to our fast-paced lives and that we cannot assume that we the public do have the information, or the inclination, to make fully informed choices.  The convenience of ready-meals and TV dinners has been shown to be responsible for the decline in families eating together, which in turn is leading to breakdown in communication skills and family life.  Not something that was foreseen at the outset, I'm sure.

But we should remember that markets are not passive or static. Consumers (or the market) can also play a stronger role in this process by demanding better controls and more honest information on products and packaging.  Government may also need to play a more authoritative role.  Ultimately, being an optimist by nature, I am hopeful that "marketing" will respond to this problem by recognising the real needs of society and developing and promoting products that will reverse these negative trends.  There are some small signs of the start of this process through the introduction of healthy options and games that encourage active rather than sedentary lives (e.g. Wii fit) which, putting cynicism aside, is a step in the right direction.

In the meantime, my personal experience with working with many marketers in businesses in the UK, is that they have integrity and honesty in abundance.  So I shall hold my head high and continue to defend marketing as an essential and positive aspect of our market economy!

Marketing Myth #2: Customers don't like being contacted too often

When I talk with clients and bring up the subject of how and when they stay in touch with prospects and customers most people look at their shoes and mumble something about ‘not wanting to be a nuisance'.  And of course setting out to annoy your target audience is likely to be counterproductive.  But the problem only really exists if want you have to say is unwelcome - which probably means irrelevant to their needs.

I don't know the origin, but I often hear it quoted that it takes 7 contacts to convert a customer.  And I recently heard that 90% of leads captured are followed up less than 4 times - leaving a fair amount of untapped potential sitting in those leads.  Contact can be in many forms - reading about you in the press, seeing adverts, phone conversations, mail/newsletters (post or electronic) - not just a simple repetition of the same message and media.  But each contact is an opportunity to grow awareness of your brand, understanding of the value you can offer, and ultimately to increase sales. 

So the question is ‘what is too often'?  And the answer, as always, is ‘it depends'.  It depends on whether you have something new or interesting to say or offer, it depends on the type of product or service you sell, it depends on likely frequency of purchase, it depends on what your competitors are doing, it depends what you can handle in terms of delivery (personally I think daily blogging is going too far!).  And it also depends on what kind of a choice you offer your market over whether they have to listen or can turn you off!  You need to weigh up what you know about your customers with your goals and objectives.  What is clear is that one contact is unlikely to be enough - so for most of the people I speak with there is a long way to go before they risk alienating potential buyers!

The best way to grow a business is to stay in touch with your existing client base - whether it is to sell them more of the same, something new, or to get referrals to new customers.  A local painter and decorator always send his past clients Christmas cards with a personal message and business cards to pass on.  Guess who is top of the list to call when the next room needs a lick of paint?

I think it is a good idea to mix the different types (phone, email, etc.), but the advent of email and internet has given all of us a cost effective and accessible means of maintaining regular contact.  Software to manage email campaigns and newsletters is readily available, and building up a database of leads, prospects and customers is an essential business tool.  If you're not using this means of marketing to some degree already then you are just plain crazy! 

If you have a list that you are sending messages to regularly, and if you are tracking who opens your emails, you may get downhearted and question the point of doing it when there appear to be large numbers of people not reading your efforts but not bothering to unsubscribe either.  These people are usually referred to as ‘emotionally unsubscribed'.  And some e-marketing organisations recommend you ‘cull' your list as including these people in your statistics make your results look poor.

However, in an article at MarketingProfs I came across another view - that these people should be termed ‘unemotionally subscribed', meaning they remain interested but just don't need what you are selling right now.  Ignoring your messages until they are ready to buy is easier than finding you again at a later date.   They quote some interesting statistics:

  • Ten percent of one company's revenue in 2008 came from subscribers who opened not a single email in 2007.
  • An outstanding offer from another company generated £70,000 in sales from subscribers who had not opened the previous 25 to 40 email messages.

This makes sense to me - I get quite a few promotional emails that I don't open or respond to right away.  As long as you provide an easy opt-out mechanism then I think it is safe to assume that your customers are thinking that they might need you someday - just not yet!

The bottom line is that your business needs a planned contact strategy for leads, prospects and customers - how you do it needs to be right for you and them, but being afraid of being annoying is not a good excuse for no contact at all!

Snake Oil and Marketing

We live in an age of hype, where exaggeration and extreme claims get you noticed.  And marketing is, unfortunately, one of the major culprits.  Everyday I am invited to learn the next guaranteed way to make millions on the internet, how to attract more customers than you'll know what to do with, or why some new idea or technique will change my life.  And I meet many people who set themselves up to sell expertise that, scratch the surface, they don't really have.  Does owning a camera make you a photographer?  Does being able to hold a pen make you a writer?  Does advertising make you a marketer?  Those peddling Snake Oil make a convincing case.

Despite the impression you might get, marketing is not a set of mystical spells to cast over your customer base. Generally the concepts are based in common sense but require insight and experience of customer behaviour and emotions to make them work.  The reason I am dwelling on this subject is that I am preparing for the CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) Simply Better Marketing seminar this week.  We're running sessions with Business Link and Christchurch University to help Small Businesses get better at marketing, and we're using Chartered Marketers to deliver the presentations and follow-up with attendees.  And in the course of doing this we aim to get greater recognition for this little known professional qualification and the confidence it gives that we know what we are talking about!

Choosing a marketing supplier to trust, or even how to select marketing staff, can be a minefield - particularly given the tendency to outrageous claims as above!  But it is not all Snake Oil!  You need to look for depth and breadth of real experience as well as appropriate qualifications.  Chartered Marketers have not only to prove they have the background knowledge in marketing in order to receive the award, but they have to maintain it through continuous professional development (35 hours annually).  

We seem, as a society, to be continually de-valuing the concept of hard work.  I certainly notice it with my own children who berate me for working too hard!  The idea that you need to learn how to do something and then gain practical experience, and true expertise, by applying it over time is laughed at.  But in truth nothing is that easy.  Despite the hype, we all know there are few overnight successes or ways to get rich without breaking sweat.  Or we'd all be millionaires by now!

My advice is cultivate a healthy scepticism and look beyond the headlines to look for evidence to back up the claims.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!


* From Wikipedia: Snake Oil is a traditional Chinese medicine used to treat joint pain.  However the most common usage of the phrase is as a derogatory term for compounds offered as medicines which implies they are fake or ineffective.  The expression is also applied metaphorically to any product with exaggerated marketing, but questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit.