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Off the Edge : Opinion

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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The Top 8 Ways To make More Time For Marketing

make time for marketingOne of the most common reasons given for not getting to grips with their marketing is that business leaders can't find the time. Despite good intentions, real life gets in the way. We all know that we should spend more time working ON our businesses than working IN our businesses, but life isn't always that simple.

Here at The Purple Edge we're not immune either. We recently decided that a project we conceived several months ago just wasn't going to progress unless we could devote a lot more time to it so we started researching ways to create more time. What we found were mostly things which we sort of knew already but we just forgot about when up to our ears in "real work". 

We thought others might benefit from a refresher too, and maybe we'd uncovered a few things which might be new to some people, so we thought we'd share them. We've done the research so you don't have to!

So here goes with our top 8 ways to make more time for marketing (or other important things you wa [read on...]

Are newsletters a waste of time?

News I spend quite a lot of time on email newsletters - planning, writing, creating, even reading. Email newsletter sending has grown a lot because it is seen as a very cost-effective way to get a message out there. But I started to wonder recently whether they really had a place in the days of mass, bite-sized, real-time communications.

I'll come clean and say I don't have the definitive answer to this question as I don't have the resources to carry out statistically significant research - but I'm happy to share with you where my thinking has got me, and would love to hear what you think too!

First, my observations

Open rates declining

Or not improving. Does that mean the newsletter is a bad idea? Not necessarily - it could be that the content is becoming tired and predictable, particularly if you have a very stable audience/mailing list. In which case it is time to reinvent your newsletter before you abandon it completely. In Mailchimp's own tests (Mailchimp being a very popul [read on...]

Marketing is the most important business function

Everything is marketingSure, there are other important things you have to do to run a business - manage your finances and people for example. But without marketing you have no customers which means no business!

We've had the following argument (sorry discussion) with many businesses over many years:

  • I don't do any marketing
  • Yes you do
  • No, I don't need to, I get all the business I need from xxx - OR well, I tried it once, it didn't work so I gave up

What these conversations reveal is deep-seated confusion about what marketing is - and that (since everyone that has a business with customers is doing marketing) there is a lot of unconscious effort going into it. Which is fine if you are getting the results you want and hitting your goals.

If not it's time to get more conscious!

Marketing is everything you do to create satisfied customers profitably - that is people who pay for your good/services and who are prepared to keep coming back for more! Of course, there are variations on t [read on...]

The power of controversy

Controversy makes newsWho said "there's no such thing as bad publicity?"

It's clearly nonsense of course - there are some spectacular failures in marketing case history. Stories of companies severely affected by bad publicity: BP, Hoover, Perrier.

But a bit of controversy, on the other hand, can get you a lot more column inches and air time than sticking to the straight and narrow. Just recently Sky Broadband have been in the news having their Bruce Willis ad banned for being misleading. Coca-cola was similarly castigated not so long ago, Ikea was accused of frightening people with its gnomes ad, and Marmite too has been criticised for being insensitive to animal protection organisations.

I've picked up on these in the marketing discussion groups, but they were all featured on major websites, including the BBC. Publicity worth having?

Could it be that some companies actively seek to use the angle of controversy to make their publicity budgets go further?

There is a ad for Dreamscape Networks featuri [read on...]

Is fear holding you back?

Transform fear into action in your marketingDid you watch the BBC Three series 'The Call Centre'? I've got them recorded and have only watched a couple but Nev, the call centre owner, is a fascinating character. He has some unorthodox tactics, but the fundamental principles he uses to approach the motivation of his team seem to have merit. 

To produce not just good but great results you need to feel positive and energised about the role you're carrying out. And working in a call centre, where you are continually abused or simply hung up on time after time, has got to be one of the hardest jobs ever. If you can't handle rejection then you won't last 5 minutes.

His motto is: "Some will. Some won't. So what? Next!"

A great philosophy that many of us can benefit from. And it got me thinking about other fears, or limiting beliefs, that stop us achieving our full potential in business.

Fear of rejection is common among many of us engaged in sales and marketing. But what about some of these other fears:

You don't need a website!

I'm putting the final touches to the website course we are running on Friday - so have been thinking a lot about websites the last few days. It seems appropriate, therefore, to reprise a blog from last year. 

Frankly, your website has to be more than a fancy brochure - it has to be working hard for you in your business. And if it's not then you have to know enough to be able to back and challenge your web company to put things right for you. 

We'd like to make you a smarter customer of web services - come and find out how!


Originally published 12 October 2012:

marketing hub"Nurse! Nurse!" I can hear you cry. "Mr Hunt's out of bed again!!"

But no, really, it's completely true. You don't need a website. Well you certainly don't if they're anything like some of the websites we've seen lately. Websites that:

  • aren't optimised
  • aren't updated
  • aren't well written
  • aren't clear
  • aren't effective
  • don't facilitate interaction with potential customers
  • don't generate leads
  • d [read on...]

We're not a charity you know!

Kent MS Therapy CentreSummer brings with it a rash of sponsored events - regular demands from kids, friends, colleagues and mere acquaintances to support their efforts for charity. And it also brings a number of dilemmas. How do you balance your desire to give a bit back and do a bit of good with requests from all angles? Do you feel a little bit guilty every time you turn down a request to donate? Is it better to give £500 to one charity or £10 to 50 charities?

I haven't found the answer to all these issues - but I was very pleased to come across an idea that we can implement in our business while doing something positive for charity at the same time. I can't claim any credit really - I have Spacemaker Architects for showing me the way (and they admitted they 'borrowed' it from somewhere else too). I bet many of you could do likewise.

Like a lot of companies, Spacemaker Architects included, we offer a free initial consultation to allow a potential customer to find out if we could work together. The consultation may lead to us presenting a formal proposal, but in the course of that discussion we give huge amounts of value in the shape of feedback and ideas on a client's business. To raise money you simply ask for a donation to charity in return for the time and valuable advice - and everyone gets to feel good about the process!

We've advertised this on our website but have not had chance to try it out yet - although Spacemaker Architects tell us it's received very positively.

So that solves one issue - how to raise money for a cause - but how do you choose the cause you wish to support?

Charities are in a fiercely competitive market - there are many of them chasing our limited funds, personal and business. And there are lots of good causes, the first problem for me was how on earth do you choose who to support and who to spurn?  For charities the key is usually to find an emotional link that they can tap into - either supporting someone you care about (the kids) or presenting a cause that you have an affinity with. For me that means the charity that is 'flavour of the month' has changed over time:

  • When my children were young I supported kids & baby charities
  • When my dad died in the Pilgrim's Hospice of cancer my allegiance shifted
  • Concerned about the beggars in the subway I supported Porchlight charity for the homeless
  • As the surviving grandparents (and me) get older Age UK seems attractive

I will continue to make random personal donations to various charities no doubt, but for the business we wanted something we could really get behind and believe in, and ultimately it was the words of Mary Daly of the Kent Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre that swung it. She talked movingly about her own experience as a sufferer with MS, about how important the centre is to many people, but also about how by supporting their Butterfly Appeal to raise funds for a new building we can be part of a long-lasting legacy for the local community. 

The last point swung it for me. Several times a week Caspar and I run past their current ramshackle building and, by supporting their cause, I'll be able to witness and feel part of the development of their new centre. It will feel more real and more personal than giving to a huge national charity.

At the same time we've also agreed to support the JM Recruitment and Pinnochio's team doing the Martha Trust Rome or Bust rally this September - it's another very good cause, but also an inspired fundraising project that offers a lot of fun! So another key factor for charities is how innovative and inspiring they can be!

Companies have long identified that supporting charity can be good for business - it reflects well on them in positive public attitude and can be good for staff motivation too. Good for business and good for the charities - thankfully.

What ideas have you had in your business to work with charities? And how do you make your decisions on who to support, how and how much? I'd love to know. 

 

Sharon WildingSharon Wilding is a Chartered Marketer with many years experience in marketing for businesses large and small. As a lecturer and a practioner she aims to help small businesses use theory in practical ways to improve performance. You can connect with Sharon on Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

Create a NOT to do list

Yes, no or maybe?A shortage of ideas is rarely the problem when it comes to marketing. A bigger problem, I observe from many, many discussions with business owners, is how to decide what to do. And how to say NO! to some of the opportunities that come your way.

Not saying no can make you feel lost, overwhelmed, confused - guilty even. I think saying no is a much under-rated skill and, despite the story I go on to tell, one that I too would like to get better at!

Some time ago I wrote a blog on how rude and disrespectful some businesses can be to other businesses - particularly when they don't return calls or emails or give politely requested feedback on quotes and proposals received. I got a lot of support on that one, but it's not just about common courtesy - it's about good management practice.

A world of possibilities

When my old boss at BT received calls from sales people (mainly marketing agencies) he would always say, "You need to speak to Sharon. She makes those decisions. Here's her number." When they contacted me I knew that my most likely response would be, "Thanks but no thanks". I was open to their approach, would listen and give it fair consideration, but if there was no real opportunity or likelihood that we would give them any business then I would very openly, politely and straighforwardly tell them so.

Why couldn't my boss do this himself? He was an intelligent guy of high integrity, but he was terrible at turning people down. He wasn't really worried about hurting their feelings or not being liked, what he hated was closing down opportunities. He saw the possibilities in everything even when, according to my more pragmatic and realistic view of the world, resources were limited and you can't do everything. 

If resources are limited in a big company like BT now, as a small business owner, they seem even more so - time in particular is a precious commodity. Closely followed by money!

Liberate yourself!

Saying no does close down some possibilities - but not necessarily for ever. It just frees you up to concentrate on fewer, more targeted, activities.

But that raises another issue of course. What if you don't know which activities are the right ones to pick?

That's where your marketing strategy and plan helps you out - it tells you where you're going, and the best way (based on available resources) to get there. It's not just a tool for telling you what you are doing - just as importantly it helps you decide what you're NOT going to do!

So this Friday, when you review your 'to do' list for the coming week (as I'm sure you always do), why not be bold and move some of the ideas that have been hanging around for a long time off the list altogether? Say NO!

Unless of course the thing that you've struggled to get around to doing is your marketing strategy and plan - because then you'll be in real trouble!

 

Sharon WildingSharon Wilding is a Chartered Marketer with many years experience in marketing for businesses large and small. As a lecturer and a practioner she aims to help small businesses use theory in practical ways to improve performance. You can connect with Sharon on Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

Oops - did I really say that?

Shut up big mouthI've avoided talking about social media for a while - for most of our clients it is not the biggest priority to be attended to in their marketing. Nevertheless it is part and parcel of everyday life now.

Only this week we've had a stock market near-crash through a hacker getting into Twitter, a number of people have lost their jobs in the last couple of weeks by making inadvisable comments about Margaret Thatcher, and who could have missed the Paris Brown debacle? A resignation forced by tweets posted a couple of years ago when she was only 14. Powerful tools indeed - clearly not to be taken lightly. 

Could it happen to you?

Martyn Young in Canterbury had his own wake up moment recently:

"[A comment was taken] off the Facebook page I started 'Stop the removal of Westgate bus stops in Canterbury'. The politics are unimportant, it is more the issue of being taken out of context. The quote is on page 6 of the Gazette, and relates to a post I did make, but minutes after posted a better idea straight after in the same thread. The quote was in my opinion deliberately chosen as it would have been perceived as an indirect attack on people living in Station Rd West, when it was really trying to start a discussion on future bus routes should St. Peter's St be made inaccessible to buses."

If you post on FB or Twitter had you considered that your comments might be picked up by journalists to support their stories? There was nothing wrong with what Martyn said, but it wasn't his fully-formed opinion, just a snippet of the whole conversation. Although it's hard to see how this can really be avoided it is probably fair to say that most of us are not considering what a journalist might do with our messages (I bet Paris wishes she had thought of that).

All this means I have been forced to view more sympathetically those people I talk to who could use social media to benefit their business but who say they are too scared of getting it wrong.

Too strong? Use the Granny test

Social media is about being sociable but when we relax, possibly acting like we've been down the pub for a few hours, we are not necessarily thinking carefully nor on our best business behaviour. The difference being that your audience down the pub is that much smaller, and even if you generate a bit of gossip it's unlikely to reach the same level of publicity as social networks can.

Social networks are not really just like having personal conversations because they are published. And once something is published publicly you can't unpublish it, it is there for anyone to use - as Martyn found.

Of course the additional problem is that if you sanitise your interactions and comments too much you end up being boring. And who wants to join in a conversation with you then?

If you care about your reputation (and all of you should) then you need to be able to tread carefully in the narrow space between boring and over the top! Whenever you write something on a social network just remember that there is big audience out there and don't put down anything you would be embarrassed for your Grandmother to read!

 

Sharon WildingSharon Wilding is a Chartered Marketer with many years experience in marketing for businesses large and small. As a lecturer and a practioner she aims to help small businesses use theory in practical ways to improve performance. You can connect with Sharon on Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

Happy e-Christmas, recycled

Merry Christmas CardIt's my last blog of the year and I decided to do my bit for the environment by recycling a message from last year! (Unfortunately that statement is less impressive when we're talking electronic messages.)

Most of us are increasing caught up in the e-world with almost everything available virtually. But Christmas is a good time to remember the more tangible stuff of marketing - cards, posters, banners, magazines, leaflets and good-old face to face networking and customer relationships. So as you pack up your businesses for a well-earned break, think about how you can ensure a good mix of traditional and modern in your marketing for the coming year.

You are not your client so don't just go for what is easiest or makes sense to you - what do your customers want/need from you?

I have very much enjoyed the video cards this year but they're all deleted now, as I said last year ...

There's no doubt about it, e-everything has transformed the way we do business. We have email, e-newsletters, ecommerce - and lots of things that don't begin with e but are still electronic: websites, blogs, social media, video, laptops, smartphones, etc.

All these bring enormous benefits in terms of speed, ease of use, ease of reach and cost-effectiveness. But do you ever feel we are losing our sense of balance? Are we in danger of becoming too seduced by the charms of the e-world?

It was Christmas that made me think about this a bit harder. Like many people, in recent years we have turned to emails to send out cheery messages of glad tidings and great joy at Christmas. And we're on the receiving end of a fair few. But are they a good substitute for the traditional, hand-written card? I decided "not in all cases" so this year we took a step back into the dark ages and sent some of our contacts cardboard by snail mail!

Here's my 3 reasons why:

  1. It's more personal - the email versions are obviously sent as volume mailings, personalised by machine if at all. I like the idea that someone has taken the trouble to write me a card.
  2. It's more visible - email is fleeting, transient. Seen for seconds and deleted. I love the decorative effect of Christmas cards - having them on display is all part of the fun.
  3. It's bucking a trend - if everyone else is opting for email then sending a real card stands out and gets you noticed. And I don't really buy the 'better for the environment' argument - if it wasn't cheaper and easier than writing and sending a card most people wouldn't give a Christmas fig about the environment!

Sending greetings by email clearly has a role to play - especially when the message makes best use of the medium, with a animation or game for example. I love email communications. But my thoughts about Christmas cards can also be carried over into our choices about marketing communications for the rest of the year too. Especially when it comes to adding a personal touch and standing out from the crowd.

If you spend a lot of time at a computer, in the e-world, then it is easy to assume everyone else does too. This is a fatal mistake - as we've said before, you are not your client. You need to be aware of the preferences and habits of your target audience. Mixing up your media, integrating the more traditional methods with the new, will give you more opportunities to be seen and get known.

One size does not fit all!

What do you think about sending and receiving cards vs emails? And do you think differently if you're male rather than female? Another factor to consider in your targeting of marketing communications!

Happy e-Christmas!