Thursday, 31 January 2008

Twitter - misunderstood tool or total twaddle?

Ok, so I am really interested in the whole Social web thing, community building and social networks.
But I've never really GOT the Twitter thing.

I've been intrigued by it, but, having left my Tricenarian years behind last year, and the lack of requests for my twitter-presence, it appears that I either dont have any "cool" friends who use such tools, or that they too are unsure what to do with it!

So, on finding this post last week and reading another viewpoint from a contact I made at a Green Marketing event today, I finally got round to setting up an account to see if i can find a use for it.

To be honest, I was a late entrant to the Facebook "thing" but quickly found appeal and got hooked. It's enabled me to get back in contact, and easily maintain contact with a whole bunch of friends from the "pre-company" years that I thought I would never see or hear from again. (I've never been very brilliant at keeping regular contact with friends who've moved away..) And for that, I thank you Facebook!

So, onto Twitter - The idea is that you can send a text (SMS) to a central point on anything that you are doing, and then your friends and followers can be updated automatically by the same service. AND interact.

It's really easy to setup an account, then validate it to your mobile, and you are ready to go, so I have. And then - well, as I had suspected, having let it trawl through my email addresses, it found ZERO people that I know with accounts on twitter, so I am left able to twitter to myself!

BUT HANG ON! - Then it hit me - Its a micro-blogging tool, one that would enable me for example, to text ideas and thoughts back to a blog, some of which could be worth sharing (!?) but others could be referenced later and written up in full or acted on.

Take, for example, the event I was at today; I met loads of new contacts and made some notes of blogs, website URLs and great ideas - I could have twittered (such messages are called "Tweets") these back to my micro-blog (and via a cunning widget, I suspect pulling them directly onto this blog too) and therefore been contributing to this post hours ago!

Today I had paper and a pen with me, but what if I was in the pub, or at a sporting meeting or similar - I can now whizz ideas and updates, even if they are only really of interest to me, back to my micro-blog, at any time.

And, thinking laterally, say you are a small courier company and want to keep track of your drivers, why not get them to twitter a customer or delivery code / report back on completing a drop-off, or traffic update.. then any potential delays could be co-ordinated for the cost of an SMS, AND all other drivers could receive the update automatically.

I know you can text to multiple recipients, but this sorts it all out for you, AND provides a log of events that a manager or administrator can use (AND more!)

So, although my account setup is still drying, I can already see that there are loads of potential applications already, and that's without trying to find friends to update on my every movement! Thumbsup from me!

Have you used it? what do you think?

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Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Designing Demand..

I had a flyer thrust at me yesterday from a long term business advisor and mentor about "a programme pushing the benefits of design for business and how good design can lead to a real return on investment".

This struck a chord, its something that rings very true with me - long have I been espousing the benefits of good design consideration to our clients!

It's sponsored and run by the Design Council and they certainly seem to have done some homework; the stats are impressive, they claim:

Thats a pretty bold statement, however, in my view its not the complete story. For example, you can have a beautifully crafted and designed website, but no strategy to launch it or get it to market, so the great design doesnt get aired and the business gets no return on its investment; or a brilliantly designed advert, but not have considered your target market or their needs and completetly miss the spot.

However, if the design is part of a coherent business strategy that encompasses business objectives, target market, purpose, measurement and delivery, then you have a really good chance of your good design hitting the mark.

And its not just about good visual design and branding; (though there's a huge amount to be said about positioning your products and services appropriately for the target market, and why brand perception is given so much consideration by the FMCG marketers!) - its about designing a good product in the first place...

I met with a friend today, who has a fantastic business concept but is struggling to work out what will sell best and how to pitch it, but doesnt want to launch it early or malformed for fear it may get snaffled, or miss an opportunity; ah-ha I thought - he needs to get his idea aired and get some feedback from a sample market, or a focus group to help him work out how others will actually take to it.

Trouble is, most entrepreneurial types dont have the money to invest in this kind of activity so go off to market with a half-baked idea or it stalls and never sees the light of day.

But what about the social web? There's a huge opportunity, on a tiny budget, to set up a forum, or microsite, or a blog (!!?) that could be published to a select (and controlled initially, if IP is an issue) group to engage with them to run the idea in its barest form - its an online / easy access, brainstorming session. There's loads of ways to setup and run this kind of social community for pretty much zero cost, and you get free product / service design feedback that can make or break that leap, and, assuming they liked it, you know that part of your target market are already buyers of the product you are about to launch. And if they didnt, they either help you shape it ("Ok, so what about if we offered it in blue, with a handle on this side?") or go back to the drawing board and start on something else.

The great thing about communities is that if you listen properly you can often find a need, even if its not what you thought they wanted. I was ranting recently about how some big brands are doing this, but the great thing is it can work for any product, any market and size company - welcome to New world marketing - conversational marketing, where your audience can define and then buy your products.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Pats on backs

I'm not sure what the correct blog-i-quette is for self promotion, but in this case, I dont care!

Preview has been through a lot of changes and reorganisation over the past 18 months or so, and its all paid off in our new team and the work they've been doing.

To cap it all, I had another look at our 2007 yearbook today, that Martyn Reding (our Creative Director) put together, and it reminded me, it's blimmin great.

If you do nothing else, please take two minutes, pop over to our news page and have a read of THEIR yearbook - its worth it, honest!

Great stuff everyone - thanks, I'm really proud!

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Who are your brand guardians?

I was at a company in Crawley a while ago, fairly sizable - they turnover about £800 Million, and was delighted to see that they really take their brand and values seriously. They realise that every staff member is an ambassador for their company and empower them to be positive brand guardians from the day they join. EVERY new employee they take on has to complete a 3 day course in the values, personality and structure of the company, ensuring they understand and buy into the whole ethos.

The company realise the strength and power that they have and how, by empowering their staff, they can deliver it consistently from board level to shopfloor. It not only improves understanding of what the company is, but also where it is going, why and how. Maintained, it's an direct route to great communications, whilst also building brand perception and ultimately, brand value.


Ask yourself this, If you could be a fly-on-the-wall for ANY single employee within your organisation and hear them out socially (for example in the pub) with their mates being asked what it is they do and what the company was like, would they answer it how you or any member of the board would...? And if they cant answer that consistently, what would they say about the mission and direction of the company..?

At Preview we have worked hard to ensure that our core values and the company ethos are something that not only exists through the company but are actively challenged and developed - the team are always questioning communication and marketing activities to check that we are following our own rules - I'm not saying it's easy, but its well worthwhile - I think it also makes change management one helluva lot easier to confront.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Marketing to a niche market

In my other business we make specialist livery and graphics kits for emergency vehicles.

But we have an interesting set of problems to surmount.

We are one of only a handful such specialist companies in the country, and largely, the UK leads the world due to our research and development into acheiving high visibility on our roads. However, our specialism makes for an interesting marketing case:

> There are 3 manufacturers of suitable materials for this work, and we all buy from the same sources at very similar prices.
> There are guidelines as to the designs and layout of the livery we make and we all have to follow them (within reason)
> There is only one method (currently) of manufacture to cut and seal the materials we use - we all use that technology
> There are a finite number of users in the UK in the emergency services, and we all know who those contacts are already

Therefore, the only obvious ways we can differentiate from our competitors is on service or price. Trouble is, clients EXPECT good service and support, or change suppliers, and if you compete on price, well, anyone can cut their prices, cant they - it doesnt actually offer a better product, does it!?

We were a late entrant to the market (and my background gave us none of the advantages or hindrences of legacy information or knowledge) and from day one I saw that service was a key route, but also that our competitors were all parts of bigger organisations, so we were able to offer one unique point - Specialism. I also strove to set up a brand that conveyed all our key attributes consistently and clearly. We have always been free with our technical and legal knowledge; my belief is that if you empower people to understand your offering, they will lean more naturally toward you when they come to purchase - and it's worked so far, through our regular newsletters, thorough website and technical bulletins - we do have a great name for helpful, knowledgable staff and good quality service.

However, thats all great, and we have grown to a point where we are a pain to the other competitors, but we want to gain more market share of the core, relatively static, emergency service business.

The only way I can see to differentiate is to dip back into the bag that got us here in the first place and INNOVATE. We've had some fantastic open days recently that have attained great feedback and we'll be acting on some of that.

The conclusion I have come to this week is to really engage again with our target market and open up opportunities for them to share and discuss the issues they face, so that we can use the feedback to hone our offering. Not just online, though that would be innovative(!), but face to face, over the phone and at exhibitions etc. A truly rounded "Customer First" approach that I think will reveal completely different issues and requirements than just price... we'll see!

If you have any suggestions for how I might approach this, I'd welcome them - it all helps in the mix!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Out with the old web!

This has been around for a while, but I love it for two reasons; firstly, the content is spot on, explaining what is really under the skin of Web 2.0 and how it lays the foundation for 3.0 and 4 (if you are into versioning of something as immense and intangible as the web!) . It also really makes you think about all the things that are having to be reconsidered in the light of communities and collaboration online..

Secondly, the production is superb and its a joy to watch!

Well, what do you think?

Thursday, 17 January 2008

How to engage with your customers?

I've been using a couple of great real-world examples of how brands can learn (yes learn!) from online opinions and engage with communities for everyones greater good, but importantly to gain an increase in both brand perception (and therefore perceived brand value) as well as generate those all important shareholder returns.

The best example of how TO do it was Cadbury, who learned that there was mounting opinion urging them to reinstate the Wispa bar. They listened to the chatter, engaged with the audience and discovered they had a really loyal and approachable customer base that they could use to bounce ideas off and therefore help with product development. They reinstated the Wispa bar, but also used this new channel to converse freely with a wide range of people crossing all demographics. By feeding this marketing information back into product development, they now have a unique opportunity to harness the chatter and build better products that people already want to buy!

On the how NOT TO do it side is HSBC, who, on finding there was a huge gathering of negative opinion regarding their decision to abolish interest free overdrafts on Facebook, eventually agreed to reverse their decision and refund the students. All sounds great, except the way they went about it has been perceived as a cave-in from the giant bank in blogs and forums the world over. Surely not the result the brand and marketing director would have planned!

And today, another example - Facebook have been asked to pull Scrabulous by Scrabble manufacturers Mattel and Hasbro. Now, dont get me wrong, I think copyright is an important and necessary principle, though it is one that continues to generate debate with the advance of the digital media, but here again Mattel / Hasbro appear to have run scared and simply quashed a really popular application (some 600,000 are registered to it) when there must surely have been another way. Now there are "Save Scrabulous" groups appearing all over Facebook and lots of negative sentiment toward the big brands involved.

Come on guys, wake up, listen to your "customers" and put their needs first occasionally!

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Really fantastic stuff


I swore (again!) that I would not stoop so low as to use "stuff" in my blog, and here I am only on my second post and it's in the title already. But I've deleted and pondered it and really cant find a better word in this instance - any suggestions?!

I am currently reading a book - Marketing to the Social Web which is fascinating, but not in the way that you might expect. The book details how the new social web is opening up new ways of communication and new channels to (and from!) market, at the same time causing the need to revisit and overhaul age-old marketing principles. It is an excellent book.

The reason I find it fascinating is that over the past year or so my interest in the social web and the whole online community captivation has grown and grown to almost an obsession; much of what Larry Weber (the author) says I find myself saying out loud "yes, thats what I've been saying", which is not a good thing if you are on a train, believe me!

I dont think I have ever encountered a book that so well distills a lot of thoughts and ideas that I had, in such a concise and usable way. And business books almost NEVER hold my attention!

So come on all you blue chips and big brands, sit up, listen to your audience, customer communication is now, more than ever before, a two-way channel. Ignore it at your peril.


Ok, I've finally gone and done it. Finally gotten round to listening to my own advice and started my own blog.


Has global warming slowed down?
Has President Bush shot up in the popularity ranks?
Has it even stopped raining?

I doubt it.

But that's not why i've started this.

I often post comments on other's blogs and want to point them back to my own (unpublished) thoughts. Thats one reason, but more importantly, my head is always awash with thoughts, ideas, plans and schemes, all at various stages of development; from embryonic to fully-formed, go-get-em offerings that need unleashing, or at least, airing in the cold air of day to see if they look (and more importantly, function!) at least half as well as they looked on the inside.

So, please, comment, criticise, jeer and praise at your leisure - 'cos if the only person reading this is me, then its going to be a pretty one-sided arrangement!

The need to start a blog (although to confess I did start a personal one several years ago, but it was too narrow focussed and my interest waned) has grown daily over the past month to the point that I could (almost) sit and write an entry for each day I've missed, all in one sitting! But now I have the benefit of retrospect, many of those flash thoughts and observations seem dull and tarnished, so anew it must be - bring on the shiny thoughts!

toodle-pip - thanks for reading!