Apostrophegate - is good communication in peril?
25 March 2013
So, Mid Devon District Council may be about to reverse the decision to ban apostrophes from street names. A victory for the Plain English Campaign and for all of us who strive to write clear, concise copy for ourselves and for our clients, with commas and full stops and even the odd semi-colon, in roughly the right place. There's nothing mysterious or sinister about punctuation - it's simply a tool to aid understanding. So why all the fuss?
Possibly because it's part of a bigger issue about communication in general and the way it's changing as a result of technology. Because of spell-check, many people can no longer spell; because of twitter, some can't compose a sentence; because of email, a large number of graduates can't write a formal letter. I saw an email from a teacher recently in which he'd written 'could of' instead of 'could have' - an error which is increasingly common.
But that's just the nuts and bolts of communication. If the educational flesh is willing, this can be fixed.
What is also changing dramatically is the content of people's communications. This is harder to address. The speed and ease with which we can message/text/tweet/facebook has seduced many into communicating matters trivial, dull, intimate and irrelevant. Forgive me, but I am just not interested in what people are eating for lunch or who they are sitting next to on the tube. And why are they wasting their time telling us about it?
The desire for human beings to share the content of their lives is age-old. No doubt cave people sat around the fire telling tales of the day's hunting and foraging. But the channels people have predominantly used to communicate have been face-to-face or ear-to-ear. And that involves human interaction. Today's communication channels of choice are mainly remote, removed and faceless and that can lead people to communicate recklessly (Evening Standard budget leak) and put themselves in danger (child grooming on the Internet).
So, are we all doomed? I don't think so. As with all new technology, we're in a period of transition. Individuals and businesses are excited by the possibilities available to us, and are trying them for size. But pretty soon, the basic rules of good communication will reassert themselves, and content which is irrelevant and inappropriate will fizzle out. I, for one, can't wait.
No man should have an island
01 March 2013
Standing on a crowded tube train yesterday, I observed the top of a seated man's head. He was going bald but had maintained an 'island' of hair at the front of his pate which he'd allowed to grow quite long. When he looks in the mirror he probably imagines that the island is connected to the mainland hair. He can't see what's really going on because he hasn't got a view from above.
And so it often is with consultancy. We, with a bird's eye view, can identify what an organisation's issues are and what the possible solutions might be because our external perspective gives us a clarity which is hard to find within the organisation.
We can usually see the wood from the trees, or the island on the pate.
You can judge a book by its cover
14 February 2013
There's an interesting piece in The Lawyer this week about law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse's plans to change premises. They are apparently intending to use their forthcoming office move as an opportunity to revamp their image and culture - they're moving from their currently drab offices to an exciting base in a more attractive part of town. It's gratifying to hear that they recognise the importance of their premises in promoting/enhancing/altering their brand image (and of course it's not just about the exterior. Will they go for sleek, modern, minimalist or traditional, opulent, upmarket; modern art or grand masters; newspapers or TV mounted on the wall?).
The concept of bringing a brand to life in a variety of different ways is not always easy for clients to grasp, especially those in the professional services sector. Many of them tend to think that brand means logo, stationery or website. In fact, developing and promoting a brand is a far more subtle and complex business than choosing a few typefaces and a colour palette. It's also about personality, values, behaviour, priorities, which need to be communicated in every area of an organisation's 'life' (from its choice of office location to the design of its reception area and demeanour of its receptionists). And, crucially, like all marketing initiatives, it must be an integrated and co-ordinated enterprise - it's not enough just to have a shiny new front door.
Carpe diem - Oreo certainly did!
06 February 2013
All businesses can learn from Oreo's spectacular advertising success at the Super Bowl on Sunday night. When the power went down during the third quarter of the match, the Oreo marketing team saw it as an opportunity and went to work on an ad that was quickly Tweeted. According to Marketing magazine, within an hour the Oreo ad, with the caption, "Power out? No problem", had been shared more than 10,000 times on Twitter and went on to be retweeted and 'favourited' more than 18,000 times. In other words, one of the most talked-about ads on the Super Bowl night, when TV spots were being sold by CBS for between $3.8m (£2.4m) and $4m (£2.5m), was done for free on Twitter.
This illustrates two interesting and important points: one, that lean approval mechanisms need to be in place in every organisation so that quick responses can be made to marketing opportunities or communication crises.(Maybe Oreo was just lucky that the client decision makers and creatives were in the same room watching the game - the initiative would surely have failed if it had had to go through a laborious approval process.) And two, the best ideas need not be the most expensive ones. We must be brave and creative enough to think outside the box on occasion. And next time the Oreos are passed round at a marketing committee meeting during an interminable discussion about a fairly minor initiative, spare a thought for the total fee-earning time that is being collectively wasted by doing so!
Michael McIntyre - a masterclass in audience planning
01 February 2013
Michael McIntyre has been named the most successful stand-up comedian in the world. According to ticket sales tracker Pollstar, more than 600,000 people attended his 71-date Showtime! tour last year, generating £21m in sales. But what's the secret of his success compared to other stand ups? The answer is that he has followed the first rule of effective communication (valid in any context from a corporate webinar to a best man's speech to a legal 'beauty parade') - research your audience and answer their needs.
So, whether you're young and single, middle aged and married, a parent, an empty nester, divorced or retired, a Michael McIntyre show will have a section for you. The jokes are appropriate, relevant and delivered in language that makes a real connection with that section of the audience. It's a bit like spinning comedy plates - once he's got the the middle aged parents laughing, he can move on to 'spin' the young singles and so on. It's very clever, very slick and very professional.
Is social media eroding traditional business development skills?
25 January 2013
The enthusiasm for digital marketing, especially social media, shows no sign of abating. But is there a risk that in all the excitement of twitter accounts, Facebook advertising campaigns and blogger outreach, we are forgetting some of the fundamentals of effective business development? For any service business where the "product" is expertise, personality is always going to play an important role in the decision making process. And that means that there is no substitute for meeting people face to face and getting a real feel for what they are looking for and how you might be able to meet that need.
Of course it's easier to hide behind a laptop and kid oneself that business development activity is over for the day once a couple of emails have been sent and a comment made on a LinkedIn group. But it won't be nearly as effective as picking up that old chestnut of a social media tool - the telephone - and actually speaking to a client or potential client for a few minutes to arrange a coffee date you've not managed to have for the last few months.
We read in the papers every day about how young people are arriving at university without the basic communication skills that they need to interact with their peers and tutors because they have spent too much time on their computers and not in the real world. Don't let the same thing creep up on you. And if you need some help to get you started along the path of networking, presentation training, client care - don't be proud, ask an expert.
Long live the Christmas card
18 January 2013
It would seem that reports of the demise of the Christmas card were wrong. In the run up to the festive season many were predicting that rising postage costs and exciting digital technology would mean that many mantelpieces and desks would remain bare this December and that the ecard would take over. Not a bit of it. One of our professional services clients reported that they had received a record number of printed cards, and my own doormat positively groaned with season's greetings.
So, what happened, and why did people revert to this most ancient and traditional form of communication when an ecard or email is easier, quicker and cheaper? Is this the beginning of a backlash against digital communication methods and a recognition that the emperor is indeed naked?
When embarking on any piece of communication, whether professional or personal, there's a logical process. It begins with the audience - who are they, what are their expectations/beliefs/values? Secondly, what are we trying to communicate - what messages do we want to give them? And thirdly, what is the best 'channel' to deliver those messages to that particular audience?
In the case of the Christmas card, it's usually a broad and diverse audience; the messages are around valuing the recipient, developing or nurturing the relationship, maintaining contact, personal attachment. And for this, the majority of people in 2012 decided that a printed card, sent through the post, was the most appropriate channel.
A reminder, if we needed one, that traditional marketing methods are still valid and that younger, 'sexier', routes to our target audiences aren't always the answer.
Marketing resolutions for 2013
08 January 2013
There is something about throwing out the Christmas tree, eating the final mince pie and writing the last thank you letter that makes many of us want to approach our own business, and those of our clients', with renewed vigour and rigour. So here are some of Blue Panther's suggestions on how to put a marketing spring in your step in 2013:
- Celebrate each marketing success with your team and with external stakeholders as appropriate - it's good for morale and spurs others on to do likewise
- Good marketing does not need to be expensive - if money is tight, think about activities that don't incur extra costs such as blogging, writing articles, reinvigorating your media contacts
- Arrange to meet key clients for a cup of coffee before the end of the month - it will get you away from your desk and makes you look proactive and professional
- Accept that there is never enough time to do everything so channel your efforts into those areas that yield best results
- Try something new - not every marketing idea succeeds but, in this relentlessly changing world, we need to keep pushing the boundaries and thinking creatively
- Adopt the "only touch each piece of paper once" rule - read it, deal with it and move on. It's liberating!
- Just do it - life is too short to waste.
'Tis the season of the round robin
14 December 2012
It's that time of year when some people feel inclined to write to friends and relatives with an update on their adventures and misfortunes of the past 12 months. And what a communication minefield that is. As I sit here mulling over a page of website copy for a client in the financial modelling sector, I'm striving to adopt the correct tone - for the target audience, the content and the brand. It's crucial to achieve the right balance between familiarity and professionalism and to make the content relevant and engaging.
And so it should be with a round robin, though many people clearly don't approach them with the same rigour. They tend to be streams of consciousness, filled with details of children's academic and sporting achievements, career highs, lavish holidays and fabulous parties (to which you weren't invited). In short, a portrait of a perfect life. Smug, self satisfying and alienating.
Conversely, they can be missives of doom and decline - I received one which detailed a divorce, a terminal illness, a nervous breakdown, a parent with Alzheimer's, a child who'd dropped out of university and a teenage pregnancy. Completely serious, without a hint of irony or humour. Inappropriate content and an unsuitable tone.
So please, Santa, this Christmas, could you rewrite the round robins?
Not such a merry Christmas for someone!
05 December 2012
Forgive me for being so anal but, as a paid up member of the Apostrophe Appreciation Society, I cannot let this go. We have just received a Christmas card, produced by a marketing company on behalf of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and there's a mistake on the front! There's a rogue apostrophe in 'it's' where there should be none.
How can this have happened? Presumably several people proof read it and signed it off. I pity the poor account manager who's going to have to explain the error to the client. This is definitely not 'on brand' for the V&A.
It illustrates of course the importance of attention to detail and the need for robust systems for checking proofs, both client and agency side. I once had to proof read an annual report in Arabic, so I know how onerous this can be. It shouldn't be left to one person, and someone not associated with the project is often the best last line of defence.
What I hope it doesn't illustrate is a growing acceptance of sloppiness with regard to the printed or written word. As some forms of communication become ever more casual (twitter, texting, BBM) with punctuation generally the victim of speed and brevity, we in marketing communications must ensure that other manifestations of the written word adhere to simple but effective rules of grammar and punctuation.
I bet the V&A account manager won't get it wrong again!
'Tis the season to be jolly
20 November 2012
I must confess to being a little disappointed by the John Lewis Christmas ad. Apparently it's meant to celebrate the extra mile we all go to at Christmas to find the perfect gift. Personally, I find it less of a celebration and more of a creepy tale of a supernatural snowman going to ridiculous lengths to find a hat and scarf combo for his snowgirl that she doesn't need or want. But John Lewis has an impressive track record in successful TV campaigns and the ad has already had more than 1.7 million views on YouTube. I still prefer the directness of the Waitrose Christmas ad. Rather than spending millions of pounds on a big production number, they are simply using Delia and Heston to invite us to choose a charity to support.
But it's not just the big retailers who face a tricky communications challenge at this time of the year. All businesses, even those with much smaller marketing budgets, have an opportunity at Christmas to engage with their customers and clients, their suppliers and staff, to make them feel valued and supported. And whether they choose to do this with a Christmas card, a personalised gift, a party or an individual phone call, it's an opportunity not to be missed.
A tale of two queues
30 October 2012
During a visit to New York last week, I had two very different queuing experiences which caused me to reflect on how this rather British concept can be either a PR disaster or a triumph, depending on how it is handled. Arriving at JFK after an eight hour flight, I stood in a queue in the immigration hall for over two and a half hours. There was nowhere to sit, no information about how long it would take to get to the front and no apology when I eventually arrived at one of the three manned booths (out of a possible 15). By the time I collected my case which had been unceremoniously dumped next to a luggage carousel that had long ago stopped moving, I was so tired and fed up that I was on the point of turning round and getting the next flight home. What a great welcome to the USA.
Contrast that with my next queuing experience, this time in Times Square outside the half price theatre ticket booth. As we stood in the sunshine, half a dozen smiling people walked up and down the line answering questions, explaining how the system worked and how long it would take to get to the front of the queue. Their job was to ensure that each transaction took the minimum time and that the queue therefore moved as fast as possible. But they did it with such enthusiasm that we felt as though they genuinely wanted us to have a brilliant theatre experience, and as a result no one resented their time in the queue.
My conclusion? It all boils down to communication. Even something as boring as queuing can be turned into a pleasant experience if basic principles of good communication are followed: provide clear information to your audience and update it frequently; be polite, treat people with respect and listen to them; be honest - don't tell people they will be at the front of the queue in 10 minutes if you know it will take an hour. If these steps had been taken by the immigration officers at JFK, I wouldn't have arrived in Manhattan any faster but I certainly would have been in a better mood!
Keeping your eye on the ball
17 October 2012
Deborah Meaden of Dragons' Den fame has been busy promoting a new mentoring scheme for start-ups. Her comments struck a chord with us because they highlight a moment which many growing businesses face - they have survived the start-up phase but then struggle to find the right way forwards: "Cashflow is usually a problem and you spend a lot of time scrabbling for money, taking your eye off the ball just when you should be focused." She advocates mentoring as one way through the process.
At Blue Panther, we've seen many businesses at just such a turning point. Mentoring may help but it's also when having solid marketing foundations in place is absolutely critical. Entrepreneurs often think they have a brilliant proposition but unless they know exactly who their target customers are, what their needs are and what they think about the offer, sales figures will inevitably hit a plateau and the ability to generate new leads will quickly dry up. Growing businesses need to be visible and relevant - these are the principles which should support and drive every marketing strategy and are the benchmark by which we measure everything that we do. Achieving visibility and relevance is a logical process: it's about understanding your markets and listening to your audiences; it's about understanding what is distinctive about you; and it's about communicating those messages effectively to the right people in the right way for them.
So well done to Deborah Meaden for shining the spotlight in the right direction but maybe more time spent taking a critical look at the marketing fundamentals of the business could be a more effective way of ensuring the success of the business in the medium to long term (and securing that all important investment to fund the expansion in the short term).
Listen to me or I'm getting a bike!
09 October 2012
The starting point for any piece of communication (whether it's a joke at a wedding or a million pound advertising campaign) is the audience. Who are they? What do they think/feel? And the way businesses get the answers to those questions is usually through research. It's how we begin every project for our clients - listening to the audience. In fact, Bill Gates said that 'your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning'.
Happy or unhappy, listening is key.
So, please allow me the indulgence of a rant on the subject of train operator telephone sales people who consistently fail to listen to what their customers are telling them, in a very immediate one-to-one situation.
Here's a sample encounter between me and a sales person at the point when I've already given them the details of the journey:
Operator - "What sort of ticket would you like?"
Me - "Cheapest possible please"
Operator - "Would you like first or standard class?"
Me, facetiously - "Is it possible that first class will be cheaper than standard class?"
Operator - "Sorry, I'm not sure what you mean"
Me, patronisingly - "Well, I asked you for the cheapest ticket possible so I'm curious to know why you then offered me a first class ticket. Is it possible that a first class ticket will be the cheapest possible?"
Operator - "No, it won't. I'm sorry. I'll look for the cheapest fare".
I've had this conversation a thousand times because, of course, the operator is following a script and isn't actually listening to me at all. So, let's all remember to listen more carefully to our clients, and I'm going to get a bicycle!
Learning from the Games Makers
26 September 2012
I was back in Stratford last week, less than two weeks after the end of the Paralympics. The sun was still shining, the pink signs pointing the way to the Olympic Park were still up, and it took me a moment or two to realise what was missing: the smiling faces and happy voices of the Games Makers who played such a pivotal role in ensuring that the Games were a success. This was excellent customer service on a massive scale, delivered consistently to millions of people over a four week period by volunteers who just wanted to be part of a "once in a lifetime" experience. So why, I mused as I queued for my latte in the Costa coffee shop which has just opened in Stratford's covered market, are we as a nation so bad at customer service? What is so difficult about engaging with people, making eye contact, being polite and helpful?
At Blue Panther, we constantly tell our clients that one of the fundamental principles of good communication is listening to your audiences. Until you know and understand what makes your clients and customers tick, you cannot hope to be able to meet their needs and give them a service or product that they will want to buy. And it's the same with good customer service: the Games Makers at the Olympics understood that what visitors wanted was to feel excited, proud, reassured, supported and they delivered on all fronts, with very little training. The new barista at the Stratford Costa needs a little more help. What the people in the long queue wanted was not to have to wait so long for their coffee while she worked out how to use the till, where to find the lids and how to make a flat white - never mind having to smile or make eye contact!
The rise and rise of inbound marketing
19 September 2012
Why have so many professional services firms been slow to embrace inbound marketing techniques? Unlike consumer businesses, their marketing strategies have always been built around channels which allow them to demonstrate expertise, and producing content that clients and potential clients value. And this is precisely what inbound marketing thrives on. Unlike outbound marketing which uses print ads, cold calls, expensive client guides and exhibition stands to push information out to targets, whether or not they have asked for it, inbound marketing draws people to you by producing content which is so compelling that clients will find your website as they search for the solution to their business problem. And once a client or potential client has landed on your website - whether they came via a blog, a webinar, a LinkedIn profile etc - it is up to each firm to engage them as soon as they land and make it as easy as possible for them to navigate round the site and find the information they need.
Business development and marketing professionals should be grateful to the search engines and social media that enable inbound marketing to work. They've made the job of creating leads much easier. The challenge now is to convert these leads into real clients and that means two things: persuading more fee earners to produce nutritious content in the form of blogs, articles, LinkedIn updates etc and making the most of intelligence gleaned from web analytic tools to ensure that your website is performing at its very best.
A tale of two speeches
17 September 2012
The media has had a field day over the relative merits of the Cameron and Johnson speeches at the Olympics victory parade. Boris has been lauded for his humour and fun and exuberance while David, by comparison, has been found lacking. But is the criticism fair? After all, the Prime Minister is obliged to fulfil his role with dignity and maturity. Aren't David and Boris a bit like an heir and a spare - elder and younger sons whose conduct varies according to their predestined roles?
In communication terms, what we're talking about here is branding. And the two men's brands are very different - Boris is irreverent, quirky, unpredictable; David is statesmanlike, considered, reassuring. All they were doing on Monday was being faithful to their brand, which of course is crucial to the success of any product/service/company/politician.
Consistency is everything when it comes to building brand loyalty - you'd be shocked to find John Lewis behaving like Asda, or Travelodge like the Ritz. So let's not be surprised when Cameron has to play the straight guy to Boris the joker. And rather than criticising David, let's pity him for having to be the warm up man.
Motorway madness - two simple rules of communication
06 September 2012
Driving to and from the Highlands this summer, I came across two interesting examples of poor communication. The first was a digital sign that appeared at several points above the M6 carriageway - "Be an efficient driver". We are all used to "Don't drink and drive" or "Take a break" but what did this new sign mean? Did it want me to multi-task as I drove along, make work phone calls, pay my electricity bill, do some online shopping? Or was it exhorting me to drive at a steady 70mph without ever overtaking or changing lanes - an impossibility on a Saturday in August?
Stopping for sustenance in a service station, I found myself queuing at a well-known Seattle-based coffee shop. I was somewhat taken aback to be asked my name as I ordered my coffee so that it could be written on the cup. Presumably they have been advised by some hotshot consultant that this is a good way to build affinity and loyalty with their client base. In my case, however, I found the over-familiarity irritating, and took exception to the way my name was misspelt.
What can we learn from these motorway experiences? At Blue Panther we apply a rigorous set of criteria to every potential piece of communication. The messages need to be both highly targeted and relevant to the audience. Don't bombard people with unnecessary or confusing information, especially if they are driving at speed on busy roads. And don't introduce a marketing gimmick in the name of customer loyalty when simply spending a bit of time training staff to serve customers more quickly would make more money and keep everyone happy.
Why the Olympic corporate identity deserves a gold medal
07 August 2012
As Olympic fever grips the nation, here at Blue Panther we've been reflecting on the Games' branding and corporate identity. Our initial response to the Wolff Olins logo and colour palette was negative. We felt it was too modern, too bright and too angular in its typography. But of course we hadn't seen the brief - any piece of creative work is only as good as the brief the designers are given!
However, never afraid to admit that we were wrong, and having experienced the Games first hand, we've changed our mind. And it's a useful lesson for us in helping our clients with their branding and corporate identity issues, particularly at that difficult moment when the proposed creative solution is unveiled to them for the first time and they perhaps experience a pang of doubt. Logos are rarely perfect first time.
The key to the success of the Olympic logo (we now see) is context - the physical environments in which it has to 'perform' and also the brand which it is attempting to communicate. And that brand was most effectively shown at the opening ceremony, revealing London and the UK to be creative, quirky, funny, self deprecating, modern and confident. Look at the logo with this in mind and it's a job well done.
In the Olympic venues the corporate identity has several jobs to do but its primary function is to be distinctive, and it certainly wins a gold medal there with its pink, purple and orange palette. The design is eye catching, flexible and original.
So, the lesson for us at Blue Panther, when unveiling new logos and corporate identities to our clients is to be sure that they are experienced in context and that they're not simply judged as a piece of 'art'.
As in so many ways, these Olympic Games have been a revelation.
Why professional services firms should be making more use of website analytics
12 July 2012
Consumer websites sell products, and web analytics can easily be used to measure how effective they are at doing this. Professional services' websites work in an entirely different way: the service they are promoting is intangible - expertise, knowledge, experience - and so their websites need to be much more content driven, containing useful and relevant information that position the firms at the forefront of their specialism. Some marketeers have been slow to appreciate the role that web analytics can play in providing really useful information that can inform and shape marketing plans.
We are all used to looking at the number of visits to a site each month but try drilling down and looking at the peaks and troughs: can you identify any spikes caused by email marketing campaigns, press releases, or events? How long do your visitors spend on the site: are pages merely viewed for a few seconds or is the content read in full and articles downloaded? How is your bounce rate looking on key pages of the site, such as the home or profiles pages? While a high bounce rate on the contact page might be nothing to worry about - it only takes a couple of seconds to write down a phone number - anything above 65% on key practice area pages should ring an alarm bell and send you scurrying to see that your on and off page copy is matching up and that the content is engaging and relevant. Web analytics are also very effective at identifying which social media channels are driving most traffic to your site: it's worth a check to see if the websites that you assume are referring the highest number of visitors to your site, really are - you could be in for a surprise.
What will you do with all this new information, once you have gleaned it from your analytics report? Use it to measure the effectiveness of all your marketing activities, and if the objectives set out in your marketing plan are not being achieved, it might be time to make some changes.
Should Glyndebourne be running the Olympics?
28 June 2012
All businesses know the value of customer/client intelligence. It's a gold mine of information which informs and guides their business development and client relationship strategies. Gathering that intelligence either via research or customer/client feedback should be a priority. And with today's vast array of channels (traditional and digital) at their disposal, marketing professionals have no excuse for not being totally au fait with what their target audiences feel and think about their products or services.
But of course that's the theory, not always the practice. We came across two interesting examples recently of organisations behaving unexpectedly in this area.
We attended the opening event at the Olympic stadium at the beginning of May - one of the London Prepares events designed to test infrastructure, facilities and personnel. There was much to praise but a number of things which needed to be addressed (eg signposting, personnel unfamiliar with the site, poor catering management) and we expected to be asked for our feedback, either on the night or very soon afterwards by email. This did not happen until a whole month after the event, by which time we had lost interest and could not be bothered to reply.
Contrast that with Glyndebourne who emailed us as we were driving out of the car park after the first night of La Boheme, to check we had enjoyed the evening and to solicit feedback!
So, one huge organisation with a mammoth budget and an army of marketing people failing to gather genuinely valuable intelligence which should have been acted on. And another much smaller niche arts company using technology in a clever and appropriate way. I know who I wish was running the Olympics.
Sorting the marketing wheat from the chaff
22 June 2012
Have you ever been lost for words when asked to consider a completely random marketing initiative? You know it's a ridiculous idea but don't know how to kill it dead? At times like these, we find it very helpful to fall back on a tried and tested set of criteria against which to measure the effectiveness of any marketing activity. First and foremost, is the activity appropriate for the audience? Does it meet a clear objective, already set out in your marketing plan? Could it form part of a broader marketing campaign/strategy rather than just existing as a one-off? Is it financially and logistically viable or is the time and effort just not worth it? Is it on brand for your business/organisation? Is it capable of delivering clear messages which support what you are trying to do?
Go on, have a go. Not only will it enable you to deal expeditiously with the bad ideas, it will also be a good discipline for testing your own - rather better - ones!
Think before you Tweet
24 May 2012
We were interested to hear about Havering College's recent attempt to use text messages to motivate its students. It texted what were meant to be uplifting and inspiring missives such as "you can work and play but you need the correct balance" and "work now and you'll reap the benefits later". Not surprisingly students found the messages to be "annoying" and "distracting". Clearly not the objective of the communications team.
So there's a lesson here for organisations of all sizes, keen to use digital channels to influence their target audiences. In your eagerness to embrace the digital age, don't forget the message. Texting, tweeting, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube etc are simply channels, through which to deliver messages which should be appropriate, relevant and memorable.
And of course it's not just small companies which can find themselves in difficulties. It was McDonald's, with all its marketing millions, which ran a disastrous Twitter campaign earlier this year. It invited people to post what they hoped would be positive 'stories' about McDonald's but instead opened the door to a flood of angry customers tweeting less than flattering comments. A veritable Pandora's box and another lesson for this digital age about loss of control. For companies which work hard to control and police their brand/reputation/identity, social media (which by its very nature involves a loss of control) can be dangerous and should therefore be handled with care.
It's exciting for businesses to have some shiny new marketing gadgets in the toolbox. Just make sure that you know how to handle them.
Does every business need a digital strategy?
15 May 2012
A London-based professional services client recently queried the need for a digital marketing strategy for their firm. The question prompted us to take a step backwards and reflect on how much had changed over a very short space of time. Just three years ago the same client had been very excited to be launching a fresh new website with CMS functionality. Today this website has spawned a blog, podcasts, daily LinkedIn updates, email marketing, SEO and PPC campaigns and regular monitoring via various analytical web tools.
These days, no business can afford to ignore 'digital'. In fact, the importance of having a digital strategy was one of the key findings in the PRCA 2012 benchmarking survey which was published last week. But before panic sets in amongst businesses who are just getting to grips with the digital age, we should remind ourselves that though the marketing communication tools and channels may have evolved, the principles remain the same. In order to maximise the business benefits of any new marketing initiatives (digital or otherwise), the first step is always to be clear about that business's vision and objectives. Then it's a case of identifying the opportunities and challenges where a digital solution would work; identifying the needs of clients and customers which most closely align with these opportunities; and developing a set of digital initiatives which can deliver them. All businesses should go through this process but it won't necessarily result in a formal digital strategy for everyone.
Crisis communications - when less is not always more
23 April 2012
When the Virgin Atlantic jumbo made an emergency landing at Gatwick airport last week, I was on my way back to London from Inverness. What happened illustrates the dilemma that faces communications chiefs and crisis managers in such situations: how much information to give, when and how often? For waiting passengers who are anxious about their travel plans as well as their safety, is it better to have as much information as possible as early as possible or more accurate news when it's available?
At Transport for London, they have obviously decided that passengers must be kept fully informed at all times. This can result in an almost farcical stream of announcements about signal colours or the number of trains in the tunnel ahead, but it is quite reassuring. At Inverness airport last week, they went for the opposite strategy. A brief announcement told us that our plane was delayed because of an incident at Gatwick. We heard nothing more for 90 minutes until a further announcement proclaimed the £3.50 meal vouchers to which the delay entitled us. But still no information about how much longer we might have to wait. In the meantime, a single TV screen in one corner of the airport lounge was streaming footage of the Virgin jumbo on the runway at Gatwick and giving news updates every five minutes about how long the airport might be closed and the likely impact for outgoing and incoming travellers. Why did we have to get our information from the TV? Why could airport staff not have kept us up to date?
At Blue Panther, when we're helping clients plan their crisis communications, we focus on the needs of customers first but also on providing genuine, useful, relevant and timely information rather than a stream of consciousness. In this case, regular updates as the situation became clear at Gatwick would have kept all us tired and bored passengers waiting at Inverness perfectly satisfied. So the optimum amount of information, in communications terms, is somewhere between TfL and Inverness airport!
Brand behaviour and the dog-licked danish
17 April 2012
One of the things our clients most struggle with is how to bring their brand to life - how to make the words tangible; how to live the values. It often seems to them to be too abstract and divorced from the day to day running of their business. We, of course, help them to turn the words into action. And often the key to it is in the way their people behave.
Yesterday I witnessed an amusing example of this 'brand behaviour', in Caffe Nero.
I arrived at the serving counter just as the woman in front of me moved away, carrying a coffee and a danish pastry on a plate. She was also holding the lead of her Labrador puppy. As she headed for a table, a man entered the cafe, also with a dog on a lead. The puppy made a lurch for the other dog, the coffee spilt, the danish landed on the floor, the puppy started licking it. Much confusion, and laughter, all round.
Immediately, the 'Barista' rushed forwards, cleaned up the danish, replaced it with a fresh one and gave the woman another cup of coffee. No fuss, no charge, and a perfect example of an organisation not just talking about quality of service and customer care but 'doing it'.
Of course, the million dollar question was whether the woman would have eaten the dog-licked danish. We asked her. She told us. "Absolutely, without hesitation!"
A revolution in legal services marketing?
02 April 2012
Some people may have been surprised that the 90 second TV ad www.youtube.com/watch?v=4knygiE7aAE&feature=youtu.be which ran in the middle of the final of Dancing on Ice, entitled "For whatever life brings", was promoting legal services. QualitySolicitors - whose identity was only revealed right at the end of the ad - is a group of independent law firms who operate under the QS brand and are aiming to be in more than 1000 locations around the country by the end of the year. This £15m TV advertising campaign is only one of many activities they are planning in their quest to become a household name.
At Blue Panther, whatever our clients' business, we spend as much time thinking about the emotional hook or attachment between the client's product or service and their different audiences as we do establishing the needs these products or services have to meet. All buying decisons are based on emotion and legal services are no exception. QualitySolicitors are therefore quite right to appeal to the heart as well as the head, and should be commended for trying to reach a wider audience with their John Lewis-style ad.
Whether they will find it easy to change the widely held perception of legal services as a distress purchase into a positive beneficial life choice remains to be seen.
Effective emailing - the power of 3
19 March 2012
Just as the amount of mail falling through the letter box has reduced, so the number of emails most of us receive has grown to such levels that many people now delete the majority of unsolicited messages and merely scan those that might be of interest. That poses an interesting challenge for service businesses like Blue Panther who rely on email to communicate with their clients on a day to day basis. Do you send multiple emails - one subject each, with a very specific title - or one long mother of a message covering a range of topics (and using a more generic title which is often not very sexy)? Do you bombard and potentially irritate or rely on the client reading down to the end?
We've been thinking about this for a while, trying to arrive at the optimum solution. And here it is - one email but with a maximum of THREE points, bulleted or numbered, communicated concisely and with a clear indication as to what is required from the recipient. Any more items beyond 3 will be ignored and if they are in the body of the text they won't be actioned. It's obvious really and follows the fundamental rules of communication: keep it simple, keep it short and keep it relevant.
'Horsegate' - a communications lesson for all businesses
07 March 2012
So David Cameron has admitted that he did ride Raisa, the ex-police horse. It took three days of persistent questioning by reporters and repeated denials by number 10 to finally arrive at the truth. Even then the language used was far from transparent - 'confusing picture', 'probably'. It's embarrassing for the Prime Minister and excruciating for his communications team. So what's the lesson for businesses, faced with difficult questions they may not want to answer? How can a company and its senior figures emerge from a crisis scenario unscathed?
At Blue Panther, when we're helping clients prepare for crisis situations, we rely on a simple mantra: tell the truth (as far as you can, depending on legal considerations or available information); tell it quickly; and tell it repeatedly. Evasion is damaging, and lies will out, eventually; delay is dangerous, and silence is far from golden.
Happy 'Leap Day' but leave the tutu for later
29 February 2012
It's become something of a tradition on this rare day to do something unusual, something that goes against the natural order of things, like women proposing marriage to men! So how should businesses mark the 29th February? By wearing fancy dress or drinking champagne all day? Or perhaps by doing some of the marketing communications 'jobs' which always seem to get forgotten or which end up at the bottom of the 'to do' list. So, on this year's Leap Day, why not:
- Thank your staff for the great work they're doing, in person, if that's practical, or at the very least, by 'phone rather than email
- Telephone your top ten clients/customers, just to check that you are giving them everything they need
- Browse your own website as if you were a first time visitor and assess whether it's really doing the best job for you
- Dust off your brand values, if you have them (and if you haven't, why not?) and consider if the business is truly 'living' them?
And then you can crack open the champagne and put the panda suit on!
Is direct mail back in favour?
21 February 2012
Am I alone in being irritated by the constant flow of junk mail that comes through my letterbox each day? Most of it goes straight into the recycling bin without even being glanced at by any member of my household - a complete waste of money and effort by the business that sent it. And yet, very occasionally, a little gem of originality and effective communication does land on the doormat. My particular recent favourite was a brown paper luggage label tied to an old fashioned wooden clothes peg advertising eco-friendly spring cleaning: novel, practical, memorable and as green as the service it was promoting!
At Blue Panther we put a lot of thought into finding the right communication channels for our clients to reach their target audiences. And at a time when email marketing is becoming so common that it's almost losing its value in certain sectors, direct mail might be about to make a comeback - if it's targeted properly, relevant, eye catching and well written. If not, it's just going to join the pizza menus and courier firms in the recycling bin!
Mind you, if Royal Mail increases its postal rates any further, it might be cheaper to deliver by hand.
CSR - no place for spin
15 February 2012
There was an interesting letter in the Financial Times last weekend on the subject of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Simon Taylor of 4Front Consulting was responding to Gillian Tett's piece from Davos, about big business's love affair with CSR - whether it makes sound business as well as moral sense and whether it's possible to measure the contribution it makes to the bottom line.
It's true, there's a lot of it about, and there's evidence that having an ethical element to a brand, as in the Co-op, can be a powerful enticement to customers/clients. But, in the rush to save the planet, sponsor a worthy cause or eliminate famine, companies should beware of over-egging the pudding. It's tempting for the communications team to play up an organisation's green/ethical/humane credentials. It's an interesting angle, it's often fun, it can be a strong differentiator.
However, as we at Blue Panther discovered during an extensive piece of research for a client involved in the plastics recycling sector recently, consumers and suppliers are becoming increasingly savvy about the credentials of the companies they use. They no longer simply believe what the marketing people tell them. They are scratching beneath the surface, asking probing questions. So woe betide any company found making false claims or exaggerating its CSR commitment.
This is one area of communication that's best served 'spin-free'.
An entrepreneurial Full Monty?
08 February 2012
How pleasing to see one London entrepreneur bucking the economic trend (not least because it conjures up the image of Mark Addy wrapped in cling film in The Full Monty!). The company, Zaggora, which sells exercise clothes that help you lose weight, is the brainchild of Dessislava Bell. She came up with the idea when she wrapped her thighs in clingfilm before working out and discovered that it speeded up weight loss.
With no money available for advertising, she decided to get testimonials from real people who had used the product. So she sent out free pairs of Hot Pants to 500 bloggers, mostly mums, and focused on social media. And it worked. Turnover reached £5 million in the first six months and is expected to hit £10 million by the end of the year.
What this demonstrates, and what we at Blue Panther believe passionately, is that effective marketing need not involve spending huge amounts of money. The key to success lies in communicating your brand and key messages to the right audiences in the way that is most appropriate for them. "People posted that they were amazed by the pants' results, and that was far more powerful than adverts", said Dessislava Bell.
Not just hot pants, scorching financial performance too...
Oh Danny boy!
01 February 2012
So the hugely talented and creative Danny Boyle has announced the theme for the Olympics opening ceremony. There's going to be humour, NHS nurses and children! Let's keep our fingers crossed that this project goes better than the allocation of tickets. Early signs are not good. Like the PR disaster that ensued from the ticketing fiasco, a simple communications error has been made in the name of the opening ceremony theme - Isles of Wonder.
The universal reaction when people hear it is - "What? Isles or aisles?", thereby illustrating one of the fundamental criteria of choosing a new name, whether it's for a business or a product or an event. It has to be easy to understand and recognise when said aloud as well as when written down.
It's one of the key tests we apply to every potential name when we're working with Blue Panther clients. If there's even a moment's hesitation/confusion from the 'audience', that is a poor piece of communication and the name must be rejected. What a pity Danny's communications team didn't take a similar approach.
Don't let a speling mistake damage your business
24 January 2012
The recent announcement by Waterstone's that it is losing the apostrophe from its name in order to be more "versatile and practical in a digital age" prompts us to raise one of our favourite hobby horses - why spelling and grammar are so important, especially online.
At Blue Panther, we constantly tell our clients that any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors, however small or inconsequential, risk undermining the trust and credibility of their brand. Attention to detail matters and it can really damage a business if it's associated with mistakes.
This is borne out by the findings of one online entrepreneur, Charles Duncombe, who claims that an analysis of website figures shows a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half. And since we know that the majority of new visitors spend only six seconds on a site before clicking away, isn't it worth spending that extra time and effort to make sure that they don't come across a silly mistake which will speed their departure?
We are not afraid to take a stand: effective communication depends on getting the basics right. Pedantic it may be, but it will pay off in the long run.
Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes - a lesson in how (not) to communicate
17 January 2012
As we at Blue Panther never tire of telling our clients, the starting point for any piece of communication - whether it's a website, a radio interview, a corporate identity or hosting the Golden Globes - is the audience. Unless you understand the people you want to influence, you don't know what to say to them or how to say it. But then along comes Ricky Gervais to apparently turn that simple premise on its head. He humiliates the live audience, trashes NBC's brand and alienates the organisers - the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
So, is he stupid, reckless or arrogant?
Well, the answer is probably none of the above. Because, at the same time as insulting those groups, he was thrilling the millions of viewers in the television audience, thereby ensuring healthy ratings and a successful event. Job done.
So the lesson we learn for other forms of communication is that where you have multiple audiences, requiring different messages, you need to ensure that you target them individually, with tailored messages, delivered in a way that is appropriate for them. One size does not fit all.
And while you're about it, try not to alienate any of them!
Why the John Lewis Christmas ad is good news for everyone in marketing
09 January 2012
How interesting that John Lewis chose to launch last year's £6 million Christmas ad on YouTube rather than on television. And how incredible that it was watched 250,000 times in two days. Small wonder that it contributed to record takings for the partnership. But what does this tell us about the power of social media for brands in all sectors, even those with significantly smaller budgets? We think it tells us that content is still king, even on the small screen. It's all about a good idea, brilliantly executed. Without gimmicks. And that's good news for all of us in the marketing communications business who worry sometimes that high production values, good copywriting and attention to detail are unwanted skills in this digital world. So, thank you John Lewis. All we need now is a similarly brilliant idea for our clients!
New website launched
09 January 2012
Getting 2012 off to a productive start, Blue Panther has launched a new website. Designed by Tigerpink, the site marks a new phase in Blue Panther's development as a marketing consultancy that specialises in helping growing businesses succeed through clever, tailored marketing communications. We hope we've practised what we preach.