Whether you run a business yourself or are involved in business support, it doesn’t take a genius to recognise that businesses are interested in marketing. (Marketing, business planning and grants have consistently topped the charts since BHP started producing business advice in the early ‘90s.
But the Marketing Donut only makes sense if there’s a gap to be filled. Looking through hundreds of websites offering marketing resources convinced us that there is – and gave us a few key lessons on what we should be aiming for.
Not surprisingly, a lot of sites are driven by advertising. Fair enough, but sometimes it’s difficult to tell where the advertising ends and the content begins. Webpages that look like The Million Dollar Homepage and advertorial whose sole purpose is to get you to hand over your money are absolute no-nos.
Some sites do a great job covering a specific topic, but are far from comprehensive. Fine as far as it goes, but if you’re going to have to look for the right site each time you want a piece of marketing information you might as well stick with Google.
Then there’s a whole range of sites catering to marketing professionals in big corporates (and marketing students who hope one day to be marketing professionals in big corporates). Nice theory, shame about the reality.
SMEs need to understand the issues that matter and how marketing principles apply in practice. Overviews need to be backed up with detail while detailed explanations need to sit comfortably in the bigger picture. Tools that actually help you do the job are even better.
And however good a website’s content may be, if you can’t find the information you want it might as well not be there.
These key principles have informed the development of the Marketing Donut. Have we delivered? – we’ll soon know.
Small firms need to do their research, now more than ever.
I know many businesses will be tempted to cut their marketing budget this year. But the way to survive a recession is to be smarter than your competitors, not more out of touch. And that means you must make market research a priority.
The good news is that market intelligence will help you to target your products and services better and improve customer satisfaction no end. And we all know that happy customers spend more, stay loyal and sing your praises to their friends.
I have some golden rules when it comes to doing market research. Surveys should be conducted with clear objectives and should avoid leading questions. And sample sizes need to be big enough – representative of your customer base.
And whatever you do, don’t make a big show of consulting your customers and then ignore their feedback – a remarkably common mistake. Listen to what your customers are telling you and react accordingly. Your business could come through the recession stronger as a result.
To the business social networking virgin, Twitter can seem more than a bit baffling. People you have never heard of appear on the screen and sooner than you can decide which cheesy profile picture to upload, they are updating you every five minutes on their tea consumption and toilet usage.
However, there is more to this Twittering malarkey than meets the eye.
As Mark Sinclair of yourBusinessChannel explained to the BHP team in an insightful training session two weeks ago, Twitter can be an extremely valuable tool for small firms such as ours. Select carefully who you will follow, and you will soon have a strong network of contacts with whom to exchange valuable information, professional or personal, and in doing so communicate your business’ message.
People are naturally interested in the human side of a business, especially where small businesses are concerned – and Twitter allows you to introduce yourself as a person first and foremost, and as a business person second. In a nutshell, Twitterland is a networking event without the awkwardness of deciding how to balance your canapé while shaking someone’s hand. And if someone is boring you half to death, you just stop following their updates – no stilted excuses necessary.
You can respond to other people’s ‘Tweets’ (to the Facebook user, this is the equivalent of a status update; to non-Facebook users, this is a short comment about what the person is doing or thinking at a certain time) simply by writing your own Tweet and placing an @ sign in front of their name before your comment. It takes patience to build this kind of relationship, but then isn’t that true of any relationship?
In Stephen Fry’s words, Twitter can be used to benefit from the ‘collective wisdom and insight’ of ‘fascinatingly good people’, although it can also be the sounding-board for many a banal observation. Fry told the BBC how he gained advice within seconds on how to deal with an unruly bat he found flying around his house, simply by adding the question as a Tweet on his Twitter profile.
So, persevere. Who knows when you might need a fellow Twitterer’s advice on something extraordinary, or when they might need yours?
Nice hotel near Jamie Oliver’s Number 15 restaurant, Newquay. Friendly welcome... but obviously times were hard - they were offering an extra 40% discount - pretty good, eh? The next morning: 06.55am, the ventilation/extractor fan outside our bedroom window kicks off and roars into action. It is so loud it wakes us both up with a jolt. I call reception and explain the situation. They say "You are not the first person to mention it... so sorry... and come to reception when you are ready and mention the problem and we will be able to sort something out with the bill." On departure we go to reception and mention the problem. The reply was, "It's the ventilation system and we have to have it on or we can't open the kitchen for breakfast", followed by "Why should we do something on the bill - you got a good price already"...
The receptionist made me feel as if I had been lying about the offered discount.
Am I simply in the wrong to expect a quiet night's sleep? Should I name and shame the hotel?
PS I have sent them a copy of this blog entry. Exceeding Customer Expectations - A Seven Point Plan - Are customers really in charge when it comes to dealing with organisations?
There’s not much point in putting an enormous amount of effort into creating a website if nobody uses it. Early on in the development of the Marketing Donut the ugly topic of keywords and search engine optimisation raised its head.
Ugly? Well, it makes me think of those sites you see all too often that put all their effort into SEO instead of actually creating good content. And investing in ‘artificial’ SEO does seem a bit like betting that the guys at Google aren’t that smart, which might not be the best way to make money.
The Marketing Donut tries to steer a middle course. We’ve had a long, hard look at the search terms people might use when they’re looking for marketing information – and we’ve made sure we use them in focused articles on various marketing topics. But for us, content is king – if there’s a choice between optimisation and quality, then quality wins every time. It’s the quality that’s going to make the Marketing Donut worth linking to and push the site up the rankings.
Together with the marketing campaign for the site, it should be enough to start the ball rolling. If it turns out that we aren’t getting enough traffic, then we’ll just have to look for some more advice on search engine marketing. Now, where would be a good place to find that?
Baby elephants, like humans, stay in the womb for a long time. But even by elephant standards, the Donut project has been a long time in the making.
The team at BHP have heard me talk about donuts since 1996, when we drew a “donut diagram” to show how we would pull off a seemingly impossible collaboration: 500 experts would help us write 150 briefings for small businesses (SMEs), meanwhile we’d have pre-licensed the content to 80 websites by the day the content was completed — and the whole thing would be funded by sponsorship from 20 leading brands.
Well, we pulled it off and launched on schedule. By the year 2000 we had 250 organisations using the content (the Directors’ Briefing series) on their websites and in their call centres, including major websites like BT and learndirect.
The Marketing Donut is simply a variation of the same model. The website is an extremely focused channel for reaching SMEs with one thing on their minds: marketing.
BHP’s publishing and marketing activities have always been aimed at SME end users, because I find SMEs and the whole challenge of running a business single-handedly (which is the reality for most small businesses) fascinating.
I’ve always admired people who have the guts to run a small business. Having started up BHP and an earlier business (in Tokyo of all places) myself, I know how challenging it is. The point of running your own business is that, while most owner-managers are considerably less well off than we’d be as employees, we enjoy a unique kind of personal freedom that would be hard to put a price on.
Recession or not, 2009 is looking good. At BHP we’ve done loads of projects over the last 17 years, but the Marketing Donut is definitely the coolest and the most exciting.