Why I started the Donut
I’ve always found small businesses compelling – what makes them work and the challenge of going it alone are to me the most interesting questions in business. And after 19 years of running my company, BHP, I admire SMEs more than ever.
Running your own show is tremendous fun, especially if you know what you’re doing and can manage the 101 challenges that come your way every month. Which is where BHP content comes in.
We’ve been producing our expert how-to guides, sponsored by blue chips and government organisations, for nearly two decades. But, of course, as an entrepreneur, I wanted something new to do. In a (rare) idle moment online, I scouted about for a really good marketing website for small businesses. There wasn’t one.
So we decided to do it, launching on 20 April 2009. We built small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) their own site with everything they needed to make their marketing thrive. Founding partners Google and Royal Mail backed us all the way, as have our ever-growing list of sponsors such as Vodafone and Yell.
What we’ve achieved in a year
As well as Marketing Donut, we launched two more Donut websites to cover starting up and law. We’ve just announced that the fourth site to launch will be IT Donut, scheduled for the week commencing 23 August.
We use 300 top people to provide the expert advice on the Donuts, but, for me, the real experts are also the users. Before we started work, we asked people running small businesses what they wanted from a site. They told us they needed fast, practical and accurate answers to their questions. The Donuts give SME managers that, free. Tools, templates, checklists, the lot: plus the news their business needs to know.
All the Donuts report live on major small-business happenings - we were the first business advice site to break news of the rise in minimum wage on Budget Day. MyDonut, the e-newsletter, now goes out to tens of thousands of people a month – next year numbers should top 100,000. (This is in addition to the 300,000 subscribers to the SME newsletters that we publish for our clients. Life at BHP is one big deadline.)
Since the launch a year ago, the Donut sites have fast become a key player in the UK small-business scene. Our Twitter accounts have over 40,000 followers and our Twitter team picked up two national awards last year.
Local versions of marketingdonut.co.uk, startupdonut.co.uk and lawdonut.co.uk are syndicated to our partners, both nationally and in the regions. Thirty-five organisations already have their own Donut websites and more are coming on stream every month.
The Donut is a strong business model, because it is a win-win for everyone involved. Crucially, BHP had already invested several years building up the strategic relationships and the content before launching the first website. As with most successful SMEs, we always knew that the Donut project would not be a sprint to success, it would be a marathon.
2010-2011: what’s in it for you?
As we expand the core "answers to your questions" pages of the Donuts, we will continue to cover news and key topical issues for you. For instance, this month the Law Donut explains how to cope with recruitment and redundancy as the economy remains fragile, as well as what to do when all your staff want time off for June’s World Cup.
We’re currently building the IT Donut, which will be a comprehensive resource for demystifying IT, troubleshooting and trading online. It will become the first place any small business turns to when they have a tech problem that needs sorting fast. We're currently recruiting experts who will rid us all of pesky IT stress forever, I hope.
We’ll also be providing a local service for users, thanks to our partners. Law firms, chambers of commerce and enterprise agencies are all getting involved. This is really exciting, as it gives users the best of all worlds - a huge library of constantly updated advice from experts throughout the UK, combined with local content.
An SME owner's work is never done, so I'm signing off to tackle the above. Before I go - thanks to you, our users, and all our partners and experts, for a great year.
Each of the three major political parties has now unveiled the election slogan that will underpin its campaign. This is a vital piece of their election toolkit – it’s the platform on which the rest of their messaging will be built. In marketing terms, it’s their USP. But do they work? And what makes a good election slogan anyway?
I’ve done some thinking of my own and I asked your opinions, too, via the Marketing Donut Twitter account.
The Labour Party slogan recalls its great founding principle, equality - presumably because they feel it’s the key distinction arch rivals, the Conservatives. The phrase itself has a poetic, but archaic quality. Rather than looking forward to a progressive future, it seems almost a requiem for an ideal that has never been achieved.
This is what you thought:
@the_shopkeeper Surely this should be “A fair future for all”? Rolls easier off the tongue, in my humble opinion.
@Web_D Sounds like there's going to be a rollercoaster and dodgems.
@JanMinihane Sounds like Labour are planning a fair, how wonderful.
The Conservative Party slogan has the virtues of directness, simplicity and it’s memorable – all key elements of a good slogan. On the other hand, it doesn’t tell you what they want to change or who will benefit from the change. Is it us? Or is it them? They seem to rely on a public appetite for something – anything – different.
@benparkatbjs Does anyone know the Tory election slogan? “Spare any change?” isn't it? Something like that.
@runninginheels7 Conservative could mean change in any sense or subject?
@dpoyser Would have to be the Conservatives; most descriptive with the least number of syllables and it makes the best soundbite.
@JanMinihane Conservative Slogan: "Time for change" - what, 20p, 50p, 5p?? Bit too snappy and short for my liking.
Of all the slogans, the Liberal Democrat one feels most designed by committee. It’s a mouthful, two slogans tacked together - two slogans we’ve already seen, in fact. The Lib Dems truly are finding a middle way with this one; they have the promise of change (Conservative) AND the promise of equality (Labour) all in one rather unwieldy mouthful.
It is, however, the only slogan that actually speaks directly to you, the reader. This alone was enough to help it find favour with our Twitter following:
@mathewhulbert In simplistic terms you might think the Tories is the best, but the Lib Dems speaks to two different groups.
@Web_D I like this actually. It’s the “for you” that wins me over.
@JanMinihane My fave, seems more personal somehow.
@twistandshoutuk That Lib Dem one seems a bit weird and wordy. The Labour one sounds like part of a poem. Conservatives is brief and snappy.
In a sense, each of the slogans does exactly what we might expect of each of the parties: the Labour slogan treats us a collective; the Conservative slogan commands us; the Liberal Democrat slogan tries very hard to appeal to everyone – but at least they are personable about it.
When I asked how you would rewrite the slogans, I should have known I was inviting trouble:
@benjamindyer How about “Write me a letter if you like, but I am too busy knocking back Martinis and attending garden parties to care.”
@Web_D I’d vote for any party that admitted the truth: “We're in the s**t... It will be tough, but we'll get through it in time.”
Despite this cynicism, I’ve had a go at adjusting the slogans to address the criticisms and this is what I came up with:
Labour: A fairer future for you
Conservative: Changing Britain for the better
Liberal Democrat: Your only REAL alternative
I reckon they might just work. What do you think?
An interesting tweet relating to Hubspot’s findings that those with a Twitter avatar displaying a photo stand to gain ten times as many followers as those without, kicked off a healthy debate which prompted me— the Marketing Donut Twitterer — to question whether I should come out from behind the logo and show my face. If it wasn’t already conflicting enough to know whether ‘I’ am in fact a ‘We’ during commercial tweeting hours, this dilemma hits me. It was almost enough to induce a psychotic episode.
There are valid reasons for presenting the Marketing Donut as a face. It could produce tangible gains in number of Twitter followers and the quality and quantity of interactions. But when you communicate with @MarketingDonut - or any of the Donuts for that matter - you may not always be talking to the same person. Holiday leave, sickness and just being plain busy can often mean a personnel shuffle when it comes to Twitter. Without blowing the lid on the Twitter Magician’s code here at Donut Towers, we try to maintain the same team member on each Donut account for reasons of continuity and to give each Donut its own distinct personality. But, as the theatre waiver goes, the performance may be subject to last-minute cast changes.
On the whole, it is me - James Ainsworth - behind the tweets and if you were to DM the Marketing Donut, characters permitting, I would sign off as ‘James’. But I hope you enjoy following the Marketing Donut Twitter account for a plethora of reasons, not least for the content we share but for that little sparkle of personality that comes through every day.
The salient point from the discussion was made by @benparkatbjs, “Surely it depends. If a one-man band, tweeting with your own pic is fine, but if you're a donut, surely donut logo better?”
In a recent blog post written by Jan Minihane on the topic, she rightly points out that face value is better for individual accounts. But Jan also concludes from further discussion with her Twitter following that corporate accounts with multiple staff should “Use your logo as you are promoting the corporate brand, not an individual. (unless most of the brand value is you, in which case you may want to go with a picture of yourself).”
And what of the deliberate tactic deployed by @web_D, “I have used really small text and oversized logos to encourage people to click and see the full version”?
Should the Marketing Donut — as a publisher of resources for small businesses — be identifiable by the branding that has been created already or -as a mainly one man Twittering band - should I have my world-weary face as the avatar, bedecked with some kind of Marketing Donut insignia or, if you please, a Twibbon?
If you really want to see me on Twitter then you can follow me here but don’t expect such useful small business marketing advice. You have been warned!
It’s been a great week: fun, exciting and we’ve had the best traffic figures ever on the Marketing Donut. The most popular single item of the week was our case study of the online cupcake community, How we got together online to boost our cupcake business.This produced a fantastic response within the world of cupcake makers, who spent the whole week sharing the article and spreading the word about the Marketing Donut. I’d like one of these, thanks guys:
But probably our biggest draw overall this week was our extensive Budget coverage on Wednesday – and this is what made it such a busy and exciting week. I blogged live as the Chancellor read his speech, the team tweeted like crazy and we published a Budget round-up and the reaction from small businesses before the end of the day.
We were really pleased to be the only news organisation to spot the National Minimum Wage increase on Budget day itself. This wasn’t in the Chancellor’s speech, but buried deeply in the Budget Notes where it was spotted by one of our eagle-eyed editors. We called the Treasury, checked it out and slipped it into our coverage minutes before publication. Result.
The Budget also produced my favourite thing on the Marketing Donut this week – our James’s rapid response analysis of the Budget in words and pictures. Take a look; it made me smile.
Post-Budget, it was an early start on Thursday morning for a trip to our Bristol office where I delivered an editorial training and went to the Bristol Twestival in the evening. This fundraising networking event was kind of a who’s who on the Internet in Bristol, which is a real new media hub. It got a bit raucous and raised in the region of £4,000 for Concern Worldwide, who are no doubt very happy indeed. Good stuff.
Now it’s back to earth and the business of providing good marketing information to small businesses. We’ll be updating our favourite things with more books, videos and websites you should be reading, watching and visiting, Plus, we’ll have information on mobile phone apps, advice on closing a sale and tips for making your business stand out from the crowd.
Like Minds People-to-People was about making valuable and meaningful connections. The test now is the connections everyone makes in their sector — armed with the wisdom gained from attending the conference — be that in person or virtually.
We asked attendees to provide us with their take-home message from the keynotes, panel discussions and extensive networking that took place well into the night.
Take-home 1: Strategy's purpose is to enable execution. NOT the other way around. @chrisbrogan wisdom.
Take-home 2: Remove the "media" from Social Media. SM engineering for orgs isn't about media.
Take-home 3: Humanising corporate communications offers a wealth of operational and tactical advantages.
Bonus take-home: @chrisbrogan is every bit as smart as he claims not to be. Truly outstanding.
Take-home: Inspiration, reflection, motivation, acceleration, comprehension, lubrication and a lot of bloody good ideas.
Take-home: Content counts.
Take-home: This is a new medium not a new form of communication, Twitter is the tool, people power it. Authenticity beats brand veneer.
Take-home: Like Minds was jaw droppingly awesome, the creative mix was lovely magic!
Take-home: Inspiring, awesome event. All about the people as the title suggested :)
Take-home: Mine is never, ever take fashion tips from Americans - no matter how famous they are :) #likeminds
Take-home: How can you use available tools to make others feel special? That's a key question.
Take-home: Stimulating, thought provoking and professional. Unexpectedly good way to spend a Friday!
Please do add any further take-home comments below.
Once set, you’ll need to ensure all of the things you can influence are glued together and working toward that unique brand positioning. If you're spending money on marketing materials with different straplines, changeable designs, copy that sounds different or doesn't match up to what you stand for, or products that don't match your brand promise then it's wasting the full potential of your marketing investment. People won’t recognise you, or understand what your brand is about.
Good strong brands do this well and are more stable because of it. Lets take Apple. They tirelessly work on creating innovative new products that work, that people love because of the way they work and because they are at the forefront of the latest technology. They just love making great stuff! So what do they do to back this up and support the positioning? Everything!
Their advertising, website and product brochures all fit together - you know it's Apple as soon as you see it. The products all look cool, even the accessories. Functionally people love to show the product off - look, it can do this! The shops, well they're cool too. And the people in them know their stuff, they help and reflect the brand. They run workshops in the shops on how to get the most out of the products, as well as the usual online support and video tutorials. You can even book time one on one with a ‘Genius' in their shops if you just want some help face-to-face. Everyone loves to show off the product because it's so good. It's just relentless pursuit of their brand positioning.
Apple have got their brand positioning and direction totally clear, and then they execute everything to support it ruthlessly and consistently. Take one area of the business and fail to deliver, or do something a bit different and things start to unravel. Done well, even knitting the simplest marketing activity together like a website, van, you and a business card, and you’ll see dividends.