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The low-down on the blogs, tweets, books, podcasts, videos, websites and events that are keeping us inspired, entertained and informed during the election.
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Recently I spent a very enlightening evening in the pub chatting to a friend’s son. Fresh from his first term at university, studying for a business degree, I thought I would pick his brains for some fresh ideas and inspiration. It turns out that using an impressive enterprising spirit, he has become a "student brand manager" for several high profile companies operating on his campus.
A student brand manager is basically the campus's “go to” guy or girl; they are being paid both in cash and freebies to promote a particular company’s brand or product. Companies as diverse as Microsoft, Red Bull and Wilkinson Sword employ hundreds of students across the UK.
I can see the attraction. For the brand, it’s a great foothold in the market. Gaining new customers is never an easy task, but having a living, breathing advocate passionately selling your brand or service to their peers certainly pays off.
Ask any student what their favourite energy drink is and I bet Red Bull is top of the list. As marketers we can really learn from this. Red Bull targeted students as a potential market for growth; they had a strategy and have continued to invest time and effort into it. This really got me thinking about customer communities and the impact brand advocates or influencers can have.
Influence is almost impossible to measure; the benefits are likely to take a long time to become established. However, it’s worth asking whether a brand ambassador could be the kickstart your business needs to gain a foothold with a new or even existing group of customers. Could they get them involved and interested in your company?
As for my friend’s son, he’s hoping to carve out a long-term career with one of the companies he represents on his campus. He’s not just an advocate, he’s a diehard fan and I haven’t seen any marketing campaign that can get close to his enthusiasm. Personally I would prefer to make up my own mind, and not be too influenced by someone who is effectively being paid for their views.
As you might have gathered, it’s our first birthday. The Donut MD Rory MccGwire has already written about why we set up the Donut websites and what we’re planning to do next - so I won’t talk about that.
Instead, I’d like to thank you - our readers, experts, colleagues and friends - for your fantastic support over the last 12 months. It’s been challenging; it’s been a steep learning curve; but it’s been fun.
I’d also like to publicly thank my colleagues at BHP, who have been brilliant. From the moment the Donut project got under way, it’s involved a massive amount of work and the guys here have all done their bit to help make these the best sites they can be.
So thank you, readers. Thank you, UK small businesses. Thank you, experts. Thank you, colleagues. Here’s a cake we made ourselves (in the style of a donut, naturally) and some nice words from three of the businesses who have featured on the site over the past year. We don’t usually blow our own trumpet, but what the hell!
“Marketing Donut has proved to be a fabulous resource for businesses such as ours with its clear advice and inspirational case studies - including ours! Naked Wines launched in the midst of recession and has gone from strength to strength thanks to our ethos of championing small winemakers and working closely with our customers and partners.” Rowan Gormley, founder, NakedWines
“As the owner of a small business, you need to have a good understanding of many business disciplines. The Marketing Donut is a great help when you want ideas and inspiration about any areas of marketing. The articles are practical, to-the-point and well written. Half an hour spent on the site will pay great dividends.” Andrew Jardine, founder, Atlantic Trampolines
“I think the Marketing Donut is brilliant and it gives me lots of new ideas. I follow every day and would highly recommend.” Neil Westwood, managing director, Magic Whiteboard Limited
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.
In my weekly round-up, I featured a picture of my very untidy desk, which prompted a rash of desk photos from our followers on Twitter. So here they are - and, embarrassingly every single one is a lot tidier than mine. In fact, some of them look as though they could have come from a catalogue. At least one person also has four computer screens. What do you do, @sunubaby??
1. The sports car @MotorsportPrint I like to keep my desk tidy :)
2. The animal sanctuary @bryonythomas Check it out, complete with sleeping cat.
3. The family estate @RoseGardenAcs Ok, here's my desk. The staff aren't up to much, though.
4. The guidebook @benparkatbjs My current desk.
5. The playroom @charliemoos Here's my office at a tidy moment.
6. The uptown runaround @runninginheels7 My desk..notice the emergency pair of heels! :)
7. The personal organiser @G1Creative My desk @G1Creative
8. The TV dinner @sunubaby 4 screens baby + a tasty falafel salad.
Thanks for your pictures, everyone!
I always say I’ve been busy this week. And I always am. But this week has been REALLY REALLY busy. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at my desk:
The coffee mug came from a trip to Haight Ashbury in San Francisco, by the way. Well, you’ve got to, haven’t you? Here’s a closer look. I do like my mug.
So, anyway, I’ve been busy. I’ve been busy because:
a) we started our general election push this week
b) we’ve been planning our first birthday celebrations
c) James, who usually looks after the Marketing Donut Twitter account, has been on leave. He came back briefly on Thursday, but we had to send him straight back home because he looked like death. Poor chap.
I’ve been holding the fort during James’s holiday and his subsequent malaise, tweeting, blogging and planning like a mad thing. Running our Twitter account has been great fun, even though it’s actually quite a big responsibility looking after a communications channel that has 10,000 followers. To be honest, I felt a bit like being a radio DJ on a phone-in programme, starting debates, inviting comments, throwing interesting nuggets your way and adding my two-penny’s-worth on what you’d thrown me.
We got some good things going. On Monday, I clean forgot that I was supposed to be tweeting and did other important things. On Tuesday, I read James's handover note in which he explicitly said: "Cover Marketing Donut Twitter activity Mon-Wed." So I started tweeting and we reminisced about the 1980s and discussed what should feature in a marketing campaign aimed at 80s children like me. We figured big hair, Wham and Footloose-style dancing would probably do the trick.
On Wednesday, I got serious. I wanted to know what people thought about the way the major political parties were conducting their election campaigns. You got stuck in, gave me loads of comments and I produced this blog: “Trust me, I’m a politician”.
On Thursday, I bowled in, confident that I could repeat the previous day’s activity. I figured you’d be tired of politics, so I kicked off with a fun game of “Hit, miss or maybe?” with the latest ideas from the Springwise e-newsletter.
I asked what you wanted to talk about and someone mentioned cheese, then sports sponsorship, so I tried to get something going on that.
I was starting to get worried. Had I lost my touch?
Shortly after a rather sad lunch, I happened to mention that I was writing my blog about politicians and looking for examples of brands that had made promises they couldn’t deliver. A trickle of responses started to come through. So there was life out there.
I finished the blog and tweeted it. A couple of nice comments. I started editing the news and picked up a couple of interesting facts – 75 per cent of small business owners didn’t know the name of the Business Secretary. There’s a website called comparethemanager.com. I tweeted them and got a few more responses.
Then, during a five-minute breather, I came across a story about a pornographic magazine for the blind. Of course, I tweeted it. Who wouldn’t?
You try. You really try to be serious and focus on your subject. You try to encourage people to talk intelligently about marketing and politics and what it all means for business. But what they really want to read about is pornographic magazines for the blind. Thank you, Twitter. Thank you very much.
EDIT 20.04.10 - unfortunately, due to travel delays caused by ash from the Icelandic volcano, the Have your say! event has been cancelled this week. We'll keep you posted on alternative dates, if the event should be rescheduled.
Next week our MD Rory MccGwire will be one of the key speakers at Have your say!, a panel discussion in London to talk about the points raised in Doug Richard’s Entrepreneurs’ Manifesto (pdf). Whether you agree with Doug or not, he certainly touches on some key concerns for small businesses.
It’ll be well worth going to the event and listening to Rory (as well as Doug and a host of other business media bigwigs) speak. In the meantime, you might want to get a flavour of Rory’s thoughts on the manifesto issues over at the Start Up Donut blog.