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The last few words

May 06, 2010 by Kate Horstead

One of our business writers, Kate Horstead, is standing as a candidate in a local election today. Here, she draws on her own experience of campaiging to offer some nuggets of advice for businesses who are trying to win over customers.

As the election campaign rolled into its final days and hours, the political parties geared up to speak to many of their voters for the last time before they voted, whether through a speech, direct mail, on their Twitter feed or website, on the doorsteps or in a party broadcast on TV. The last week is crucial, because however early the campaigners started, it is often the last few words people hear that will stick in their minds. Many of the postal votes have already been cast by this stage, but nerve-wrackingly, 90 per cent of the electorate is still to make its judgement.

But for the local campaign volunteers on the ground, many of whom started out their campaign many months ago, sticking leaflets through doors on drizzly winter nights, talking to voters on the doorsteps and responding to email queries, how do they organise themselves in the final days to make it really count?

As a local council candidate myself, I had established the people who were most likely to vote for us, and those who were leaning our way or yet to decide, as well as hard supporters for the other parties. In business-speak, I did my market research. I had also distributed several batches of information about what my policies are for the local area, and what my party has done so far to help local people. With just days left to win, my team and I needed to prioritise where that time should be spent to get the maximum return for our tireless efforts, or much of that groundwork could well be wasted.

Over the bank holiday weekend we distributed several different types of letters, targeted carefully at different groups. One was a tabloid to be distributed to all the houses in the constituency, while a separate letter was aimed specifically at people who said they would vote for the other main party in the constituency, as a last attempt to sway them towards us. Finally, there were personal letters addressed (handwritten) to all our non-postal voters, a friendly reminder of what we have done and what we plan to do if they vote us in.

Lastly, I fitted in a bit of last-minute face-to-face and phone canvassing, reminding voters that we were there and gathering data for polling day. My last words to them were often something direct and personal, along the lines of “A vote for us in this constituency really does count” or “Thank you for your support, it’s much appreciated”. My personal view is that however often I have knocked on their door or posted a leaflet through, and however firm they think their convictions are, people forget all too easily and those last few words can really mean a lot.

For those who sat through the leaders’ debates, your concentration is likely to have wandered at some point during the programme, but most people will have tuned in for each of the leaders’ short speeches at the end. No doubt it was the way they presented their final argument that will stick in your memory, at least until today, and the manner in which they said it might make you think twice.

But what can you learn from this as a business marketer? Obviously, as a small firm you don’t just have a week to target the right customers and sell to them, but perhaps you should try viewing every week of your marketing campaign with the same urgency as the politicians view this final week of the election campaign. Whether it is a call to action at the end of an email or a summary of what your product can offer them, make sure your last few words stick in your customers’ minds. You never know, it might help you to grasp those last few crucial sales that put you ahead of your competition.

Internet election? #fail

May 06, 2010 by Ben Dyer

In the middle of the most important day in UK politics for five years, I have a simple question: what happened to the “Internet election” we were promised?

I have no idea how many people involved in the Obama campaign were hired to look after social media, but at the beginning of this election each party was trying to outdo the other with grand claims about hiring the brains behind the Obama Internet election strategy. Now, I don’t really know what that means, especially as the brains behind Obama’s campaign were the grassroots activists, but whatever the three main parties hoped for it hasn’t happened.

Instead, of using the internet to empower, the parties have got it the wrong way around by taking bloggers and Twitterati out of digital realm and giving them a real life platform. I am no political strategist, but this is not a good idea.

Labour started it by giving the cringeworthy Ellie Gellard (aka Bevanite Ellie) a lectern and some tissues so she can cry when Gordon speaks; Dave continued to cosy up with Mumsnet whenever there was a TV camera and a packet of Hobnobs around; and Nick − well I spent 30 seconds on his website before my eyes melted.

To summarise, the three parties took something that looked like a digital strategy and applied it to the old world. The very pre-requisite of an Internet election is − you got it − it uses the Internet. And all three parties failed, badly.

Got to dash, I have hired the guy that proofread the blog posts for the Obama campaign popping over in a moment. He’ll like this one.

Ben Dyer is director of product development for Actinic

Small business networking: Are you making the most of it?

May 04, 2010 by Karen Purves

In less than twenty years, networking has gone from something done informally to being a prime marketing tool for small business.

The opportunities are endless. You can network at any time of the day or night – face to face and online.

The big question is “Have your social networking skills and practices kept pace?”

What are the changes?

  • Small business networking is now one to many and many to many, not just one to one.
  • Business networking and your website are intrinsically linked.
  • Networking effectiveness is boosted by switching from sales oriented messages to content and permission-based marketing.

To make the most of these, here are five networking tips:

Online social networking profiles
Create or update your online profile for all the networking groups to which you belong. Be consistent with what you write and keep them up to date.

Join social networking sites
Choose the ones that best suit your business. The top social networking sites are Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Generally, Facebook is great if you have a large following already. Linkedin is a business-oriented site. Twitter is good for both business-to-business and business-to-consumer markeitng, providing your market is there, too! There are smaller ones, most of which are industry specific or geographically based. Still, choose the ones best for your business.

Create content
If you are already glazing over at the idea of creating articles and content generally, come back!

With online networking, posts are like attending an event where the emphasis is on sharing information.

There’s a bonus for this activity; you can use this content in other areas of your marketing. What’s more, you can create lead magnets from these and the comments received.

Comment of what’s being said
Monitor what others are saying and add your thoughts – just as you would in face-to-face networking. Remember, nothing is deleted on the Internet, so keep your comments in line with your business aims and values.

People buy from people they trust and the easiest way to build this is through consistency.

Have one-to-ones
It doesn’t matter whether you network face to face or online, you want ways to explore potential. A one-to-one over the phone is a quick and easy way to decide how to move forward, even if that is to arrange an appointment.

These are five networking tips you can do today and over time they increase the effectiveness of your marketing. Tell me which of these are you doing now?

Editor’s round-up: That’s enough about the election – let’s talk about exhibitions. And the election.

April 30, 2010 by Simon Wicks

Whenever you cover an event – particularly one that goes on for a while – you always ask yourself the question ‘How much is too much?’.

I’ve been asking myself this in relation to our election coverage. We’ve got blogs, news stories, a poll, a list of election things we like and we’ll be doing 24-hour coverage of the election as it happens.

At the outset we intended to do a just a little on the election. But when I look at the list of what we’ve done, I see the little has become quite a lot. But how much is too much?

Personally, I don’t think we have done too much – though I’m sure we’ll be very ready to call a halt next Friday. The reality is that this is one of the most important elections of modern times and its ramifications will be felt for years, especially by small businesses. After all the fuss of The Budget, there’s been remarkably little spoken about small firms by the parties during this campaign.

Across the Donut websites, we’ve been trying to provide a bit of a corrective to this. Over on the Start Up Donut blog, in particular, we’ve got Donut MD Rory MccGwire’s thoughtful analyses of key election issues for small firms. Actually, these are some of the best things I’ve read on why small firms matter to the UK and what we should be doing to help them (and I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss).

Enough about the election already!

Anyway, that’s enough about the election; let’s talk about branding and exhibitions. I’ve been working this week on the next issue of MyDonut, our monthly e-newsletter. The next one is due out on 13 May, so sign up if you want to receive it. This issue I can promise a fantastic article on small businesses and branding by our very own Rachel and a very inspiring profile of Sadie Hopkins of the York Coffee Emporium written by Start Up Donut editor Mark Williams.

We’ve also been thinking about exhibitions. That’s because it’s the Business Startup 2010 exhibition at the Excel Centre in London in a few weeks and we’ll be there as exhibitors (do come and say hello). To mark its impending arrival, next Tuesday we’ll be posting some excellent material on what you can get out of attending or exhibiting at trade fairs.

Sticking with exhibitions, I managed to slip away from the office on Thursday to get to the Internet World exhibition at Earl’s Court, where I’d arranged to meet Chris Barling, CEO of Donut sponsor and e-commerce software firm SellerDeck. We had a good chat about the future of the Internet, which I’m sure will emerge in the form of content at some point.

Anyway, it turns out Chris was one of the e-commerce pioneers, having started SellerDeck in 1996. Like me, he feels the Internet is revolutionising the way we think about the world - not just the way we shop or search for information. In particular, we talked about the cultural shift that’s taking place before our eyes during this election campaign.

No, that really is enough about the election

Ok, I know I said “That’s enough about the election” but it’s looming behind everything and I just can’t escape it. Remember the days when a certain notorious red top could brag “It was the Sun wot won it”? Could that happen now? No. And the main reason is that the influence and reach of traditional print media is being undermined by the Internet at a rate I just hadn’t appreciated until the last few weeks.

With a very few exceptions they just don’t seem to get it.  For example, a couple of days after the first leadership debate, the right-wing press mounted a vicious attack on Nick Clegg, who had unexpectedly emerged as a threat to their man’s majority.

Not long ago this might have destroyed him. But now it has inspired an explosion of satire online. The ironic hashtag #IBlameItOnNick became a trending topic on Twitter; outraged blogs were written and shared by the hundred; the comment boxes on the websites of the newspapers in question were flooded with protest and mockery - to such a degree that comments were shut down in some cases.

The print media have been made to look like dinosaurs by this activity. They just aren’t used to people answering back. Sure, they have influenced this campaign, but they look increasingly out of step with the modern world. New media is beginning to demonstrate the power to bring about social change and the old media isn’t entirely sure what to do.

And the moral of the story is...

What has this to do with businesses? Well, it shows how quickly technological developments can change culture and make something that seemed so central to our lives suddenly seem quite redundant. In the mid-1990s, Chris Barling licked his finger and felt which way the wind was blowing. He made a good call, and what he began as an innovative company is now an everyday part of the modern business landscape.

If businesses as large as News Corporation and Associated Newspapers can be made to look out of date, how safe do you feel?

Want my vote? Then tweet me

April 30, 2010 by Joanne Dewberry

I was never really interested in politics at school. My younger brother studied it at A-level, but I couldn’t think of anything more boring. I watch the news every night but, as I approach my 30th birthday, I have not yet voted. Of course, I feel bad that women died in order to get me a vote. But, at the same time, I just get so bogged down and overwhelmed by what appears to be three grown men bickering like schoolboys.

So what do I think that these three men vying for my votes should do? Tweet, Facebook, blog - that’s what I want to see! If they want to be talking to the youth of today, they need to be interacting via social networking.

I speak from experience. As I write, I’m trying to drum up voting support for the title of Dorset Business Mum of the Year 2010. I’ve been shortlisted along with nine others and I’m now depending on votes to get into the top three.

What was my game plan? Social networking; tweet and retweet as much as possible. On the first day of voting I secured a thumbs-up, vote and retweet from Claire Young, a finalist in The Apprentice 2008. “Supporting enterprise in the UK is something important to me and my work, so its great to see a young mum such as Joanne strive forward and inspire others,” said Claire, very kindly.

On Saturday night I was very excited to see a tweet stating “Joanne Dewbury calling for votes for top Dorset businesswoman” from none other than Sarah Brown herself. I feel honoured, as I know that Mrs Brown is an advocate for women, especially mums, with campaigns such as Million Mums. This could be a crude tactic from Mrs. Brown to get me to vote her husband, but let me revel in my glory! 

I’ve also been getting votes via my Facebook fanpage. The lesson? Mr Brown, Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg - if you want my vote, tweet me!

Two ways to add to experiences through communication

April 29, 2010 by Robert Craven

To heighten an experience you can create expectations and/or you can condition the experience.

  • To heighten an experience can be fairly straightforward.  For instance, you tell the customer what to look for. 
    E.g. Wines2You, the wholesale organic wine importer, include tasting notes with their wines stating things like ‘notice the flavours of buttered toast, some say slightly burnt toast’.  Suddenly the client tunes in to these flavours and probably passes on this titbit of information to friends when drinking the wine.
  • To condition the experience you need to add a creative idea.  This adds to the experience, often in terms of romance or mystique.   
    E.g. Wines2You tasting notes go on to say how Keith, the owner of Wines2You, first met Enrique, the owner of the vineyard, early one scorching summer’s morning in the northernmost part of Spain, celebrating the birth of his first child in one of the sixteenth century caves at his smallholding…

It adds to the “sizzle and the steak”.

Robert Craven of The Directors' Centre

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