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A little learning is a wonderful thing

July 19, 2010 by Drayton Bird

I am amazed how little people study in this business. It’s very hard to pick it up as you go along. More to the point, why spend years learning by painful trial and error when you can get guidance over a weekend from someone ten times as smart as you, who spent years finding out what works?

So if you agree that a little learning is better than no learning at all, here are some of the books I have learned from most. They are not all about marketing or advertising. If you learn about nothing but these two subjects your vision will be very narrow, your development as a human being stunted and you’ll have nothing to think about when you get old.

A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell. This convinced me that you probably can’t actually know anything, but you can explain even the most complex thoughts clearly if you learn to write well. It also helped me think a little more logically – though not enough.

How To Write A Good Advertisement by Vic Schwab. He was a partner in one of the first specialist mail order agencies. Well-written, practical – with a list of 100 good headlines that I’ve often used as a starting point when looking for ideas. You will find many of them copied or adapted by internet marketers.

Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy. Almost as amusing as Confessions of an Advertising Man by the same author, but more informative. If you work in this business and haven’t read it, you’re really making things hard for yourself. It reminds me of something important every time I pick it up.

My Years With General Motors by Alfred P. Sloan. His approach is no longer in fashion, but few people had more impact not just on business but on the 20th century than the man who built up General Motors.

How To Make Your Advertising Make Money by John Caples. Caples explains better than anyone what works, what doesn’t, and why, because he conducted more tests than anyone. Ogilvy once told me he learned everything he knew from Caples.

The 100 Best Advertisements edited by Julian Watkins. We learn best from example. This is the best selection I know – many described by their creators.

Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins. Judges who should know – like Ogilvy – consider him the most able advertising man ever. In his day that encompassed marketing. This very short book, written in 1924, is near-perfect. You can download it free at

There are quite a few more books I like, listed at, but that little lot will keep you busy. More to the point, they’ll give you a priceless competitive edge.

Drayton Bird is a renowned direct marketing teacher, speaker and author. Find out more about him on his profile. 

Tell us about the books that have inspired, informed and entertained you.

Dragons' Den digest: Week One

July 15, 2010 by James Ainsworth

The new series of Dragons' Den began last night. As well as tweeting along to the episode, we will provide a Dragons' Den digest each week.

Quote of the Episode: "You win the worst invention ever brought into Dragons’ Den today” Peter Jones

Idea 1
Flowsignals - light up traffic signs
Investment sought: '£50,000 for 10per cent’
Handling: Struggled to make a case for the product and appeared not to have conducted sufficient research into if the product was needed. Muddled.
Outcome: Having invested £24,000 of his own money, Flowsignals walked away with no interest from the Dragons
Verdict: Pitch poor

Idea 2
Pebble Bed Vineyard - own your own vineyard
Investment sought:  ‘£60,000 for 20 per cent’
Handling: Nervy start was not a problem. Business plan interogation from Deborah Meaden highlighted a number of flaws in return on investment. Entrepreneur knew his sums but they didn't add up. Duncan saw a way to make it pay.
Outcome: Accepts an offer of £60,000 for 40 per cent from Duncan
Verdict: Pitch perfect

Idea 3
 Dhamaka Events/Flex FX Productions - Bollywood dance events
Investment sought: ‘£200,000 for 30 per cent shares’
Handling: An excellent pitch and dance demonstration. Both well rehearsed. Handling of the Dragons was cagey. Not open enough about the business plan and frustrated all Dragons.
Outcome: No takers
Verdict: Pitch poor

Idea 4
 Worthenshaw's - healthy frozen food desserts
Investment sought:‘£65,000 for 15 per cent equity stake’
Handling: Confident with her research and had done a lot of leg work to get to advanced stages with Tesco. Passionate.
Outcome: £100,000 for 40 per cent from Theo was declined in favour of a joint deal with Duncan and Peter to the tune of £65,000 for 30 per cent 
Verdict: Pitch perfect

What did you think of the episode?

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Get personal with marketing

July 14, 2010 by Ben Dyer

I read with great interest this week the news that Twitter is getting into the ecommerce space.

In an idea copied from the very popular US-based service Woot, Twitter will be advertising time-sensitive deals via a dedicated account (@earlybird). In a reversal of traditional marketing norms, you will only receive the daily deals by following the account.

Sites offering time sensitive deals, vouchers or private sales clubs have rarely been off the front pages of tech or retail blogs for the past year. It seems almost every day I am reading about a Groupon clone springing up. Even the old man on the digital high street, Amazon, is in the game with their recent acquisition of Woot.

I can see the attraction. As humans we like to feel special, we like the sense of getting a good deal or “beating the man”. Sites like this play as much towards our egos as they do our budgets.

We can learn from this. Why not experiment with your online or traditional marketing or sales processes? Make things personal, spend time researching your customer base and tailor the offering. I love it when I walk into our local fishmongers and they know my name and what I normally buy. I always get offered something special that they know I would like. It may sound gimmicky, but it works.

Technology is enabling us, ironically, to become more personal. Why not give it ago?

Ben Dyer is CEO for SellerDeck

What shape is your recession?

July 12, 2010 by Simon Wicks

As a writer/editor, I have a vested interest in the way people use the written word. With the Donut sites (and our other small business offerings), for example, we editors encourage all of our house writers and external contributors to write in a clear, straightforward way.

Jargon doesn’t help anyone, except the select group of people who speak it. Likewise, unnecessarily long words or complicated phrases are both barriers to clear communication. When you write for a general audience, as we do, you can’t afford to lose them because you’re speaking the wrong language.

Unfortunately, the business world loves a bit of jargon. Why spell things out when you can come up with a smart-sounding phrase that makes you look like you belong to the club? What amazes me is how quickly these things are picked up and how readily people use them without really thinking about what they mean or whether they are even making sense.

Last week , a colleague interviewed a spokesman from a well-known small business body, who suggested that we were experiencing an ‘L-shaped’ recession. I’ve heard about a ‘W-shaped recession’ before, which at least is reasonably self-explanatory – although the alternative phrase, a ‘double-dip’ recession, is a bit clearer.

But an ‘L-shaped’ recession? Does this mean a total economic collapse, followed by a period of zero-growth? Surely not, because the reality is very different. Perhaps this person meant an ‘L-on-its-side, a-bit-like-a-tick’-shaped recession - ie a rapid fall followed by a slow climb back to where we were before. Something like this, I suppose (though with a shallower tail):

To make things even more confusing, he went on to say that instead of a “double-dip” recession, we ought to watch out for the “triple tumble”. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always associated tumbling with gymnastics. So I had a vision in mind of a young woman hurling herself across the floor, bouncing and flailing, legs and arms akimbo, before finally coming to rest – miraculously – on her feet.

Are we really saying the economy is like a gymnast? I’m sure we’re not, because what on Earth would happen if the gymnast took to swinging around the parallel bars? Would that be an ‘O-shaped’ recession?

There’s a lesson here. Keep it clear, keep it simple, say what you mean. And if you don’t really know what you’re talking about, just admit it. There’s no shame in that. Let’s face it, nobody has made any reliable predictions about the economy in the last three years, so why do we keep pretending we can?

Donut marketing

July 09, 2010 by James Ainsworth

Donut samples

It was inevitable with a name like ours and the increasing popularity of franchises of a certain chain of donut makers that our website would take some hits from people searching ‘Marketing Donuts’.

I have an interesting tale to share with you all as to how one of these franchises has gone about announcing their arrival in Bristol and marketed their donut products.

Last month I watched the England versus Slovenia match in the centre of Bristol at the Football Fan Park facility. This is essentially a square in the centre of Bristol that has a giant screen and a fenced off arena where football fans can congregate to have their hopes and dreams of national sporting glory dashed once again.

During the second half of the encounter which saw us secure second place in our group and prolong the inevitable demise, there were people walking into the arena with boxes of sugar glazed ring donuts. The more people that came in with donuts, the more people left to seek confectionery 

Outside the arena there was a van packed full of trays of donuts and a sizeable but orderly queue of people receiving a free box of donuts. By the time the final whistle had been blown, the crowd inside the arena raced to the exit to join what became a sickening display of greed. The scenes were reminiscent of an aid convey arriving in an earthquake ravaged town. (Responsibility for the welfare of the public on the part of the company was tossed in the air like the final few boxes of donuts as the polite queue fast became a scrum of over one hundred people.)

The cost of this exercise may have been sizeable for the company but the clever part has been the size of reach that they will have achieved. Hand out a single donut and you make one person happy. Hand out a box of twelve and you empower that one very happy person to do the leg work for you in sharing the product and news of the soon-to-be-open new store with others. Seeding the public with samples of donuts has raised awareness of the new addition to Bristol. Word of mouth never tasted so good. 

How do you encourage word of mouth with your existing customers?

Ten ways to create great blog content

July 07, 2010 by Chris Street

I’ve long been an advocate of the power of blogging, but when you’re posting three times a week – or even trying to muster up something original once a week – it can be hard to consistently create compelling content for your blog posts.

We all have ‘off’ days, times when the creative juices aren’t flowing. Sometimes finding different, interesting and useful content to share on a blog proves tricky. With that in mind, here are ten ways to consistently create great blog content:

1. Re-visit your blogging legacy

Have a look through your previous posts – are there any blogs you can add a second part to, an update, additional content?

2. Read through the last 24 hours Home feed on your Twitter account

Reviewing the last day on your Twitter Home feed usually delivers a few good blog ideas or content themes to explore.

3. What are you doing at the moment – share the love

Discuss things you’re working on at the moment: projects, new client work, challenges, success, lessons learnt. Add value.

4. Check the blogosphere

Look at what bloggers are posting and expand their debates – this is a great way to further link into the blog community, too.

5. Become a source of exclusive information

Are you a thought-leader in your commercial space? No? Become one. Add exclusive content in your area of expertise.

6. Ask for help

Speak to your clients, colleagues and trusted network associates about what interests them. Ask for their help in creating content.

7. Do market research

Get online and see what your competitors are talking about. Then write something better on the same subject. Add insight.

8. Get passionate

If you have strong beliefs or proven methods around a commercial subject, share it. Share your passion. Readers love this.

9. Remain teachable

Ask your readers what they want to see. Start a survey, ask your audience what they value. Create statistical value.

10. Start with the end in mind

Remember why you’re blogging – think back to your earliest blog posts and recall what sparked you to start blogging. Share it.

Chris Street of Bristol Editor

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