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You can’t please all the people all the time

You can’t please all the people all the time

In my work helping businesses large and small with their digital marketing, our work together often ends up helping the business understand their full customer journey. For many businesses this leads to the realisation that they’re trying to serve everyone with a perfect solution, which they invariably fail to manage.

This often manifests itself in the marketing and communications material of such companies. Businesses have a product that can be used in many ways by different people to meet their differing needs. This leads to the desire to tell everyone all the features, so the core message gets lost or becomes so garbled that it appeals to no-one. It might feel counter-intuitive but targeting your message more tightly, so you’ll only appeal to a small section of your audience is the way to begin to engage them. You’ll be talking their language and solving their problems and you’ll be able to be very clear how you do it and what the benefits of your approach are.

In today’s social media, always on environment it’s even more important to remember that this approach needs to be followed. Be focused on who you want to reach out to. Be specific about what you can do for them and why you are the best option.

Credit control as a customer service function

Credit control as a customer service function

Every now and then you come across an organisation that’s clearly very customer oriented in many areas but where one part of the business lets them down. One area which people often forget about is that of credit management – the people who send the invoices, collect the money and chase down late payments.

Many would argue that if someone is late paying their bill then they deserve the shouty, grumpy credit controller from hell. Yet, forward thinking companies will view this as an opportunity to continue to offer great customer service. It doesn’t take much and it can even pay dividends, in the form of customers who feel better about your business, are more likely to recommend you and will improve the way they pay in the future.

And it doesn’t take much to improve that function:

  • A little politeness and charm goes a long way when collecting money from people – you won’t necessarily know the reason for the delay, politeness costs nothing and often helps resolve an issue faster.
  • Systems and processes that take the grunt work out of the function – clearly structured invoices, automated invoicing and follow up emails, all save you time and help the customer know where they stand.
  • This frees you up to do the important bit – following up with those that haven’t paid, understanding why not and working out how to help the customer.

Of course in some cases this approach won’t always work and a heavier hand may be called for, but by this point you will be understanding all your customers better and you can then decide whether these are the right kind of customers for you.

If in the unfortunate event, that the customer simply can’t pay and won’t ever be able to pay, then finding that out by having a reasonable conversation will be better for everyone. It will enable you to write down the loss more quickly and enable the customer to move on – let’s face it, they may well be feeling pretty battered and bruised already.

If you have any experiences with credit control letting customer service down in this way, do share in the comments.

Lessons from FIFA comms

Lessons from FIFA comms

The latest uproar about FIFA is another opportunity to learn from their media management.

It was interesting to see the Director of Comms giving a press briefing yesterday. It’s not often you see such a figure doing the  press briefing at a time like this.  However, with so much going on with individuals in the organisation it’s not altogether surprising and suggests that several may well have chosen to duck that particular opportunity for a profile piece to the world’s media!

The content of his interview was telling. It certainly seems that there were some interesting shenanigans going on in the run up to bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments. When faced with such a challenge as a comms person it can be hard to find a way through and an appropriate way to position what is happening especially with investigations going on. Say too much and you can open up more questions which you aren’t in a position to answer; say nothing and you’re accused of closing ranks and covering up. It’s a thankless position to be in if you’re the messenger.

However, to come out and claim it’s a good day for FIFA is slightly over-egging it in anyone’s book. Clearly there is an opportunity to root out any wrong-doers that there may be, but this should of course have happened a long time ago – it really shouldn’t need an FBI investigation to do it. Of course, he can’t sit there and say it’s a disaster, but a little more contrition would help everyone to see that they really do want to get to the bottom of everything.

He also has to deal with the fact that his boss clearly wants to ignore what’s happening and continue with the election of the President, which at a time like this does seem somewhat arrogant. I do suspect that a request from him to hold off on that activity at this time would simply fall on deaf ears.

I, like many, will be intrigued to see the outcome of the investigation and in the meantime the outcome of the Presidential election at FIFA becomes a little more interesting than it otherwise might have been!

Strategy needs context not another strategy!

Strategy needs context not another strategy!

This week I’ve seen a few references to a new piece of work by the Boston Consulting Group’s all about how your strategy needs a strategy – they’ve even given it their own hashtag.

Now, I generally have a lot of respect for BCG. They understand certain industry sectors very well and have some top class consultants, however, with this new position paper they seem to have taken their lead from the school of rather ridiculous headlines.

What they say underneath the fluff is fair enough, but it’s not rocket science, not new and is pretty much a case of the emperor’s new clothes.

So what does their #strategyneedsstrategy mean?

In essence what they’re saying is that when you develop the strategy for your business, you need to consider the environment / marketplace in which you operate, your available resources and the proposition you offer to the marketplace. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do loads of research, you probably know your market pretty well if you’ve been operating in it for a while. What it does mean though, is that you have to consider the things that are happening or may happen and listen to your customers. It is possible to predict what your customers will want – Steve Jobs was famed for this approach, but he didn’t do his thinking in total isolation – he understood the psyche of the consumers of his products and put that to work with his ideas and the capability of the technology he could develop.  Frankly, in my opinion, if you attempted to develop a business strategy without looking at the market and your resources you’d be nuts anyway!

A strategy doesn’t have to be complicated. The tactics you employ may be, but if a strategy can’t be articulated in less than a few minutes, the chances are it’s not a strategy, it’s a plan.

So does a strategy need a strategy? Not really  – it needs to consider the external market and internal business factors that will influence it. I’d say it’s more a case of #strategyneedscontext

The importance of Emily Davison and Emmeline Pankhurst

The importance of Emily Davison and Emmeline Pankhurst

As a father of three daughters I have a new found and growing interest in women’s rights and the issues that may affect my girls as they grow. So, it was with interest that I listened to a friend of mine recently tell me that her great aunt was Emmeline Pankhurst. This friend was interested to know whether I knew who Pankhurst was, as she was surprised by how few people she had met who actually didn’t, including a number of teachers.

Now, I believed I did know who she was, but as it happens I turned out to be incorrect, though I was at least in the right ballpark. I had thought that Pankhurst was the suffragette who had thrown herself under the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913 but my friend explained that she was actually the leader of the British suffragette movement and it was another suffragette, Emily Davison, who was the person who had thrown herself under the King’s horse.

Having been reminded of this snippet of information I’ve decided to share it and this blog piece is my own small way of attempting to remind and inform some of my readers of these important women and the role they played in making life more equal for women.

It has been much debated whether the actions of Emily Davison that day did much for moving women’s rights forwards, but it is fair to say that it was the kind of action that got noticed. It raised the profile of an issue, with the kind of audience who this individual wanted paying attention and it created a memorable story (even if the names aren’t accurately remembered) for those who heard about it later.

I know that issues of women’s rights can still engender fierce debate these days, not least in the online communities many of us spend time with, and it is my hope that the issue remains on the agenda, for as we can see all around us, there are still many times and places where women have to fight hard for some of the most basic of rights.

Image source: wikimedia commons

A simple start point for reviewing your marketing strategy

A simple start point for reviewing your marketing strategy

“We’re focused on delivering customer value”, it’s a statement uttered by many, yet I wonder whether those making such utterances do so, just because they think it’s something they should say? Sometimes we need to get out, talk to people and really get to grips with what our customers actually want and whether that’s what we’re actually delivering.

How do you do this?

Simple, ask your customers:

  • Why do you choose our product / service?
  • What do we get right?
  • What could we do better?
  • What should we stop doing?
  • What would make you go to a competitor instead of us? (Do you already use a competitor?)
  • What don’t you like about what we do?

And listen to their answers. Don’t just rely on what you think you heard or what you wanted to hear. Listen to it all. Take it in and ask yourself – are we really meeting their needs?

If you are, then great, keep on trucking.

If not then maybe it’s time to take a root and branch look at what you’re doing and how to improve things.

Doesn’t feel much like a marketing strategy yet? Well, it’s time for honesty – your marketing is built on your product / service quality, reputation, desirability and ultimately what your customers think of you. If those things aren’t right and understood then no amount of “marketing” is going to build a loyal and loving fanbase. So get out there – ask questions and make sure you’re on the right track.

Only then should you start thinking about how you’re going to raise awareness and increase those leads that will grow your business.

The impact of the minimum wage rise on business

The impact of the minimum wage rise on business

The government has raised the minimum wage rate. How does this impact business and the people that work for them?

Naturally it depends on many, many factors from the nature of your business and the number of people, to the type of product or service you sell and the type of people who buy it.

Apparently 1.4 million people will be earning 20p an hour more, which equates to a potential £0.5bn extra going into pockets of people around the country. So there’s potentially more spending power at the disposal of those individuals, meaning that more money flows back to some businesses. Meanwhile small business owners with low paid staff may well be hit by increases in wage bill that they may find unaffordable. Equally, this may mean some staff choosing to move on, or even being forced to. For large businesses with many low paid staff this could have a clear and direct hit on the bottom line as it raises the bar for low paid work.

There is much political chatter about this and whether it will impact on the election. I suspect that other issues will overshadow this particular one over the coming months, but what’s certain for me is that the overall state of the economy and the support or not for small business will play it’s part.

Despite the relatively small number at the heart of this matter, the impacts of such macro changes are wide and varied. And invariably they impact individuals to a different degree. Many people won’t even notice a difference at all. Nevertheless, the principle of a reasonable minimum wage is one which needs to be supported to avoid exploitation and in my opinion help a thriving and fair economy.  I’m also a believer in paying a fair rate for apprenticeships and the young, so the change in this matter is a step in the right direction for me.

Any other views on this?

The reality of “wow” moments

The reality of “wow” moments

I recently heard a colleague talking about a customer’s “wow” moment’, referring to the moment when a customer says (or hopefully shouts!) the word “wow” about your product or service. In the case of a retailer who shows stock in a different way, or a new product innovator it’s easy to see why the client may make this utterance. But for many businesses, the reality of understanding your “wow” moment and, importantly, what it does for you can be quite a challenge.

Consider an intellectual property protection advisory service, or a manufacturer of rolled metal, or even a wifi software provider. Getting to grips with and defining how your service makes your customers jump out of their seats and shout for joy in these cases can seem a daunting task.

To help then, it’s worth considering some of these hints and tips:

  • Start with “why?”: Why do your customers buy what you offer?
  • Then look at why what you offer is better than someone else.
  • Consider, what’s truly different about your business from the others in your market.
    • Is it the quality of your service? (and if it is – be specific about what aspect of your service is so great.)
    • Is it that you add value to the product you sell by tailoring it in some particular way?
    • Is it the status of your brand and what being seen purchasing from you says to others?
    • Is it as simple as price – being the cheapest?
  • Talk to your customers. Check that your “wow” really is a “wow” for your customers. Ask them. If they actually love what you do, or how you do it, they’ll tell you. It’s important to make sure you don’t second guess your “wow”.

Once you understand your “wow” moment you need to make sure it’s replicated consistently. After all, why wow only a few of your customers? And remember it’s not about you shouting wow, or saying publicly this is our “wow”, but it’s about consistently meeting that expectation every time.

If you’ve thought about it, talked to your customers and still don’t think you have a “wow” moment, then maybe it’s time to go back to basics and think about why that’s the case. Dig deep – the chances are that there’s a nugget in there somewhere and if not, then maybe things aren’t going so well for your business, so it might be time to start re-thinking how you truly can be different from everyone else.

If you have a “wow” you want to share let us know below!

nutella, gerbils and emotional connections

nutella, gerbils and emotional connections

There are two stories in the media today that catch the eye. One about nutella and the other about gerbils. If you haven’t read them, the gist is: a nutella jar full of loom bands started a fire that burnt down a family home along with their dog; and some boffins have discovered gerbils may have been responsible for the spread of the Black Death, not rats as we’ve been taught for many years.

So what do these tales of woe and mistaken identity tell us about the media and what comms practitioners need to think of when influencing the agenda?

And I don’t mean the how do you write a good story. Of course, a strong headline, a good opening sentence, a clear flow, often with short clear sentences – these are all important.

Fundamentally, though, a news story must have a strong heart. Journalists will often call this an angle. It’s the heart of the matter that connects with something personal for the reader and makes them want to stay with the story to the end. An emotional connection or series of connections.

Let’s consider first of all the unfortunate dog and the nutella jar. Nutella is a staple in thousands of homes across the country – if we don’t have family members who eat it now, we may well have eaten it in our childhood. The man who invented it, died only last week making the story even more current and engaging. And even if we don’t have a particular connection to nutella, half (or so)  of the UK population are dog lovers, who hate the idea of a dog going up in smoke. So, as we read, the story pulls at our heartstrings and we have the recognition that it could be us and and our pooch. Perfect ingredients for a cracking story.

Now the gerbil story. Here we have the creature with a poor reputation, the rat, who has been lambasted for years because they live in squalor, spread disease and there are so many of them, they simply must have spread the plague. And we have the much cuter and cuddlier (in many a small child’s eyes), gerbil who now becomes the real villain. We’re also reminded in the piece that the plague hasn’t been totally eradicated. So, although the Black Death seems like ancient history to us, we’re reminded it could affect us and it’s those once loved and now wretched gerbils that might be the harbingers of doom. As borne out by the number of tweets by concerned gerbil owners.

In both cases:  strong connection, evoking emotional reaction.

So, why does this matter to the B2B technology or engineering marketer? It provides an insight into the heart of what matters to journalists and how to approach a story for your audience. Clearly stories of the Black Death and fires caused by nutella jars might not be appropriate for you, but no matter what your product or service offering, there’s always a story in there that’ll make that emotional connection with your audience. It’s a case of looking hard and being open-minded. First and foremost it’s not about you and your product, it’s about the reader and what matters to them.

7 quick digital marketing wins for engineering companies

7 quick digital marketing wins for engineering companies

We lead busy lives, so we often need reminding of the simple things, that have a big impact, never more so than when it comes to digital marketing. It’s worth taking 5 minutes to check you’ve not forgotten some of these:

  1. Put on your customers shoes – remember what you offer your customers is likely only a small part of their business, and they’ll have different issues to you that keep them awake at night. Think about how you can add value to solving their problems, not just how you can sell them more stuff.
  2. Ask your customers where they hang out – it’s no use chatting into the ether on Facebook, if your clients hang out on Twitter.
  3. Know your numbers – if you’re not measuring what’s working, how can you improve your outcomes? Always, set up a simple set of metrics to see what’s working well for you and what happens when you modify things.
  4. If you are measuring things like your website activity using a tool like Google analytics, are you taking action from the information you receive? If you’re reporting on the activity and doing nothing with it, then you’re missing an opportunity. It’s lovely to know you’re popular (if you are!), but it’s better to take action on that popularity and turn it into business.
  5. If you have a blog – when was the last time you updated it? Your visitors will look at your blog, and get an immediate impression of how interested you are in your clients. If you don’t update your blog, because you don’t think anyone’s reading your blog, then take it off your site – better not to have one than have one which was last updated over a year and a half ago. If you can’t think about what to write – go back to my first point and write about the things keeping your customers up at night
  6. Are there any ways you could be re-purposing the content you have in one place, such as your blog, and putting it out more widely. Submit a variation to the story to another site as a guest post or hook your story into a relevant event that’s in the news and highlighting it to a journalist?
  7. And finally, how easy is it to get hold of you? Is your phone number clear on your website? Do you make it clear that people can pick up the phone and talk to a real person for support? Do you have a personal email address on your website or an impersonal info@…?

These are just a few simple things to review, no matter where you’re at with your digital journey and they apply not only to engineering companies, but pretty much any business out there that’s seeking to make more of its online presence.

Don’t think you can do all that in 5 minutes? Select one, do that and do the one a day over the next 7 days. Let me know how you get on.