Tag: marketing

Work / life / misbalance

I noticed some time ago that there doesn’t seem to be a ‘time off’ anymore and that the work life balance seems to be more of a work life plateau. What I mean by this is that with smartphones, laptops, iPads and all other technologies that keep you connected at all hours of the day and night it becomes increasingly difficult to find the line that determines the difference between work and life.

I don’t mind admitting that I am terrible when it comes to ‘just doing a bit of work’ at home and ‘just checking’ my emails before I go to bed on an evening – I even log on early when I’m doing the school run so that I don’t feel too guilty about getting in to work bang on 9am.

Interestingly I’m not the only one who has noticed that it is no longer considered rude to send an email at all hours of the day and night and to communicate with your audiences at what should be their personal time. In fact a piece in Marketing magazine even goes as far as to name this time as Fourth space.

Apparently there really is no work and life anymore, we have actually come to the point where we integrate the two so much that we have created a ‘fourth space’, which marketers and agencies are able to capitalise upon.

This time is another digitally enabled opportunity for brands to engage with prospects and consumers in order to build loyalty. The tone of voice, audience and way in which this is approached will need to be carefully managed however a well-placed viral or cleverly timed product launch could just hit the mark.

It would appear that rather than stand still, time has come to mean very little to many with the 9am – 5pm firmly packed away in a box under the stairs to make way for the 24 / 7 always available, at the touch of a button model.

I don’t believe there is any right or wrong to working all hours, it’s simply another example of how times are changing. I do however believe that there is a definite need to reinstate an understanding of the need to switch off, even if it is just an hour on an evening. I don’t believe any of our clients would begrudge us this – but I have to admit it’s unlikely I will go back to a life without hourly phone and email checks anytime soon.

The true strength of a brand

It can be difficult to sound anything but flowery when you are trying to explain to companies how important it is to build a brand, inject personality into a business and become recognised for your values.

Getting the packaging right, making sure the design stands out on shelf, ensuring the copy is drafted using the right tone of voice and building brand presence with message retention through a consistent and sustainable PR strategy are all the ‘things’ that take a something and make it a household name.

I saw a great example of how brands have got it right this week when I came across an article in Brand Republic announcing that Selfridges have created a ‘no noise’ campaign, which intends to discourage ‘information overload’.
The idea is that brands are displayed without logos or branding. The more interesting thing about this campaign is that consumers are still aware of what the products are meaning in simple terms that they are doing something very right.

It’s fair to say that not all brands can do this and of course it will work best for FMCG goods but it is an interesting concept all the same. When you get to the point where you can take away your brand and people still know who you are and what you have to offer you know that all of your marketing efforts and budgets are paying off.

Needless to say I wouldn’t recommend this become a permanent move but it’s an interesting test all the same. It would be a great ‘geeky’ game for those who work in marketing – can you guess what each item is without the brand?

Who wants to play?

SNOW WAY!

Well, well, well… we didn’t see that one coming, it’s only bloomin snowing!

While the country grinds to a standstill and the gritters are out in force, businesses are already worrying about what impact it will have on their performance, sales and month end figures and we’re only at 2 inches.

Although I completely appreciate that some companies and particularly small enterprises are unable to run when the weather turns the roads into an ice rink, there are others who should take the chance to use this to their advantage.

We are very fortunate to work in an industry where most of the action happens online or over the phone. We can write press releases, speak with the media, engage with bloggers and plan PR and marketing strategies from the comfort of our homes and we don’t even have to step outside of our front door.

And so…

Those companies, who are able to make it to work, will know that ‘snow days’ often mean clients aren’t around, people are trying their best to log in or work remotely but it rarely happens like it would on a normal working day.

This is a great chance for these businesses to use the time to their advantage. Take a step back and think about all the things you never get around to. Your clients are happy – let’s be honest they are probably sledging with the kids! – so grab a pen and a piece of paper and discuss all the things that you want to do to make this year your best year ever.

The phones will be quiet so take the 2 hours you would answering calls and dealing with queries and use them to plan your marketing efforts, or sales tactics. Regroup as a business and find out what is working and what could work harder. Find out what ideas people have and how these can impact positively on your performance.

I’m a great believer in using your time to your own advantage when you get the chance, so do it. Get the kettle on (and the heaters), break open that second box of chocolates or biscuits and take some time out. Sometimes the time you think is a waste is actually the most productive.

Big words don’t always make a big impression

As a PR agency we are often asked to draft copy for leaflets, brochures, newsletters and websites. Writing corporate copy isn’t quite as simple as some people may think and it is often a huge mistake to try and draft marketing materials in-house.

We are usually stage two of the process and generally receive a call after someone has attempted the first draft and it hasn’t quite worked out how they had expected. Now that doesn’t mean that it is grammatically incorrect or even that it is wrong but just that it doesn’t quite fit the brief.

There are always some common mistakes that businesses make when drafting copy and I would say that the number one has to be using big words where smaller ones will do. The problem that you find is that the person writing the piece will believe that it sounds more impressive if you use ‘big words’ but in reality the recipient will have no idea what it means.

People are very time poor and particularly when it comes to marketing materials it is essential that the key messages, tone of voice and language that are used are aligned to the target audience – not the writer, the recipient.

The biggest mistake seems to be to question why you would use a simple statement when you could sound ‘really impressive’ and use technical terminology and jargon but that isn’t effective communication – in fact it is quite the opposite. Keeping things simple doesn’t mean dumbing down your copy it just means writing with your audience.

When drafting copy we would suggest following three top tips:

  • Keep it simple and to the point
  • Read through and take out the jargon and repetition (there will almost certainly be some)
  • Ask for a second opinion – ask someone who knows nothing about your product or service to read the copy, if they don’t understand it then it’s unlikely your audience will

Sometimes it can be difficult to draft copy which has to include technical specifications or that needs to explain services that are not as straight forward as we may like but the principles are still the same. Big words do not make big impressions.

Never mind a gym membership – is your business in shape?

It’s that time of year again when all we hear about is detoxing, joining a gym and getting back in shape after eating and drinking far too much over the festive period. While we all take the time to consider our personal health during January, how many of us actually stop to ask if our business is fighting fit so that we are ready to take on whatever 2013 has to offer?

There’s no doubt that 2012 brought with it some challenges and that the news headlines were once again littered with announcements of companies falling into administration but that’s no reason to pull the covers over our heads and close the doors. If anything after a festive break and rest we should be ready and raring to go with great ideas and creative plans for the forthcoming year.

Whether it’s new opportunities, expansion and growth or more of the same we need to put all of our energies into getting excited about our plans and sharing them with our employees, customers and prospects. If we can pass on our enthusiasm and passion we can encourage others to do the same and this helps to keep our businesses, products and services front of mind.

Here at Open Communications, we are suggesting that businesses put together a list of their New Year’s resolutions for 2013 – but that first they focus on the company rather than themselves as an individual. These resolutions could be anything from improving internal communications to increase productivity, right through to generating new business through effective PR, marketing materials and use of relevant social media tools.

The easiest way to manage this process and get some real value out of the exercise is to write down your resolutions in one column and then put simple steps to achieving them in another. Although it sounds almost too straight forward, approaching challenges in this way means that you are more likely to work hard to achieve them.

It’s also a great excuse to ‘regroup’ and get your whole business involved and working together. Hold a meeting and find out what employees want to see from the company over the next twelve months.  Ask what drives them on and what they think makes the organisation different and exciting from others in the market? Encourage them to get behind the business and to want to be a part of its success during the year ahead.

The most important thing is to use the New Year to get motivated, organised and ready to learn something completely new that will add value to your company.

We would guess that many of the resolutions that people make will focus on a business communicating more effectively with an audience; this may be current customers, prospects or employees. Remember that in order to communicate you have to consider setting aside the time to do this and do it well. Reputation comes from the impression that you give and you need these to reflect your values and vision.

If you would like to start the New Year as you mean to go on and you want to get excited about the year ahead and all the benefits that it has to offer then think about what impression you want people to have of your company. What do you have to give (product or service), how does it differ from others and most importantly how are you going to let people know about it?

We are sure that 2013 is going to be a very exciting and productive year and we are looking forward to working with both current and prospective clients large and small. We hope that you will join us in making resolutions that we will work towards, keep and evolve throughout the year.

Here’s to a great 2013 and the many opportunities that it will bring.

Confusing messaging leads to confused customers

I’ve never been a big fan of advertising which relies on fear, shock or scare tactics. I don’t think it works. I also wrote my dissertation about this very subject which determined that the only people who are in fear, shock or scared as a result of these adverts are those who are receptive to a brands message in the first place – not those you want to change the behaviour of.

Let me explain, if I was a smoker, the minute I saw an advert with a young girl crying because her Dad was dying of lung cancer I would turn the channel over or go and make a cup of tea. I would not sit and watch the advert, taking in the terrible statistics and details that the advert is trying to get across and then apply them to myself and as a result stop smoking.

Equally if I was a speeding driver, I wouldn’t watch an advert about a young child being killed in the road because a car was travelling at 40 miles an hour when they should have been doing 30. To be honest by the time I was back behind the wheel it would be the last thing I would be thinking about – but I can almost guarantee half of the Mum’s watching the advert would reiterate the statistics verbatim.

At least these two examples, although relying on fear and shock, have a point. They are charity adverts working hard to get a message across – even if, in my opinion, it may not quite hit the target. What frustrates me more than these adverts, which as I said at least serve a purpose to raise brand awareness to the masses, are brands which confuse their messaging.

I have never been a huge fan of Benetton. When they brought out their ‘unusual’ adverts in the 1990’s it put me off their clothing for life. I don’t think I have ever bought a Benetton piece of clothing and have no intention of doing so. I just didn’t get it and nor did I want to.

In fairness I wasn’t their core target consumer back then but I would think I’m pretty much there now. I’m no fashion guru but I’m about the right demographic give or take. To find out today that Benetton have now launched a new advert which focused on the thousands of unemployed young people in the country is just baffling.

I have no problem with brands raising topical and serious issues but it’s the way that they do it which strikes me as nothing short of odd. Benetton has seen a downward slide in sales and therefore needs to sell clothes, so it launches an advert about youth unemployment which will predominantly communicate with a market that couldn’t possibly afford their clothing anyway!

Call me naïve but I just don’t get it.

Another retailer, which I love and do buy from regularly, Lush, made what I consider to be a similar mistake recently when they created what I believe was the first ever live testing on a human. The purpose was to raise awareness of the horrors of animal testing.

This case is slightly different to that of Benetton because I can see an obvious link between the cause and the brand but still the messaging was distorted. Lush have excellent customer service and spend lots of time creating a bubbly and fun atmosphere in their stores – they are almost the Willy Wonka of the cosmetics world – to then start showing people being forced to have things put in their eyes and electrodes put on their heads just doesn’t sit quite right with me.

It was a great campaign and achieved some great exposure but the brands values and customer experience in my opinion were misaligned and although I agree in principle with their thoughts on animals testing I would be no more likely to buy their products as a result of this activity.

There has to have been another way that they could lobby for support against animal testing as opposed to making it a total feature of their marketing strategy.

As a PR and marketing communications agency here at Open Comms we work with our clients to develop creative campaigns which attract attention and hit the headlines. How I believe we differ from the examples shown above is that our objectives align with the strategy of the business, which often directly correlates with the bottom line.  We make sure that all activity is integrated and that no one message goes so off topic that it leaves our clients customers confused.

I personally think these brands need to take a step back and think about how their customers are interpreting their creative. They may find that they are spending a massive amount of money to raise a topical subject but the reality is that this approach is unlikely to sell products.

Why do big businesses fail?

I have long pondered this question and have come to the conclusion that it is far too simple to blame everything on the banks and the government. I’m not saying they are blameless, after many a revelation over the past couple of years that would be silly, but there has to be more to it than this.

Then I got thinking about the businesses that I was surprised to see go into administration; Woolworths, Barratts, GAME and La Senza to name a small handful. The sad part about this list is that you could go on all day and it isn’t exclusive to big brands, but to businesses of all sizes across all sectors.

It’s no longer shocking to hear that a business has called in the administrators, it’s almost considered to be ‘a sign of the times’ but I think we all need to give ourselves a bit of a shake. The basic principles of running a business haven’t changed – you need to supply a product or service that people want to buy and can pay for.

The problem is that even this isn’t enough and I think that this is where brands are getting it wrong. They concentrate so hard on securing the funding for a business that they forget to even consider how they are going to position their brand and how they plan to approach communicating and engaging with prospects and customers.

Rather than building a brand they build a funding model, which lacks substance. If people don’t understand what you are offering and what products you can supply them with then you have no business at all.

People are time poor and they are not going to ask the question or come looking for you as they perhaps once would. You have to take the information to them and package it so that it is easy to understand, while injecting some personality to create a point of difference from your competitors.

Big brands don’t engage with agencies for fun – they want to make sure that their communications reach the largest and most relevant audience possible and at the most basic level this goes back to getting your message right in the first place and then bringing it to life.

Perhaps this is why Woolworths was one of the first to go – other than Pick and Mix and Ladybird clothing they more of less just sold ‘stuff’ and it was hit and miss if what you wanted would be in there – it was often quicker and easier to go to Argos.

As another example, Barratts did nothing to change the consumer perception of them being a brand for old people and so failed to attract a younger audience, who after all would in time become their customers of the future.

A brand that I think has worked hard and has started to see the benefits of an effective communications strategy is Burberry. Needless to say they haven’t always benefited from the associations that have been made between their clothing and the type of person who is expected to wear them – however that has changed over recent years and they have developed a strategy to build brand loyalty and maintain their business as a leading fashion brand with credibility.

So, let’s just watch this space. It will be interesting to see if there is an obvious and direct correlation between businesses that have no communications strategy in place and those that go into administration by the end of the year.

If I were a gambling women I would guess that the odds for continued success would be stacked in favour of those who have a clear route to market, a defined target audience, creative ideas that will engage with consumers, and depending on what type of business they have, encourage trial before purchase.

If you have a business then why not put it to the test – ask five of your family, friends or even customers to explain what your company does, why you differ from others and if relevant what your last marketing campaign / promotion was. If they don’t know then is it likely anyone else will?

Certainly food for thought.

Can you weather proof your marketing?

You can’t really say that we’ve had a summer time yet, despite it being mid-July, in fact it feels more like some balmy extended winter. The only glimpse of sun we have had in the UK has been a random day here and there or if we really push it maybe a week.

The problem isn’t just flooding to houses and roads, burst river banks and floating cars, it goes far beyond that.  We work with a range of clients who rely on us to put together PR strategies and plans which meet with their briefs and deliver results, while achieving objectives. Not always as simple as it sounds.

As a PR and marketing communications agency, we do not profess to be all things to all people but we are a creative team and we come up with a range of ideas that the client can then choose from. Sometimes these ideas go beyond PR and include sampling, experiential and even, on occasion, suggestions for advertising campaigns or retailer engagement.

Working in this way allows us to put recommendations forward that we feel will work for the client and better still deliver a return on investment. We know that one theme can create an integrated approach, which can then be used in a number of different ways to achieve results. We also know that the ideas we propose have longevity, which can build over time, and ultimately create retention of key messages throughout the campaign period.

It would be unfair of us to suggest that we always come up with the ideas, as we work with a range of agencies and benefit from their insight and experience.  In order to make this approach work as well as it can, we hold agency days where all agencies come together and share their thoughts in order to agree the best ideas and creative routes, which are able to translate across disciplines.

So what has all this got to do with the weather?

This ‘summer’ has proven that an integrated approach to marketing and PR is absolutely essential. We have heard about the number of events that have been cancelled or rescheduled, which has impacted on sampling opportunities, sponsorship and outdoor activities.

There is nothing you can do about the rain, so in order to weather proof your marketing, by having a multi discipline approach, when one recommendation cannot be implemented as expected another can come into play, meaning a brand can have a contingency in place that will still deliver a return and build on the campaign theme.

As an example, if an activity cannot go ahead, PR activity can continue with features and press releases distributed to the media, sampling activity can take place in doors and advertising on cinema screens can reach an audience that are trying their best to get away from the wet weather.

I’m sure we are all praying for some more sunshine – and I don’t want to be the one to dismiss the fact that we may just get a summer – but on the basis that we do get more wet weather, we would advise that brands consider how they can work smarter to ensure they have a contingency in place.

The first step is to choose an agency that doesn’t simply look at quirky ideas that hit the headlines one minute and are lost the next or those who feel that winning an industry award makes for best practice – but an agency that delivers consistent results with the brand and business objectives in mind, while taking into account their disciplines and those of others.

The Dragon’s Den Effect

Dragon’s Den is one of few business ‘reality’ television programmes that I have continued to enjoy watching. It is informative and although I often feel some of the comments are unfair and a little insensitive it does give the viewer an insight into how it is to own a business – people don’t walk around on egg shells and they don’t give you ‘owt for nowt’.

I quite like the mix of Dragon’s in the Den now and I really admire and respect most of them, particularly as they have come from nothing. What always gets me is that the people who choose to feature on the show know what it is all about and they understand their product or service inside out.

They have real passion, energy and excitement by what they are doing, selling or making. Then they stand in front of these entrepreneurs – who have a wealth of knowledge that you could tap into – and ask for a hand out. Now here’s the bit… how many times have you heard people ask for money to support marketing?

It is almost always the case. If it isn’t suggested as the reason that the whole sum is required, it is in there somewhere. So why do people struggle with marketing budgets so much? What makes them think that marketing is so expensive in the first place? And why go to a leading entrepreneur so that they can pass you on to their preferred PR or marketing agency?

There is no doubt that marketing and effective communication are an essential element to a business strategy and the two should be absolutely aligned with objectives, but why do these entrepreneurs find it so difficult? I have decided to call it the ‘Dragon’s Den Effect’.

It’s a nasty heritage of stories which include bad advice and burnt fingers.

Business ‘A’ goes to big agency ‘B’, they are blown away with pretty pictures, they receive a catchy ‘logo’ and perhaps a quirky strap line, they then receive a big bill and that’s that. Job done. No questions asked. No further forward with a strategy – but you have a nice logo!

Now I genuinely think that times have changed, particularly since the last recession. It almost seems that it is becoming the trend to rely on smaller agencies that are genuinely doing great things. Not only are they often more cost effective but they also (in my experience) care more about their clients – irrelevant of size or budget.

You don’t have to work in a ‘full service’ agency to get the best – just choose them. You get to handpick the very best designers, copy writers, PR people and brand managers. Some agencies will tell you this takes time and is difficult to manage but I disagree – better to have a collective of the best, who can work together, than the internal politics that come from a big agency; who gets what budgets, who is first point of contact for the client and who takes the glory when it goes well or handles the fall out when things go wrong?

So next time you come across a business who is going through the ‘Dragon’s Den Effect’ just ask them what they are doing about it. If the answer is keeping their head down and hoping for the best then I’m afraid to say that ‘I’m out’.

However if they want to chat about how to get excited by their business and put in place some excellent PR and communication campaigns, which meet with objectives and manage reputation – well, that’s a different story altogether. I’m not just in, I’m here and waiting in the den.