What makes BSA different?

When we speak with people about our approach to what we do, we regularly hear the comment:

"You're a bit different..."

We don’t particularly try to be different but we do focus on working from marketing fundamentals and not get seduced by the latest internet marketing must-have. Don’t get me wrong, we love digital, and the benefits that email and the web can bring to your marketing, but our experience goes back to the mid 80’s and some of us remember the world pre-internet. The bottom line is:

The tools may have changed, but the principals of marketing have not!

It’s still about understanding the true value that your products, skills and expertise can bring to your clients, then developing (and delivering!) messages that communicate this value. Marrying this marketing fundamental with up to the minute digital tools creates a powerful and flexible platform. This is the platform that BSA delivers for its clients. However when we talk to our clients, they often highlight a completely different set of characteristics that differentiate us:

  • Responsiveness
  • Versatility
  • Trust
  • Considered, Practical Action

Responsiveness – Planning is very important, and we would encourage our clients to develop, and use, a solid marketing plan. However, we also accept that in the real world sometimes things simply need to be done now! If a client comes to us on a Wednesday saying they would like to get an email newsletter out to customers on Friday (like one did this week!), we will make it happen. Trust – Trust is our core value. We work to the benefit of our clients rather than for our own gain. Sure, we aim for the ideal of win:win  but we will only suggest a course of action if we believe it is right for our client. Ultimately, if the best value can be delivered by someone else, we will work to find the best partner for the job. We know what we are good at, and we know our limitations. Versatility – No two businesses are the same, and most appropriate strategy and course of action for one client can be very different from another. We recognise this. Rather than thinking “how can we convince a client that their requirements fit our offering“, we think “how can we tailor our offering to deliver best value to our client“. Considered, practical action – The fact that we know our marketing and understand the technicalities of the digital age are a given. It’s our ability to translate these into actually doing relevant stuff  that clients appreciate We believe it is these core values, coupled with a solid understanding of marketing and how technology can be leveraged to deliver real value to our clients – that’s what makes BSA different! Testimonials and feedback from our clients bear this out. Here are a few:

“,,,BSA Marketing was able to help me understand the best way to present my business…”

“…BSA has an incredible grasp of IT and marketing,..”

“…We’ve worked with BSA for eight years and found them to be efficient, approachable and knowledgeable…”

“…Good advice as always!  Many thanks…”

If you’d like to talk to us, or some of our clients, do get in touch

The most important thing in marketing…

mktg I just typed “Marketing” into Google and got 1.77 BILLION results in 0.42 seconds So out of these 1,770,000,000 options, which is the most important? I think it comes down to a single word:

Communication

If you are communicating with people you are marketing. If you aren’t communicating you aren’t marketing. OK, this may be a statement of the obvious but sometimes I find people get stuck in deciding what to do next in their marketing and having a simple priority can help unblock the blockage! While communication might be the essence of marketing, the art of marketing is about making that communication as effective as possible. The danger is that by focusing on striving for effectiveness perfection, you never quite get around to the communication bit. Alternatively, so much effort (and time, and money!) goes into planning a campaign that when you launch it and it doesn’t quite deliver as expected, everything (including communication) is put on hold while you start the planning process again!

A different approach?

A. Create a communication platform

Let’s accept that communication is at the heart of marketing so, if nothing else:

make sure you are actively communicating with your customers, prospects and contacts.

The key is to be communicating in a way that isn’t too demanding of you time or money so it is easy for you to keep going. It doesn’t really matter how you communicate:

  • Networking
  • E-mail
  • Direct Mail
  • Face to Face
  • Telephone (yes, some people actually like cold calling!)
  • Social Media (as long as you aren’t blindly posting stuff that nobody responds to)

Different people like different things but the bottom line with all of the above is that you are engaging with people so there is a possibility they might want to do business with you!

B. Build structured marketing planning on top of your communication platform

Once you are actively communicating, then start thinking about improving effectiveness by looking at the classical elements of marketing:

  • Objectives
  • Proposition
  • Differentiation
  • Target markets
  • Messages
  • Channels etc.

Once you start this, you will quickly highlight if there are any major issues with your communication platform. If there are, you need to go back and focus on your communication platform, in the light of your new-found knowledge. The main thing is that you don’t just stop communicating because you have decided it isn’t effective enough. Certainly change things but don’t stop!

Refine and develop your communication

Assuming that you are comfortable with your ongoing communication then as your plan develops you can implement your ideas through your communication, whether as a refinement to your networking, e-mail, telemarketing or whatever you are doing, or adding a new/additional channel to your communication. By giving yourself time to think and plan your marketing you have a chance to improve your communication By making sure you keep communicating, you have the opportunity to achieve your objectives! I know I’m not talking rocket science here but so much marketing is wrapped up in technology and complexity that it is easy to forget the basics. If you are communicating with your markets and your planning makes your communication effective, you really can’t lose!

Easy....!

If you want to get the right balance of planning and communication action for your business, give me a call

Websites – The BSA way

Is a website a work of art or a business tool?

Website-maintenanceThis is a question that, in my opinion, needs to be asked more frequently in web development projects.

While, in reality, there should be elements of both, invariably the focus on the artwork trumps the business tool aspect.

In the world of website development, there is much talk of Design and User Experience testing, but this all focuses on the customer aspect of the project.

This is critical in delivering long-term success, but it is only half of the equation.

The fact is that a website needs to be an effective tool for the company running it too, and they need to be able to make changes to the site and add content as required, to deliver their business objectives. It is for this reason, that when BSA undertakes a web project we consider this in two areas:

When building the site

When building the site consideration needs to be given to how the content will be used and managed going forward rather than simply delivering a nice looking customer facing site. Whether building the site ourselves, or working with a client’s developer, we will make sure that this aspect is given the focus it deserves. There are many ways to store the content in a Content Management System, some more user-friendly for the site manager than others. Getting it right in the admin system of the site should not have any impact on the design or usability from a customer perspective, but can make or break its long-term operation. We know what makes a site easy to manage and make sure this functionality is built in. This approach also means that, as the people responsible for support, we understand how the site has been put together making it easier for us to cost-effectively deliver clients requirements going forward.

When managing and running the site

So you have built and launched the site. Now you need to manage it. The one thing you don’t want is to have to go back to your developer every time you want to change a picture or some text, If the site is well built using a CMS like WordPress, and consideration has been given to the content management when the site was developed, you should be able to handle much of the content management in-house. But however good your site is there will come a time when you want to do something that is not possible using the standard back-end admin system. At this point you need help. Because we work closely with developers, we understand clients sites, and have the technical knowledge to make most changes ourselves keeping costs down and ensuring changes don’t take forever to implement. We also understand your business objectives, so can work with you to make sure your site continues to delivers in the long-term. So to go back to the original question: “Is a website a work of art or a business tool?”  If managed correctly, the answer can be “Both”. ” Websites the BSA way makes sure that this happens

Publishing a website – End of the project or the start?

stratendTraditionally, a new website has been treated in the same way as a brochure; publishing a website was seen as the final act of a design and build project. This was how brochures were developed so it’s not surprising that the same process was applied to websites as they became the new ‘window into a business’ But is this approach still valid? Is the launch of your new website the end of the project – or the start? There used to be 2 types of website; e-commerce websites, regularly updated with new products, offers etc and brochure websites which were commonly launched and then left untouched for a few years until it was decided to have a new site. Oh how things have changed! OK there are still a lot of old, static brochure websites out there but how many of these sites’ owners are truly proud of their website? I suggest few, if any! With the advent of blogs, social media, video and a whole swathe of internet marketing technologies, a static website just doesn’t cut it any more. Your website must be dynamic and constantly changing to reflect development in you business, your offering and your customers & markets. To be proud of your website you must be confident that it professionally reflects your company as it is today, not as it was a year or 2 (or more) ago when the site was launched. You want to be certain that visitors to your site will understand your business proposition, what you offer now, and how they can benefit. When you launch a new website you communicate your new, carefully crafted message to your market but in the real world,  no matter how much planning you do, you will only start to get a true understanding of how your customers engage with your website, when they start using it. There needs to be the capability to update, add to, and remove from your website. Things chang and you should be ready.

"No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." Helmuth von Moltke - Military Strategist

Helmuth von Moltke went on to observe that “When plans meet the real world, it’s not the real world that will yield to your plan; you must adapt what you are doing to the circumstances at hand”. Whilst his comments were on military strategy, they also hold true in business. For your website this means that when you launch your new site you are at the start of a marketing communications project, not the end of a website development project. Check out this post for our take on a shifting approach to website development We have always said that at heart, BSA ia a marketing communications business. Our bread and butter is working with clients using technology to effectively communicate their business propositions to target markets in order to drive sales. A website is always at the heart of our approach but it is simply a communication tool, a means to an end for business growth and success. As we see a need for a change in communication, it is critical that the website can, and does, adapt to meet changing needs. Launching a website is not the final act of a brochure project, it is the creation of a set of communication tools that can be used to deliver current and continually refined messages. The march of the shift to dynamic websites is constant and inevitable. Everyone expects their website to deliver just the way they wish. Barely a week goes by when we don’t receive a call that starts with the words….

You know our website, can we just....

At BSA, we see the publication of your website as the start of something rather than the end. We know the capability is there to allow us to say…

Of course!

Do I need a web designer?

Do I need a web designerIf you want a new website, the first call is normally to a web designer. Why?    Do you actually need a web designer or is there a different approach that might be more effective? There are 3 distinct elements required if you want a new website:

  1. A design/layout
  2. Coding of the site pages/content/functionality
  3. Ongoing updates and development as the site works in your business
Note: I am quietly ignoring the importance of also having a solid and well thought out business growth and marketing communications plan as a framework for building your site!

Many businesses tend to lump the first 2 elements together; while 3 is left as an afterthought until the site is published – read more about this here My focus in this is to explore 1 and 2.

Web Design and Web Coding are distinct skills

Even though design and coding are seen as 2 parts of a single thing, there are, in fact, few designers who are good coders and vice versa. In practice, many so-called web designers are really coders who do a bit of design on the side. Alternatively, a web designer may be a graphic designer who has contact with one or more coders who can turn their design layout into a website. The bottom line is that to build a website you need to understand HTML, PHP, ASP or one of the other web development languages. OK, there are ‘Drag & Drop‘ systems out there which purport to allow you to build a website with no coding and if you are on a really tight budget and want to DIY, some of these are actually quite good but I would be concerned if your web developer only worked with these tools! Interestingly, although you regularly get coders who do some design, you rarely come across professional graphic designers who also code. Maybe this tells us something…

Coding is at the heart of website development

Do I need a designer?

We are half way to answering the question I posed. Professional coders and professional designers are (normally) different people with different skills and you need a coder if you want a website. So do you need a designer as well? No definite answer here: It depends! Using a graphic designer to create a bespoke layout for your new website can have a significant cost adding £100s, if not £1000s to the overall project cost. If having a bespoke layout will really benefit your business then maybe the additional cost is well worth it. Thls is more likely to be true for businesses where brand and style are particularly important – more common in the B2C arena where brand can be a critical differentiator. If your offer is Business to Business, it is likely that your customers are more bothered about performance than looks. This is not to say that a professional-looking site isn’t important – it is! – but do you need a designer to create this?

Template is not a dirty word!

Until fairly recently using a website template was anathema. Over the past few years we have seen the growth of websites offering a huge range of professionally designed, high quality website templates which you can have for a few pounds. On several occasions we have pointed skeptical clients at template libraries  and they have been positively surprised at what is on offer. If you buy a template, you normally get all the images that are shown but it is possible that although the layout looks great, you will need different images to properly reflect your business. These days, imagery in a website is often critical but if you don’t have your own graphics and photos, again you can call on stock image libraries – though often image fees can be higher than the cost of the template! Here’s a thought: Maybe engaging a professional photographer to produce your own, high quality, relevant images to be used in a template website may be a better investment than spending money on a bespoke graphic design (which still needs images!) I know of ‘web designers’ who regularly use templates and stock images do deliver websites to clients. Do any of them claim the design is their own work? I couldn’t possibly comment… Maybe you don’t even need to buy a template? If the layout and images in a template fit with your needs then buying the template is normally the way to go but if you are planning to use the layout but replace all the images then do you need to buy the template at all? A good coder should be able to create a site from scratch, using the look of a template as a design – though bear in mind there may be IP issues in taking this approach so I couldn’t advocate it.

So, do I need a web designer?

There is no question that you need a web coder, and a good coder is invaluable in delivering a functional site that works for your site visitors and is easy to maintain and develop – important if you are to get best value from your site over time. If your business is brand/image-centred then a bespoke design may well be a worthwhile investment but for the rest of us, there are alternatives.

Planning time for your business

take time out to develop your businessOwning and running a business is not about doing whatever you do…. Accountancy, Bricklaying, Clothing, Design, Engineering, Farming, Grocery….. We can work our way right through the alphabet but these are all just products and services. A business is:

  • The people (You and the other people you work with)
  • The way you deliver your product/service
  • Your engagement with your customers and suppliers
  • Your communication with your markets
  • Your processes to develop all of the above – oh, and  do the admin, accounts and keep on the right side of the law!
Do you work ON your business or IN your business?

It’s a well established cliché that many people spend too much time working in their business and not enough working on their business, but I think we can take this a step further. If all you do is accounts or bricklaying or buying and selling clothes etc  then I suggest you aren’t running a business, you are doing a job. Just as doing a job takes time, so does developing a business. I appreciate that it is doing the job that generates the vital short-term income but it is  developing the business that drives growth and opportunity.

The value of taking time out

It is so easy to tell yourself you are just too busy doing your job (and time with family, etc. etc.) but if you are going to develop your business, the first step is simply to take the decision that you will make the time to do it. This is perhaps the hardest yet most valuable step because by giving yourself the time you create the opportunity to develop your business. In practice, if you think about it, it should not be difficult to find some time once you have decided that you are going to! It may be a change in routine, delegation, or even one less round of golf but the time will be there somewhere. If you genuinely believe there is no way to find time to develop your business then maybe you should question its viability!

Developing your business – a process, not an event

As with everything else, business development is a process, not an event. Finding time isn’t about a few hours a week on Saturday, it’s about regular time. Here is a post looking at 5 Rules for Effective Planning which hopefully might give you some ideas. I can personally vouch for the approach outlined in this post because it is the one we have used successfully for a number of years!  Since we started taking time out for our business we have seen real and significant development.