Sustainability rather than excitement – the basis of good marketing

Starting a business is risky – and sometimes even a bit scary Your reputation, money and sometimes even livelihood are on the line so the sooner you can start to see some success the easier it gets.

You know you have to 'speculate to accumulate'.

dig_a_holeYou want to build a castle but, to start with you have to dig a hole; and the sooner you can start to fill it in the more your confidence will grow that you will end up with your castle! For many (if not most) SME businesses, this drives a short term, quick win, approach which can ease the pain with early sales starting to ‘fill the hole’ before it gets very deep, but it also risks missing a potential longer term benefit. Just because you don’t win short term business with a customer, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth sticking with them in the hope of success in the future. Despite what many SME owners may think, some clients take a long time to nurture – and can take a VERY long time. The key is having an approach to marketing that can sustain communication and awareness in the long term without making your hole too big! A recent experience really demonstrated the truth of this.

Always good to get a call

A couple of years ago I had a call from someone I hadn’t done business with for quite a while. He had been busy and business had been going well but his thoughts were turning to marketing, and he thought of BSA. He wanted to arrange to meet to look at options but as it was just before Christmas, he suggested we speak in the New Year to fix a date – all good! But you never know… Mid-January came and I duly picked up the phone but I couldn’t have been more surprised by how the call went. I’m sure you may have experienced this:

  • Phone is answered by receptionist
  • I asked to speak to my contact (who is in the same room)
  • Rather than putting me on hold, receptionist introduced me and I heard my contact saying they don’t want to speak with me!

No problem, I may have just called at a bad time, but despite several attempts and left messages over the next couple of weeks, I hit a brick wall!

Just one of those things…

Resilience is one of the most valuable attributes for an SME owner. You just put the setbacks behind you and move forward. If I had simply taken the short term approach, that contact and my experience would be forgotten and I’d be looking for the next order – but I have a plan!

Joined-up Approach

As well as focusing on short term opportunities – which in my experience are almost always a case of Right Place, Right Time, we also have a strategy of long term communication and development. Our Marketing Matters newsletter goes out regularly to all of our contacts.

A chance to tap people on the shoulder and say 'Hi. it's me!'

It doesn’t cost a great deal and is pretty easy to keep doing but the impact can be profound.

Regular Business Opportunities

Our e-newsletter is a real source of long-term new business; not just in terms of direct enquiries but also a platform that means when I meet people, they know me and we have common interest for discussion. I regularly hear:

It’s ages since I’ve seen you but I regularly read your newsletter, you have some great articles. I like what you say…

Back to the story…. I said it started a couple of years ago but it was last month that I was looking through some feedback from recent newsletters when I saw that my contact, who had turned me down, was still there, reading our newsletters! Rather than the historic opportunity being a lost cause it maybe just hadn’t been the right time! Most SME B2B service business isn’t about lots of new customers, it’s about building sustained clients you can work with for a long time. Business owners typically aren’t looking for 10 new customers a week; often they tell me that 6 or 7 solid new clients regularly each YEAR is what they are really after. My experience shows I still have a contact with solid links to BSA Marketing and there are still good opportunities for the future. It is this type of well-established contact that is most likely to deliver sustainable, long term business. It won’t happen with everyone, but building a platform of solid, long term contacts, although it takes time, is a valuable asset help make sure you don’t fall into a hole! Successful long-term marketing is about sticking at it rather than excitement but if you do, you will find you have a powerful communication resource that none of your more short-sighted competitors will be able to catch up with any time soon!

Slõ Drinks – A case study

At the beginning of 2015 we started working with a new client and the way the relationship has progressed, sums up perfectly the approach we have to delivering value in our work: The company, Slõ Drinks, manufactures and supplies drink additives to the healthcare market. Having built up their presence in the UK over the last 10 years, supplying to both the public and private sectors, they were now setting their sights on export and, in particular, on the US. Slõ Drinks were already doing some great things in marketing including a website that worked for them and email campaigns into what is undoubtedly a tricky market. However there was a gap in their capabilities in the area of social media and social media was going to be key to launching into the US market. BSA were brought on board to work with Slõ Drinks to develop and implement a plan to use social media to promote the business in the States. We were even able to secure some funding through the (sadly now finished) growth voucher scheme to support the development of this plan.

Building a rapport and getting things going

Over the next 6 months, we worked with our client to understand their brand & values and build their presence on social media, importantly targeting key decision makers within their target markets rather than trying to create a blanket presence. One of the core brand values is to make it as simple as possible for people to access and use Slõ Drinks products. With this in mind, in parallel with the social media activity, we worked with them to make their products available on amazon.com (rather than amazon.co.uk as we were targeting US customers) so that products could be easily ordered from the US. The first US order was secured in August, less than 8 months after taking the strategic decision to expand into this market.

Developing the process

As things progressed, the demand for content to drive the social media engagement increased. Initially, the company’s UK and US websites were completely separate from one another and the Slõ Drinks blog was hosted in isolation on wordpress.com. This 3-way separation became an issue. The decision was taken to build a new website (in WordPress) bringing together the UK and US sites, and also integrating the blog from WordPress.com into the main site. The new site also included a simple but effective e-commerce element allowing a range of products to be sold directly on-line. The flexibility of the chosen e-commerce platform means it is easy to add more regions and countries as the expansion develops.

Planning ahead…

With the strategy of regional focus and targeting, when we roll out to a new territory or country, it is important to have a website platform that is easy to localise for new markets. We built the system using WordPress Multisite that allows new local sites (including a shop in local currency) to be created almost at the push of a button.

Joining it all up

Now, a year from our initial meeting with the Slõ Drinks team, and from a standing start, they have a website that is delivering orders on a solid platform for promoting and selling their products across the globe, and a strategy for marking the company through a combination of blogs, social media and email in any market in the world. Furthermore, whilst SEO was never a core element of our strategy, the focus of relevant content effectively communicated to defined target markets has delivered slodrinks.com onto the first page of Google for a number of significant key terms.

Looking ahead

With growing sales in the US and a steady stream of enquiries from as far afield as Australia and New Zealand, 2016 should be an interesting year. From a marketing perspective, 2016 will see us continuing to use the platforms developed in 2015, developing the company’s global brand through blogging, social media and email. You can take a look at Slõ Drinks on Twitter here and on Pinterest here.

A tale of 2 trains (of thought about marketing!)

I don’t know whether you saw this video that was posted on YouTube then rapidly went viral. Steam enthusiast Ryan Allen had positioned himself in (he thought!) the ideal spot to get close up video of the iconic Flying Scotsman on its first inter-city run in 10 years – then it happened – thank you Virgin Trains! Hopefully he saw the funny side….. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWW57BG8jmQ

But what about the marketing?

This story neatly demonstrates 2 different marketing approaches:

1. The instant-win quick fix

Undoubtedly Mr Allen wanted the video for his own interest rather than having any commercial motive; however, the fact that he got the movie he did and then published it on line, means it went viral, got picked up by national news and so caught the attention of Virgin Trains themselves. Feeling a little sorry for Mr Allen, they have generously offered him 2 return flights to New York. Not a bad quick return but next time he wants to fly to the States I’m not sure he will be so lucky – he is back at square one! Many SME businesses see marketing as a direct extension of their sales process. Whenever they do anything they focus on a quick win so tend to be more interested in short term results rather than any longer term benefit. As a consequence, while they may get some immediate sales, there is little or no longer term benefit. Next time they are looking for business, they have to start again and hope that their next ‘campaign’ produces more results.

2. Making the most of opportunities for long term engagement – Real Marketing?

OK, Virgin is a big and successful brand but as soon as they got wind of the Virgin East Coast photobomb, their marketing operation swung into action with Sir Richard Branson himself interviewed on the BBC News making the offer of the free transatlantic flights which, while having great value to Ryan Allen, will cost Virgin virtually nothing to deliver yet the goodwill shown by the company is a great reinforcement of their brand values. Even the likes of me are writing about it! My guess is that Virgin aren’t going to see a spike in bookings on either trains or planes as a result of this story so there isn’t much of a quick-win sales hike – but I suggest the benefit in terms of ongoing promotion and support of one of the strongest brands in the UK is significant – and at remarkably little cost to the company.

And my point is….

In my experience, most SME marketing looks for short term sales results. Money and resources are put into campaigns that often don’t deliver quite as much as the business owner might have wished. If a little more focus was given to building longer term engagement with a market, awareness of a company and its brand values and propositions will grow creating ever more likelihood that when a potential customer has a need they will think of that company first – the sales will come, sustainably! Even better, in terms of overall sales and marketing budgets, additional focus on market engagement, making the most of skills and resources already available in a company, can normally be achieved at a remarkably modest cost in terms of time or money. It just takes a bit of commitment and anyone can do it.

5 types of engaging content

Content-is-KingWhat sort content do people really find engaging? Content marketing should be about more than just writing blogs. A basic blog article will usually be the bread and butter of a company’s content marketing and that’s fine. However, they shouldn’t be the sole type of content. Instead, your content marketing should include a range of content types, such as the ones below!

Lists

People love a good list. It’s often been proven that blog posts starting with a number get more hits. For example, “5 types of engaging content” is more likely to be clicked on than “Engaging Content”. Lists are easy to scan. A reader can take what they want from a Top 5 or 10 list, be it all the information or just the headings. There’s plenty of rubbish content out there. The reader can quite easily skip through this article, looking at all the bold headings and then reading only parts that interest them.

Video

Chances are, the majority of your content will be text or still imagery. Whilst they may be more time consuming to produce, they’re highly engaging. They don’t have to include your face or even audio. Instead they can be a sequence of slides or images. You could even do a series of videos to keep on producing good content. Check out this video we made last year.

Case studies

It’s all very well talking a good game, but people want to see results and what you can do. You should want to show off your skills and show how what you can bring to the party! Case Studies are a great way of creating content to show what you’ve been up to at the same time as being a portfolio to refer back to in the future. Unlike normal posts, they can be used time and time again. Here is an example case study we did last year.

Current trends

It’s always advisable to monitor trending topics and the news. Even if the item in question isn’t directly related to your sector, you can hijack it and put a positive or humorous spin on it (relating to your business of course!) For example, last year when the new Bond film came out, there was an article centred around the marketing of the film. This was perfect for us. It meant we could tweet a marketing based article along with a few Bond related hash tags, giving increased traffic to the tweet. It also made for slightly different angle on our sector, that wasn’t so dry.

Quizzes

Quizzes double up as a method of creating content for you to engage with your market and give you a way of doing some basic market research.You can get people to engage with you, give you their thoughts and opinions AND get their email address! There are some great WordPress plugins that make creating quizzes a breeze.

Conclusion

There are plenty of content types. Your content marketing will be more powerful if you use a variety of content types. You’re speaking to an audience with content, whatever it’s type. This audience listens & shares and potentially converts into a viable customer or client.

What’s the point of a website?

designcreateupdateThis week I received an email  from a client asking us to redirect their web address so that instead of going to Website A it went to their new site, Website B. Nothing wrong with this. It is the sort of request we get regularly and it takes less than a minute to make the change. So what’s the problem? The problem is that the new website (Website B) wasn’t ready! As is common with many new websites, the layout was based on a commercial template and while many of the pictures had been changed to reflect the client’s business, other than on the home page, most of the written content was still the random words supplied with the template.

What does an incomplete website say to visitors?

These days, whenever we want to find out about a business (or pretty much anything for that matter) we search on the internet.  Certainly the internet can be fantastically entertaining (or frustratingly distracting, depending on your point of view) but when we are looking for information, it is the information that matters. A site can look amazing with the latest web-design bells and whistles, but if it doesn’t deliver the information a visitor is looking for, or worse, gives information that suggests a site owner doesn’t care about what a visitor sees, is that going to give the visitor confidence to do business with that company? I think not!

Looks aren’t everything

A new layout might add funky new functionality but if this isn’t backed up by strong, complete and up to date content, site visitors are going to be given the impression of a company that doesn’t care or gets bored half way through a job The danger is that many new web sites are commissioned, not because the site doesn’t give the right information about a business, but because the site owner is bored with it and has been sold the idea that a fancy new layout is just what is needed. Sure, a modern, responsive website design can add real value to a business as long as the content is there too. The danger is that a good, effective website with strong content is replaced by a fancy new design where the content has just been forgotten. A year ago I wrote an article: Are you proud of your website? and over the past year I have come to appreciate that there are 3 distinct phases of website development – though I’m not sure they are often put together in the best way.

3 Phases of website development

1. Design

Creating the overall look and style. Building the WOW factor. This is the bit everyone gets excited about and what many web design companies like doing (the clue is in the name!)

2. Create

Turning the design into a functioning website is often seen as part of the web design job. Actually coding a website is a completely different task requiring different skills.

3. Update

Updating and developing the content so it stays current and continues to reflect a business, then using this steadily evolving content as a platform for ongoing communication with customers and contacts, reinforcing the real values and benefits that the company delivers – yes, that’s marketing! The traditional approach is that 1 and 2 are packaged together and that launching a website is seen as the culmination of the project – pretty much like the ‘old’ days of designing a brochure. With this model, 3 is merely an afterthought.

An incomplete approach?

Because the creating (coding) process is primarily about programming the designed layout, there is a danger that in linking the coding to the design, once the website layout has been developed, the job of populating the site with good content becomes a necessary evil to get the job signed off. As a consequence, the methods used to add content to a site can focus on getting the job done as quickly as possible rather than making it easy to update and develop the site content going forward The site may look great on day 1 but because it is complicated/expensive to add or develop site content, it can quickly become outdated. Little thought has been given to the ongoing use of the site – which can mean that as a site gets more out of date, the owner gets more and more disenchanted with it, and so the cycle starts again

A better fit?

Would it be better to treat the design as a separate task and then link creating and using the site as 2 elements of a project to deliver an effective marketing tool that is easy to use and, most important, easy to keep updated, with most day to day updates being handled in-house. A well coded site can (and should) deliver this sort of functionality. It isn’t enough (IMHO) that a website delivers a quality visitor experience with strong, relevant content. It must also provide the functionality to allow regular updates and the addition of new content quickly and easily. It is only if it does this that the site will be kept up to date and in line with a business as it develops.

So what is the point of a website?

A website is your shop window. It is where potential customers go and explore to make decisions about whether or not they want to do business with you. The look and design should reflect your ethos and brand but it is the content that delivers the real message. If your website isn’t up to date, life is more difficult for your business and if the reason is because no-one really gave any thought to how your site should stay current and how making updates can be easy for you and your staff then maybe you are working with one hand tied behind your back?

When did you last update your website content?

User Testing

user_testingWith our current focus on content & design, I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at the subject of website user testing. Whenever the decision is taken to do significant work on a website the design is always top of the agenda, and there is absolutely no doubt that a professional looking site is essential for any modern business. Though maybe a more balanced approach as suggested in this post may have long term benefit? But, back to this post, what makes a good website design? Usually, in SME website development projects, the key influencers on design tend to be the designers themselves and senior management within the company. Whilst having a site that you are happy to promote is important, whether or not people within the organisation like the site is significantly less important than what customers & potential users of the site think! But outside of asking a few pet customers for comments on the design, what are the options for user testing your site? In our experience there are 3:

Bespoke user testing through focus groups

Perhaps the most accurate way to assess what your target market think of your website would be to undertake testing in a traditional “Focus Group” setting. The process would be:

  1. Define exactly who are your target users
  2. Recruit an appropriate number of these
  3. Get them together in a series of moderated focus groups to feed back on your site

Whilst this may give the most comprehensive and accurate picture, it is also by far the most expensive, and will require 4 and even 5 figure budgets to do properly. In most cases, this level of testing is unnecessary and impractical.

 Individual on-line user testing

There are now a number of services out there that will facilitate getting feedback on your site from real users. One we have used recently is www.trymyui.com. The system allows you to put together a series of tasks that you can ask users to perform on your site, or questions about the site, these will then be presented to users who will then record their thoughts as they perform the tasks. What you receive is a video of the screen activity of the tester,  overlaid with a voice over of reactions and vocalised thoughts whilst they are performing the tasks. Whilst it is possible to recruit your own testers for this process, and thus get feedback from exactly your target audience, in our experience unless your target audience is fairly tech-savvy, the technicalities of the testing system can lead to issues. This said, the available pool of experienced testers offered by the system is fairly comprehensive, and your testers can be selected by a range of criteria (age, gender, income bracket, country, employment status etc), so whilst you will not be able to focus exactly on your target market (especially if you are in business to business (B2B) markets), it should be possible to get feedback from the right type of people. The big upside of this approach as opposed to the totally bespoke testing is cost, as using this approach, you should be able to get meaningful feedback for significantly less than £1000.

Aggregated user testing

In this final type of testing, rather than getting detailed feedback from individual users, you are looking to get more general, aggregated data on use of your site. www.hotjar.com is a good example of this type of system. To use Hotjar you simply sign up for an account (a free option is available with limited functionality), and add a simple piece of code to your site (similar to the Google analytics tracking code). The system will then gather data as people visit and browse your site. Data that can then be used to give insights into how people use the site. For example:

  • Heat-maps – which areas of pages are getting peoples attention
  • Visit recordings – More detailed information on how are people moving around and clicking on areas of a page
  • Funnels – where are people leaving your site

This list isn’t comprehensive but gives an idea of the sort of data available Whilst on a completely different level to the first two options, aggregated testing is very inexpensive, and can give interesting insight into how people are using your site.

The Whole is Greater than the Sum of the Parts

collaborative_v2If you came along to the GM Chamber Action for Business event yesterday morning, will have heard me talking about collaborative working, and the benefits of using the most appropriate resources to deliver marketing results. In essence, this is at the core of the way that BSA Marketing operates. The fact is, marketing is a broad discipline. In addition to having a solid understanding of a business and the market in which it operates, delivering marketing effectively requires a wide range of skills :  

  • Strategic planning
  • Market analysis & segmentation
  • Creativity
  • Creative design
  • Copy writing
  • Web development & coding skills
  • Website & email hosting
  • Knowledge of social media platforms & how to use them effectively
  • Technical e-mail skills around design & deliverability
  • Knowledge of effective e-mail design & copy creation
  • The list goes on……

In any given situation, effective marketing will require a mix of these skills unique to specific circumstances. Furthermore, it is highly likely that some of these skills will be available within an organisation and in these cases, the key to delivering effective joined up marketing is dovetailing in-house and external resources. As a solution to this issue, BSA have developed a model of Collaborative Marketing. We work with clients to combine their own skills with our in-house expertise and where necessary, the input of third party specialists. This approach allows the client to utilise their own resources where appropriate, using only the external resources they need to deliver the best results, thus maximizing effectiveness, whilst only paying for the external skills you need.

Ensuring the Best Resources for the Job

At BSA, we know what we do well; but we also know that there are sometimes the need to use external specialists (For example to create video content, or to undertake specialist photography). In these cases, where clients don’t have their own suppliers to call on, we have built a carefully selected pool of specialists, and because we work with them regularly, we can mobilise them quickly with the confidence that they will deliver what our client needs.

Collaborative Marketing in the Real World.

Collaborative Marketing is a model we use every day, but one particular client, Jones Interiors, demonstrates the benefits perfectly. Because of their industry, Jones have a significant capability in the area of design, so when it came to looking for external support for marketing, they wanted to be able to use this resource. We were able to come in bringing marketing and technical skill to the party, working with the in-house design department to deliver a web & e-mail programme perfectly aligned with their in house style. Furthermore, as it became appropriate for them to put focus on strategic planning, we were able to introduce a specialist consultant into the mix to work with them on this aspect of the business. Again, because this is someone with whom we work regularly, we are able to coherently integrate our ongoing work into the longer term strategic plan as it develops. Through collaboration we are able to seamlessly combine high level design, strategic consultancy and practical marketing into an effective joined up plan to support our client’s growth.

Real World Marketing – a Cautionary Tale – and an alternative

Marketing_MagicWhy do so many so-called sales & marketing companies pitch a Magic Wand solution which may look great on paper but actually stand little chance of really delivering in practice? Good business is about providing service where everyone benefits while the above approach is really about signing the deal, and not worrying too much about whether it really delivers. OK, these companies will have case studies where their approach has worked for a client but how often is this about luck where they hit the right person at the right time? Sure, it does happen – it may even have happened for you – but we all know it is not a reliable way of growing your business. I received the following email last month and I thought you might find it interesting to take off the rose-tinted glasses and look at the offer with a real-world perspective based on my 20 years experience of Business to Business email marketing and telemarketing: Please bear in mind I am talking B2B. First, the original email (identities have been removed!):

From: XXXXX XXXXX <xxxxxx@moresalesco.net>  Sent: 05 January 2016 09:21  To: David Wright  Subject: Happy New Sales  Hi David  2016 is now here. Do you want a plan to grow your sales by 28%?  Here it is:  >> Email 10,000 Contacts and get 100 clicking on your great knowledge >> Call 100 contacts – about 2 days work – and get 10 good prospects to pass to sales >> Convert 2 or 3 of these >> Repeat in 2 weeks  Suddenly from a standing start you have a stream of new prospects turning into customers. And most importantly, these are predictable sales that you can increase by simply putting more in.  You can do with your in house resources, or if you want help with any part of the process, we’ve been doing this for clients for over 9 years so can help you get it running – or do it for you.  You can see how we have helped businesses like yours here, alternatively, reply to this email or call us on 01234 567890.  Best wishes for a happy & prosperous New Year,

I’m not quite sure where the 28% comes from but let’s take the guts of the ‘Plan’ and break it down:

  1. Email 10,000 contacts; I guess you won’t have a qualified list of 10,000 contacts so here’s a first opportunity for them to sell you something, and here’s the first problem, whatever people say, volume lists like this are, at best, not very well qualified. I would never say don’t buy one but please do it with your eyes open…
  2. Get 100 clicking; 100 clicks out of 10,000 might sound achievable but, in our experience, a cold list is likely to only get around 10% ‘open-rate’ so really we are looking at 100 clicks in 1,000 (10%) which is pushing it. 2-3% is probably more realistic – and of those, some will just be curious, not really interested. 20 clicks is probably closer than 100…
  3. Your great knowledge;  It’s down to you to come up with the offer to attract the interest so if the numbers don’t work out, guess where the problem will be!…
  4. Call 100 contacts – about 2 days work; if you actually get 100 clicks you have had exceptional response – enjoy it! Back to the ‘Plan’; telemarketing a ‘qualified’ list of 100 will take more than 2 days (people have a habit of being ‘out’!), and at best, you are more likely to speak to only around 50-60% of the list – not bad but not 100%…
  5. Get 10 good prospects to pass to sales;  10% conversion from contact to lead on qualified telemarketing is realistic but as you are probably only contacting 50-60 your 10 good prospects is more likely to be 5 from an initial telemarketing list of 100 and on this ‘plan’ your inital telemarketing list is probably more like 20 so your ‘Good Prospects’ are probably 1 or 2 rather than 10…
  6. Convert 2 or 3 of these; Again, converting 2 or 3 out of 10 should be quite achievable, but you probably only have 1 or 2, not 10, so to have any success you conversion rate need to be an unlikely 50-100% rather than a realistic 20-30%…
  7. Repeat in 2 weeks;  If you feel I have been over-pessimistic in all of the above and that the ‘Plan’ can work for you, you are now at the point where you need a new list of 10,000 new contacts to start again, or do you reuse the original list (with almost inevitably lower results). Unless you genuinely have a business where you can sell products and services that can appeal to pretty much every business and you can service customers nationally or globally, you will run out of target lists remarkably quickly.

The Bottom Line The above ‘Plan’ is phenomenally wasteful. Even on the original figures they are talking about 2-3 sales from an initial list of 10,000. What about the other 9997? If you want to reuse the list you will need to come up with ever more ‘great knowledge’ and each time, you start back at the beginning. I can’t deny that it is possible for the ‘Plan’ to be effective once, or maybe even twice but as an effective long term B2B business development solution it just won’t work! So what’s the alternative? In a word: ENGAGEMENT Sustained, relevant engagement with well qualified target contacts build relationships, awareness and understanding. Keeping in touch with your contacts with relevant content (yes, your ‘great knowledge’ is vital, so make the most of it!) helps them build confidence in your business and your ability to deliver. You can’t dictate when a customer will need your products or services but when they do, if you have built a strong relationship, you will be the first people they think of – and that plan can run forever!

Your Marketing In 2016?

vaping-surveyScarily, we’re now in February and already over 10% of the way through the year! We thought it would be interesting to canvas your marketing plans. We have created a survey with 6 questions looking at marketing plans for 2016. We’ll collate your answers (anonymously of course!) and let you know the overall results.

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