Content – The elephant in the social media room (still)

Although the essence of marketing is communicating with your target markets, so many SME businesses focus on HOW they want to communicate rather than WHAT they want to communicate. Back in 2016, I wrote this article. While we all embrace the lockdown(!) as an opportunity to work on our business rather than just in our business, I felt now is a good time to revisit the content elephant.

Actually, if you truly know what message/content you wish to communicate to effectively promote your products/services, then deciding HOW to communicate it is relatively straightforward. Undoubtedly you will be constrained by the resources you can afford to commit to marketing. TV advertising is not for everyone!. However, there is an ever-expanding range of online tools (including Websites, Social Media,  Click Advertising, Banner Advertising etc.) that can be accessed and effectively used at low cost, or even for free in some cases if you are prepared to put a bit of effort into learning what to do from the plethora of online tutorials and advice. The challenge is not so much HOW you communicate as WHAT you communicate.

Some people (often the truly successful entrepreneurs) have an innate skill for content.
They are lucky. They have a natural talent and can just do it.

Content creation in the real world

The problem for the rest of us is that when you turn to consider what it is that you want to say, coming up with relevant content can be challenging for many businesses. I think the issue is that deciding on content is a creative risk. There is no-one can tell you what you want to say. You have to think for yourself and there is a strong desire to try to get it right  – there is a focus on trying to be perfect when you can’t! I would go further, I believe that there is no perfect.

Consequently, instead of biting the bullet and diving into content creation, accepting that it won’t be perfect, it is enticing to avoid the issue and get sidetracked into the HOW.

Let’s learn all about LinkedIn/Twitter/Google Ads etc. – because if we learn this we will be better at producing perfect content.

Tapping into this sentiment, many businesses have grown up offering training and focusing on the HOW. OK, some of these businesses (the better ones!) will include tools and ideas to help with content creation but when it comes down to ‘defining the magic words and pictures’ for your own business, it is down to you.

I believe that most people who take up the training fail to benefit significantly because once they have learnt the skills HOW to communicate, they realise they still need to commit to deciding WHAT they want to say.

What about creative agencies and graphic designers?

Of course, there are also many creative agencies who have skills working in both words and pictures who can help with content creation but they often present a number of challenges:

  • They don’t know your business (at least to start with)
  • You have to give them a brief – so you are still having to set out your own core message
  • They can’t read your mind. What they come up with might not fit with your own thinking
  • Creative development can take time
  • Agencies are selling time so they (particularly the good ones!) can get expensive

Building a relationship with a good creative who understands your business can be valuable but this process normally requires significant investment in time and money.

Focusing on Content – a solution

If you aren’t in a position to invest (considerable) budgets on content creation, it is back to you, I’m afraid, even if you believe you don’t have a natural talent for content.

The answer is simple, even if not particularly appealing. Just do it! Don’t get sidetracked to the HOW. Accept that you need to focus on the WHAT.

OK, you need to focus on your message, but actually, your message does not need to be perfect. Remember that different people receive messages differently so even if you think your content is perfect, others may not agree! What’s important is that you are honest and truly believe what you are saying about the benefit and value you deliver to your customers.

An honest, relevant message with less than perfect delivery can still be powerful and effective.

If you are proud of your message and really believe it then if your delivery isn’t perfect it probably doesn’t really matter.

Like it on not, luck plays a part in marketing

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the key to guaranteed marketing success is to be really skilful at using marketing tools. This is not true.

There are countless examples (possibly most commercial social media!) where people with significant technical expertise communicate messages with the aim of going viral. However, the content withers and dies never to see the light of day because it doesn’t engage.

Equally, Social Media is awash with examples of stories that inadvertently went viral because they happened to really connect with their audience. These stories can start as no more than communication between a few people or posts on a local forum, but they end up with a life of their own and become unstoppable – often with unanticipated consequences – but that is another story.

4 Tips for effective content

Finally, here are 5 tips to get you started addressing the ‘Content elephant’

  1. Take time to ask yourself what it is that you do? Not the mechanics but the benefit you deliver to you customers and clients – maybe you could ask them?
  2. Focus on generating content you truly believe in. Content that truly reflects your business proposition
  3. Test your content. Get critiques from people you trust. Listen to them and be ready to adapt.
  4. Don’t try to be perfect. Perfect does not exist!
  5. Don’t ignore the content elephant. Get your content in place then look at your delivery – NOT the other way around.

If you would like to chat, please get in touch

3 ways marketing is like buying premium bonds

Recently Captain Tom’s 100 lap challenge has got me thinking about the whole question of marketing and social media marketing in particular. It made me realise, there are a lot of parallels between marketing and buying premium bonds. To illustrate this, and in tribute to Captain Tom’s efforts, I would like to take you through my 3 ways in which Social Media Marketing is like investing in the premium bonds

1. You have to be in it to win

Firstly, you have to be in it to win and how much you invest does matter. With premium bonds, investing £100 is a bit of a waste of time. On average, premium bonds deliver a return of around 1.4%. But the minimum prize is £25, so with a £100 investment, odds you will win nothing. In fact, only 1 in 20 people with a £100 investment will win anything. To be in with a better chance of getting your return, you need to make a minimum investment. Exactly what that is is not really relevant for this analogy, but if you want to know more, you might find this interesting – Premium Bonds – Are they worth it?.

Similarly, unless you are willing to invest time in social media marketing, you are unlikely to get significant returns. Social media is all about ongoing & continued engagement with your marketplace, and this needs continued investment in time and energy to deliver. Unless you are willing to commit this, you are probably wasting your time.

2. It’s not all about the big prize

Yes, if you invest in premium bonds, then you might win the jackpot, but you probably won’t. There is currently a 1 in 1 in 43,215,118,377 chance of any premium bond winning big. So even if you invest enough to stand a good chance of getting your 1.4% return, you probably won’t win a million, but that is not why most people buy them. The 1.4% that you are likely to get makes them a worthwhile investment. The fact that you might hit the jackpot is just a bonus!

It’s the same with social media. You probably won’t hit the jackpot like Captain Tom (Global coverage of his story, a number 1 single – and £28,310,754 pledged-at the last count). But I am sure that is not why he did it. He originally wanted to raise £1000 and would have been very happy if he had hit that target. The fact that it went viral, spread globally and raised such a large sum is a bonus. The fact is that even if your own post does not go viral, you can still get consistent, good returns from social media marketing.

What’s more, where social media is concerned, going viral has consequences other than marketing returns. For Captain Tom, it was having to deal with 40,000 birthday cards from wellwishers – but that’s another post!

3. You can always move your investment

With premium bonds, whilst you are invested, your capital is tied up. The only return you will get is from that investment. But if at any time a better opportunity comes along, you can move your investment – withdrawing your funds and using them elsewhere. At that point, any benefits you were getting from your premium bonds investment will stop, but hopefully, you will get new benefits elsewhere.

It’s the same with social media. Whilst you are investing your time and other resources in social media, you can not use them elsewhere. But if at any time a new, better opportunity comes along, you are free to switch your resource to the new activity. At this point you the benefit you get from investing it in social media will diminish, but new opportunities will arise from your new activity.

That’s why part of your process should always be monitoring and reviewing the returns on your activity. Keeping your eye out for new/better opportunities for marketing your business. Just because you are doing something now, does not necessarily mean you should keep doing it or that it’s the only thing you should be doing.

It’s actually not just social media!

As I mentioned at the top of the post. My premium bonds analogy is not just about social media marketing. It actually holds true for marketing as a whole.

  1. Good marketing is about managed, sustainable results, based on a planned investment of resources
  2. If you get the big win, that can be great, but also can give its own challenges, but in fact, you do marketing for the managed, sustainable results rather than just hoping for the big win
  3. Monitoring and analysis of your activities should be central to your planning. You should always be asking – Could I be doing other things to better market my business?

Finally, remember that like investments, marketing is about having a balanced portfolio. It’s not just about one activity, it is about having a balanced marketing mix that develops your brand and effectively tells your marketing story.

Reflections on Lockdown

It has been an interesting 3 weeks. On 17th March I was sitting in a hotel in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil. I had been out of contact on an amazing trip to Galapagos since the beginning of March and now, I was trying to get home as the normal world started to unfold around me. I didn’t appreciate the full impact of what was to come. As it transpired, I caught the last scheduled international flight out of Ecuador before everything closed and the tragedy of coronavirus in Ecuador started to hit the news the following day.

I was lucky. I made it back to the UK relatively easily. There are still thousands of travellers trying to get home and I wish them well.

Lockdown Realty

Once home it was back to the office and a return to work – or so I thought! The following day, all restaurants, pubs, clubs, and indoor sport and leisure facilities across the UK were ordered to close, and then on 23 March, the lockdown was imposed.

It'll be OK. I can work from home. It wouldn't be the first time.

When I have worked from home in the past, it has never been for any length of time; the odd half-day or day here and there. We are fortunate that we have good internet connections and VPNs allowing full access to our work systems and data. With our growing use of cloud-based technologies (I talked about our move to Xero accounts a while ago) and our switch to a VOIP telephone system in January, BSA is technically well placed for remote working. It is the emotional and mental challenges in this surreal environment that are having a significant impact.

Am I on holiday?

Having just returned from an actual holiday, my first feeling was that I was still on holiday!  I always find it a challenge to get back into the work routine after being away. Now there was no routine to return to! No office to visit, no working day at the office. Am I still on holiday?

Yet there is work to do! Marketing and staying engaged with your customers and contacts is important, particularly in these strange times. We have clients who are very busy, actively involved in the fight against the pandemic and other clients who are seeing their e-commerce sites which, to date had been a minor supplement to bricks and mortar retail businesses, suddenly becoming the heart of plans to sustain business during the lockdown.

There was clearly no time for holidays! BSA’s experience and practical support are in demand.

Let’s Zoom

Two years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to make more use of remote meetings technology – I really don’t like driving to meetings if I can avoid it! 3 months later, after numerous unsuccessful trials with Skype, I gave up. The technology wasn’t up to the job. I don’t know whether it was the software, the bandwidth, the internet connections, or what, but it got in the way of the meeting. Remote meetings were on the back burner.

Although I had heard of Zoom, up to 3 weeks ago I had never used it. I was still disenchanted about the whole remote meeting thing. But with the lockdown, travelling became virtually impossible and so if I was going to meet with people, it would have to be on-line. Remote meetings were back on the agenda. I tried 4 or 5 different tools and by some margin, the best is Zoom. What a revelation, it just works. I have been involved in meeting with up to a dozen people for up to 2 hours. OK, there has been the odd occasion when the line quality wasn’t brilliant but overall, it looks like remote meeting has come of age – and just in the nick of time!

I am sure that even when the coronavirus lockdown of 2020 slips into history, online meetings are here to stay as a feature of the modern business world.

The new normal

While lockdown persists, I am seeing a sense of common purpose, a new normal. Sure, we are all still in business and it is vital that the economy is not allowed to stall. It remains appropriate to charge for products and services but this is a time for support, not profiteering. Some businesses are booming while others are struggling. A bit of flexibility, support and give & take can hopefully level things out for everyone while we try and make sense of our circumstances.

In fact, perhaps this the basis for good, sustainable business at any time?

Personally, one of the biggest challenges I am finding is to know what day it is! I have always tried to work Monday to Friday then have the weekend off. But do we still have weekends? I am starting to wonder! Does this matter? don’t get me wrong, having time off from work is essential (IMHO!) but does it need to be a working week followed by a weekend?

Working from home makes it easier to be flexible. I am trying to take time every day to get out and explore my local footpaths. this is time I would previously be stuck at my desk but it feels good to swap this for an hour or 2 work on a Saturday or Sunday, if necessary. I am seeing a new flexibility – I can work by hours not days.

This approach may be more challenging for employees – though flexitime has been a ‘thing’ – particularly in larger companies – for many years. Maybe our lockdown experience is showing the way for more flexibility in smaller businesses too.

I am sure that none of the things I am talking about here are new. People work in many different ways but alongside the challenges of lockdown, I am seeing some real positives and opportunities to do things different – and better. I am looking forward to exploring the new future.

I’d be interested to hear your experiences of the lockdown. Feel free to drop me a line – or why not join me on zoom for a chat.

Adapting to the Lockdown

We are now three weeks into the new world that is lockdown. A lockdown that will likely continue at least for the next 3 to 4 weeks. I, therefore, thought it a good time to look at how businesses are adapting to this “New Normal”.

Whilst some businesses can continue pretty much as normal, for those that can’t, there seem to be two ways to approach the situation:

  • Keep your head down, cut costs and see you on the other side
  • Adapt your business model to the “New Normal”

But as this situation develops and the time in lockdown extends, it will take increasingly deep pockets to adopt the”see you on the other side” approach. Increasingly business will need to adapt, in the short term at least. With this in mind, I thought it would be worth looking at some ways we have seen this happening.

Focus on the online model

Retail

Many retailers have been forced to close their bricks and mortar operations. And those who have not, have had to change the way they operate. In many of these cases, online ordering for click and collect or delivery is the new order of the day. Whilst in food and beverage this has been central in the news, there is actually nothing to stop any retail business shifting its operations online. Especially if, as is likely for a bricks and mortar retail operation, they are servicing a local market.

Locally, I have seen a number of businesses do this. In some cases their new operations becoming a lifeline to the local community.  But I am not suggesting this is an easy route. To succeed, it will need some different thinking to address new business issues that it throws up. Ramping up and managing delivery capacity. Switching process from serving over the counter to a pick pack and ship model. Taking and managing online payments – to name a few. It does however, allow businesses to maintain at least some revenue streams and in the long term. It can also enhance the businesses profile and standing within its market, delivering potential benefits into the future as well.

Restaurants

Another sector where I have seen this happening is restaurants. Here, the lockdown has most definitely cut off normal on-site revenue streams. But by switching to a delivery model, businesses can again create new revenues to help them through.

Whilst this will present similar challenges to the retail offering discussed above, many of the core competencies that make a successful restaurant under normal circumstances (Access to great produce, skilled cheffing (I think that’s a word!) and food prep) are still very relevant.  So assuming the demand is still there, and in many cases it is, safely generating revenue should still be possible.

I have seen a number of local restaurants follow this route over the last couple of weeks and Judging by how difficult it is to get a delivery slot, the demand is there. Whilst serving this demand may be less profitable than normal, it can deliver valuable revenue in the short term. It will also raise the businesses profile and offer marketing opportunities once things start to go back to normal.

Training/Therapy/Events

Other sectors we have seen moving online are the likes of Consultancy, Training, Therapy and Events. Whilst delivering these online may not be a direct substitution for face to face,  developing a remote offering can help maintain your presence in the market, and your relationship with clients. Furthermore, as the current situation extends, these on-line models too will become increasingly vital tools in maintaining and developing businesses.

We have seen a number of organisations successfully open up on-line capabilities, and the “Virtual gig” has become a mainstay for musicians worldwide.

Shift from Wholesale to Retail

Another shift I have seen is in businesses that were set up to service the retail leisure markets like pubs and resteraunts. A great example of this is one of our local breweries, who saw their normal order book dry up overnight as these businesses were forced to close.

However, they quickly discovered that the demand for their product was still there! People who would normally head to the pub for a beer were now wanting a supply at home. By shifting their business from supplying 50l barrels to pubs and restaurants, to supplying smaller quantities (Bottles & 5/10/20l barrels) direct to consumers, they have been able to maintain a revenue stream and again enhance their standing in the local area.

Like the retail examples above this shift will create its own issues, but it will also allow the business to enjoy retail rather than wholesale prices, thus mitigating some of the potential drop in capacity and increased costs, through higher margins.

What about the longer term?

I am sure that all of these businesses will be happy to come through the other side of this situation and return to their normal way of operating. But in many cases I suspect that the new skills and processes that they have developed during the lockdown will enhance their businesses once things start to return to normal.

Furthermore, as the lockdown extends, it will allow businesses to continue to operate without needing solely to rely on limited cash reserves.

Someone asked me this week “Are you surviving or thriving in the lockdown?“. Whilst it may be a big ask to expect most businesses to thrive, by adapting to the new environment, rather than simply keeping your head down, will allow a business to do more than survive. And some may even thrive!