Monthly Archives: August 2010

Marketing Lessons From the Ancients

A good book is a pleasure. It’s an escape, an entertainment and a release, but when it makes you think too, it’s an education. And so it is with Orhan Pamuk’s “My Name is Red”.

The book describes a time when art was at a crossroads. The flat medieval style of painting was being replaced by the radical European notion of perspective. This change, especially in the East was painful, radical and even heretical. In the novel it leads to murder.

The Turkish miniaturists in this story paint exquisitely in the Chinese style, using pen strokes, vivid colour and gold leaf. They don’t paint anything new, instead they copy over and over again the work of the masters who went before them. Their technique is part of a tradition that is centuries old and to divert from this style is to defy God.

How things have changed. We no longer rely on merchants, soldiers and travellers to bring   us innovations from around the world. Instead ideas zip through space in seconds, uniting us in one global community in real-time.

So why do we still struggle with the “right way” to do things?

In marketing and social media we debate the pros and cons and the whys and wherefores like Chinese calligraphers. Endless blogs, articles and forums ping back and forth, although no one has tried to murder Chris Brogan or Seth Godin that I know of.

In those ancient days adopting a personal style was seen as criminally self-centred, now everyone can have an opinion and everything is up for grabs.

But forging a new style is still a surprisingly lengthy process.

Finding new ways to talk to customers and methods of trading that treat people as individuals are still being fought over.

Makes you think doesn’t it?

We Don’t Talk Anymore?

I read this piece and wept. Not because I want to believe it but because I have been wondering for a long time about whether it’s true.

In brief, Mitch Joel believes we have reached a point where there is no longer a conversation going on in social media ;

One of the main tenets of Social Media was the reality that brands could join a conversation (to quote my good friend, Joseph Jaffe), but by the looks of things there aren’t really any conversations happening at all.

Mitch Joel asks what is the point in telling brands to join the conversation, if close examination reveals that there are none going on? And no, posting a blog comment doesn’t count, that’s feedback apparently.

I tend to agree with him because my attempts to engage with various newspapers, magazines and other ‘big’ companies recently have been frustrating. They are quite happy to lap up your praise and might even respond to say thanks, but there is no real dialogue nor any glimmer of hope that one might develop.

So many companies on Twitter are now broadcasting, that it feels as though old power relationships are returning. If a brand you admire ignores you while continuing to pump out  shiny tweets about their great products you start to feel like a shmuck. Who is getting used here? What happened to the two-way relationship in which what I say counts?    

I know many smart Social Media practitioners who are working hard to educate clients about how to avoid this but maybe so many new users are piling in that the juggernaut of broadcasting will squash us all and we will be the quaint ones in the documentaries, “they used to think it was a conversation ! ha ha !”  

Don’t get me wrong I have developed great relationships over time on Twitter. I don’t know how many conversations we have had – perhaps a bit of banter but real connections develop when you share. My breakthroughs have usually involved something more than talk, like a blog swap or a face to face meet or a small favour like an introduction.

Maybe the whole “It’s a conversation” thing was mis-named from the start and it isn’t a conversation at all but something else entirely.

If you believe, as I do, that this is only just the start of the debate, then Joseph Jaffe is going to be rebutting Mitch Joel’s criticisms in a web debate this Friday, check out his blog for more.

 And please leave a comment here, it may just be feedback but I’d appreciate it!


Is Originality Ever Enough?

X Factor has started again.

Aggghhhhh! It is highly edited, manipulative, compulsive nonsense but I can’t help watching it with my kids.

Week one and there is already an extraordinary talking point. Did you see the woman with the Pocahontas hair-style who stood up and yowled a jaw-droppingly terrible ‘version’ of Mercy by Duffy?

This woman was compelling in her frightfulness. I couldn’t tell whether she was the genius off-spring of Yoko Ono or whether she had made it all up on the spot. It turns out to be the latter.

She reckons she created it on the hoof because she was desperate to do something for her small child. Well that’s great motivation, but what about planning, rehearsals, doing it in front of friends for some feedback and generally having some kind of credible plan?

To me, it was an opportunity wasted. If you are going to make the trip to the venue and queue for hours, surely it would make sense to have a viable product to sell when you get there.

Maybe this is something I can learn from. Don’t bother showing up to market without a well- designed product and a well-rehearsed pitch.

But listen to this. She got into the next round! Sheer originality and chutzpah carried her through.

What do you make of that?

Get It Right The First Time

Nobody wants to look stupid.

In fact most of us spend a good deal of time trying to avoid it, but sometimes you fire off an e-mail without checking the attachment is actually attached  or you add a comment to an online discussion only to see the howling spelling error after it’s too late.

Sometimes the problem is a bit bigger than that.

 Take the case of Taylors of Harrogate, the makers of Yorkshire Tea. Recently they decided to celebrate Yorkshire by making a special edition called Northern Echo. This just happens to be the name of a local newspaper which includes parts of Yorkshire in its circulation area.

 With an eye for a perfect piece of PR they sent a box of the tea to the paper’s editor Peter Barron.

Unfortunately they had spelled the word Northern without the second ‘r’. The box of tea was  emblazoned with the word ‘Northen’ and was now sitting on the desk of one of the nation’s senior journalists. Whoops!

Peter Barron was very charitable when he wrote about the incident in his blog 

But it’s always better to get it right the first time don’t you think? What howlers have you made and dare you admit to them?

Cheese! A lesson in internet marketing.

I want to admit to an obsession, I can’t get enough of small businesses that punch above their weight with gorgeous locally produced products.

There’s something compelling about the way a tiny concern, firmly rooted in its locale can make an impact nationally or even internationally. The key is invariably internet marketing and social media.

The latest example to excite my interest is the Caws cheese farm,  located in the lush countryside outside the village of Cenarth in west Wales.

 We visited on a recent holiday and found a small farm with cheese making facilities on site. This was nothing like the Wensleydale creamery in  the Yorkshire Dales, which is interesting in its own right but much larger and charges for cheese-making tours.

 This place was really tiny with a small shop. We looked down through glass onto the cheese- making below where a couple of artisans were scooping curds and whey out of a small vat and sloshing into moulds. It was all being done by hand and reminded us of the vibe you get when trundling along a country lane in France to a farmhouse selling homemade calvados.

The feeling that we had stumbled across it by mistake intensified the magic but the copious cuttings on display told us that both Prince Charles and Keira Knightley had been there before us!

Of course I hadn’t stumbled upon it at all but had been directed there via a link on the website for the holiday cottages we were staying in. This is the power behind Caws. They have got their internet marketing down to a fine art.

We discovered that they own the domain name for Welshorganiccheese – a smart move that they are clearly proud of. Their website is clean and modern, pulling in the crowd who go for organic, local and authentic – that’s me!  They have a Facebook fan page with recipes for their delicious cheeses including varieties like wine and leek or sun-dried tomato.

They clearly work hard at their marketing, and reach a wide audience who they sell to via post, but if you happen to go there like we did, you will not find an industrial unit on the outskirts of Swansea but a thriving country concern.

5 Ways To Get The Copy You Want

It’s tempting to think that when you hire a professional to take on the tasks you hate, you can just offload and heave a sigh of relief.

In my experience, working on pr copy and publicity material for clients,  it doesn’t work like that.

It may be that you find writing about yourself really hard and you want a professional to give you a sparkling bio or you want some tired old copy about your business brought up to date and re-written. In either case the professional you employ will be a lot more effective and possibly cheaper too, if you make a few preparations before handing over the job.

Here are five points worth considering when handing over to a professional:-

  1. Most copywriting and pr is about selling your brand, so remind yourself what you stand for. Can you get this over to your writer or editor in a way they can work with? It really doesn’t have to be written out in elegant prose, that’s our job, but even a handful of words really helps.
  2. Do you have a mission statement? Does it still hold? You may find things have changed since you first set out your core values and this is a good chance to re-visit and up-date.
  3.  If your professional sends you a questionnaire it’s to help the process along, not trip you up  with bureaucracy. Questionnaires are often used to get down key pieces of information about a client and if you can fill them in promptly it really speeds things up when you get to the interview.
  4. It’s a good idea to meet the person working for you if you have the time. Long term relationships can only improve from meeting face to face and a chat over coffee will give you both the chance to discuss exactly what you want.  
  5. If you need something fast and you don’t have a chance to meet, make sure your professional has all the information they need. It may seem obvious to you where you are coming from but if you have not worked together before it’s worth spelling everything out. 

Working with a professional can save you time and give you the top class results you’ve been looking for. By working together in the early stages to really understand what you need you can develop a working relationship that lasts, so that next time it’s even easier than before.

Where Do You Find Authenticity?

I often suggest that one reason to blog is to discover what you really feel about something. The act of writing helps us sift through ideas and bring them into focus. With any luck we end up with work that says something about who we are and what we think.

But of course we are bombarded with messages, both written and spoken, everyday which fill our heads and makes it hard to think.

The question I would like to pose is, at the end of that process, does writing reflect some essence of true self or do we sift and sort but end up writing a pastiche of what we consume?

The thought was prompted by my husband’s reaction to a fun piece I wrote about going on holiday. To him it sounded like some rant from a right-wing newspaper. To me it was a bit of fun. Was I unconsciously adopting the tone of the Daily Mail columnist to make the piece funnier or am I deep down closer to that stereotype than I thought? (Help)

I was thinking this through at the same time as reading the excellent novel “The Other Hand” by Chris Cleave which makes the opposite point. In the book one of the central characters, a journalist and columnist for The Times, realises that he can never live up to the lofty ideals he espouses in his copy. He thinks of himself as an outspoken crusader for justice but the reality turns out to be somewhat different.

The contradiction is exposed in the most dramatic fashion on a beach in Nigeria and the rest of the novel explores what it might mean to be authentic and true to ourselves.    

Those of us who write must imagine ourselves in all sorts of situations, many we have never been in. You have to try to see life through a thousand different lenses. Whether novelist or copywriter you have to put yourself into the minds of others to produce your best work. Yet that must be believable and authentic. 

So where is the truth? In the imagining, in the writing or in the actions we take in the real world?

It’s certainly something to think about.