Get a free advice session on marketing & promoting your business

Christmas goodiesIn the spirit of Christmas generosity, I’m giving away a half-day of consultancy to a local startup or entrepreneur who needs help marketing and promoting themselves.

Cambridge and East Anglia are full of clever people doing amazing things, with many solo flyers or startups creating great products. In some cases, you might just need a little boost to get the word out about your product. For others, it’s such early days that you haven’t thought much about marketing yet – you just know your idea kicks ass.

With years of experience in marketing and working with Pepsmedia, nothing excites me more than a promising new business idea, so let’s hear what you’re working on.

Participating couldn’t be easier, here’s what you need to do:

  • You need to be a startup or entrepreneur in the region with a business, project or idea and would like some marketing and promotion coaching (Note: You can be based anywhere but we may run the session online if you’re too far away!)
  • Leave a comment below (or email vero@pepsmedia.com) with your idea, and what your marketing/promotion challenges are or will be in 2011
  • Do this by end of day on December 23rd

I’ll announce the winner around Christmas day (Internet access and family commitments permitting!), who will then be able to redeem their consultancy session in January. The session will either be held at the Pepsmedia office, somewhere local and convenient for everyone involved or, if need be, as an online session.

How will I pick a winner? I’ll choose the startup or individual who I think would benefit the most from this session. If there are more than one great contender, I’ll pick a name out of a hat. You don’t need to be a technology startup to participate; Whatever your market, leave a comment now for your chance to win a free advice session.

How to Market Your Own Application: An Alfred App Case Study

Those who have followed the Alfred development in the past year will know that we’ve discovered a lot through building our own community around it (possibly the most awesome community out there!)

Last month, I gave a talk at Cambridge Geek Nights, sharing some tips, tricks and discoveries we’ve made while developing and marketing Alfred. Did you know that posting a sneak peek screenshots could get you hundreds of excited tweets? Have you considered collaborating with other app developers on co-promotion?

We’ve since had the opportunity to work with other startups on getting visibility and marketing their product. Think we can help you? Drop me a line and tell us about your app!

Making the Most of User Feedback

Yay monster cupcakes!

This is the third and final part in a mini series of posts on using a community forum to exchange ideas with your users.

Part I: Why and when should I start my own community forum?
Part II: Setting up your forum: Top tips for using Get Satisfaction
Part III: Making the most of user feedback

In the first part, we looked at the right time and right way to get started with a community forum. As we picked Get Satisfaction as our platform of choice, I then outlined a few top tips for it. Today, we’re looking at what happens once you’ve successfully created a place for conversation and the users begin to trickle in.

If you thought that once the community existed, you could kick back and relax, think again! Now comes the best part: Finally interacting with your users. You’ll meet the most wonderful people, as well as the occasional user who seems to relish being your daily pain in the backside.

So how can you deal with vast amounts of feedback, good and bad, yet retain your sanity?

Continue reading

Why I'm in love with IKEA's "Cat herding" campaign

In case the news hasn’t made it to your corner of the office yet, here’s a YouTube video perfect for a Friday.

IKEA’s campaign involved releasing 100 cats into a London IKEA store and letting them roam free. Whoddathunk hanging halogen light fittings made such great cat runs…

Aside from the fact that I’m a total cat lover (an anomaly in my family), the reason I’m head over heels for this campaign is that, for once, Marketing doesn’t take itself seriously. Sure, IKEA isn’t at the awareness-building stage of its business lifespan and can afford to do some pretty creative marketing, as they did with their Facebook campaign in 2009.

It’s refreshing to see a campaign that’s purely done for fun, an idea that doesn’t make any sense and doesn’t try to preach or sell us anything. Have a laugh, spend Friday afternoon spreading the video around and gain that little bit more love for the almighty brand that is IKEA. “Simples!”, as Aleksandr Orlov would say.

I wonder if they just shook the box of Whiskas biscuits to call all the cats back at the end?

Happy Friday!

Morgan Stanley intern: Why this teen's research paper really matters

Over the past 10 days, Morgan Stanley, an established global financial services provider with offices across the world, saw a 15 year old teen create a lot of noise while interning at the firm’s London office.

Matthew Robson was tasked with the project of writing a report on how teenagers consume media, the kind of job you give the son of a friend who’s asked for a summer internship. “Isn’t the boy sweet? Make sure the office manager offers him a glass of juice, will you?” Anyone who’s worked in an office has had this kind of intern around, kids with an interest in business who’ll gain more insight than you can ever imagine from a few weeks around.

Usually, however, these students leave as quietly as they arrived, having organised a few filing cabinets and tended to a few menial projects.

In this case, Matthew was given the opportunity to write a report on media consumption, which could have very well fallen on deaf ears, but not only have Morgan Stanley paid attention, the Telegraph published the report in full.

If you spend your life bathing in online media as I do, none of the observations in the report are mindblowing. What is remarkable is that, this time, the CEO’s, directors and people in charge of company direction have listened to Matthew’s report.

It’s a chronic problem with management: The higher up you get, the more out of touch you become with the reality of your users, current and future. You think in “audience”, “viewing figures” and other amorphous blobs of numbers, you forget that you’re dealing with people, intelligent and curious and ever-changing people.

This boy’s report highlights some interesting realities.

  • Newspapers: This generation doesn’t want to pay for news. The Sun (20p) will occasionally get picked up but free papers or other means of consumption like the web or TV.
  • Directories: A dying medium, the print directory has never been used. Being Google-savvy means the teens can easily find what they want, again for free.
  • Viral/Outdoor/Guerrilla advertising: Teens welcome these unusual, exciting campaigns, so while they might shun banner ads and conventional TV ads, they enjoy guerrilla marketing, in-game ads and quirky ads that don’t tell the full story.
  • Music: Again, free and digital are preferred. Music that is accessible offline is also preferred, so the streaming model may not be right for them.
  • Mobile: Pay as you go, reasonably priced devices are topping this market. iPhones are nowhere to be seen due to cost and likelihood that the teens will lose them before the contract is up.
  • Games consoles: Surprisingly in this teen’s research, only a third of the teens had games consoles at home, with 50% owning Nintendo’s Wii console, 40% an XBox and a measly 10% with PS3’s, Sony’s prohibitively expensive console.
  • Social networks: Less surprisingly, Facebook is the clear winner in terms of favourite way to spend time online. Twitter doesn’t ring true with these teens, probably due to the time it takes to get to a stage where the service feels gratifying, versus Facebook that excites as soon as a friend or two are added.

For some unknown reason (slow news week?), this report got far beyond the teen’s direct summer manager and was truly acknowledged by City bosses.

While I think many of the observations don’t necessarily reflect the rest of Britain’s teens’ reality, it was a great read: Uninhibited, honest words, without the usual adult filter that causes us to speak in much less absolute terms. I think we should all try to see the world through a 15 year old’s eyes every so often, we’d notice amazing things.

Astroturfing & Disclosure: Where Do You Draw the Line?

As more businesses start peppering their marketing plans with social media projects, activities that previously were reserved for the geeky early adopters are now coming under scrutiny when used for commercial endeavours.

astroturf-belkinWith all this new media growth, there’s no clear rule book yet. We’re writing it as we go, and just like the Bible, there are an awful lot of different interpretations of the same guidelines.

Certain aspects of blogging and online brand identity are seeing their limits pushed by certain brands lately…

Belkin, the computer peripherals manufacturer, was caught red-handed recently when The Daily Background Blog uncovered that a Belkin employee used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and similar services to solicit paid reviews. An anonymous tip-off from a Belkin staff member seemed to confirm this wasn’t a one-off either.

Belkin apologised publicly for the actions of its employee, but “Is that enough?” asks The Responsible Marketing Blog.

The above is a clear case of astroturfing, but rarely is the line quite so clearly drawn into the fake plastic grass.

Before I go any further, let me pause and let Wikipedia explain the concept of Astroturfing:

Astroturfing is a word in American English describing formal political, advertising, or public relations campaigns seeking to create the impression of being spontaneous “grassroots” behavior, hence the reference to the artificial grass, AstroTurf.

Back when I worked for Active Hotels, we prided ourselves in having a hotel review system that was much more fool proof than average; only guests that had stayed at the hotel, paid for their stay & been confirmed by the hotel would be able to leave a review. The site was engineered to discourage astroturfing on the part of overzealous hotel managers – while it didn’t stop them, each attempt would cost them a commission, which in most cases was enough of a deterrent. Trip Advisor couldn’t exactly say the same of their reviews. Ethically, again the line is fairly clear; you haven’t stayed, you shouldn’t make up a review about a hotel. Still with me?

Via Simon Collister, I then I found a blurry line, one written by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (who often strike me as not “getting” the online world at all):

“[CIPR] Members’ use of social media must be transparent, and they must make extra effort to disclose any potential conflicts of interest. … In this regard, members should be aware that ‘ghosting’ a blog is illegal”

Woah, hold your horses there, Georgie! Surely, their definition of a ghost blog is different to mine then? A ghost blogger, in my experience, writes on behalf of the CEO, politician or other high-profile person, who may have called the PR team from across the country to give an outline of what they wants to say, letting them find the exact words.

Marketing teams are used to committee-written press releases, so blog entries often get the same treatment. Circulating between the marketing team, the CEO and the legal time a few times in a three-way table tennis match, the watered-down, reviewed entry gets posted. It may not be the most genuine method of writing, but it certainly isn’t something I’d consider illegal.

I suspect that what they refer to as ghost blogging is in fact the above-described astroturfing, which deserves a long stay on the naughty step and a spank to the bottom (not in a good way!)

How does this scenario (not the bottom spanking, the ghost writing for the CEO one), and every other one in between, fit in alongside all other transparency issues encountered online?

It’s not the first time I bring up my issues with non-disclosure & dodgy marketing practices, but as social media becomes a more mainstream interest for marketing bods of all walks of life, I truly hope that we’ll all take a few moments to think about the opportunities available to us. If organisations spent as much on building positive branding and community relations with their audiences as they do on being snake oil salesmen equipped with smoke and mirrors, the relationships could have a far longer shelf life.

You Gotta Have Faith: Taming Your Inner Critic

grumpy_smallI came across Tara’s post here about taming her inner critic, where she questions her abilities at live interviews and doubts her own writing skills. I believe we all have moments like this. But some are worse than others…

[I’m about to make a bold generalisation and some will have want my head off for making such a statement, but bear with me.]

Since I moved from Canada, I have seen too many Brits or Europeans be very sheepish about self-promotion. American sales people are reputed to be bubbly, brash and bigger than life, speaking louder than anyone else in the room and gesticulating endlessly to illustrate what they’re saying. Quite at the other extreme, British marketing folks are often seen to be more reserved and self-deprecating.

I think there are two aspects to this cultural difference;

A lack of faith for the team or product

In the US, in particular in buzzing centres like Silicon Valley and New York, the belief that a small nobody can become the Next Big Thing is encouraged and nurtured.

In Europe and in the UK, too many people let themselves believe that they’re necessarily second fiddles in the game. This unfortunate attitude is perpetuated by sheltered Americans like Mike Arrington of TechCrunch fame, who base their views of an entire culture on a single event. I strongly believe that this perception is wrong, it isn’t about geographic location (mostly) but about what you do with your resources. Are you out there talking to prospects (in person and virtually) or somewhere in the deepest, darkest Midlands developing in your small office, assuming that because you put your app on the iTunes Store, it’ll market itself?

As a promoter for your business, you aren’t Hugh Grant, and self-deprecating sweetness won’t get you there on its own. If you don’t sell yourself, nobody will do it for you.

An assumption that the product speaks for itself

Yes, a great product is 90% of the marketing effort. But unless people can find out about your product and feel their questions will be heard, you’re missing the first link of the chain, that first 10% of the effort that leads to the viral spread Holy Grail.

So dust off your pencil and paper, write that press release about the latest features or the new team members and send it far and wide (but do it gracefully, of course!) Step outside of your comfort zone a little and be bold about what you do and love.

That’s why folks like Whatleydude, Andrew J. Scott and many more* stand out from the crowd and sometimes can rub folks the wrong way by being more open and self-promoting than your average community or marketing person in the UK.

So where is the widespread shrinking violet attitude coming from? Isn’t this the country that once reigned on history’s largest empire?

I’m no historian or psychoanalyst so I’ll spare you the attempt at explaining it – Let’s leave it as a rhetorical question, shall we? When I’ve challenged the Brits around me about their unwillingness to stand up and be vocally proud of what they’ve created or their talent, I’ve received a range of answers;

  • Not self-promoting is a sign of humility
  • Casual is cooler, you have to look like you’re not trying too hard or you’ll be seen as a sell-out
  • We don’t like to shove our product in the users’ faces, if they want it, they’ll come to us
  • We don’t do press releases, it’s not in our ethos

But that’s not how it works anymore, sorry to break it to you! There are too many products, too many services and too much noise in our lives. If you don’t promote what you love, people won’t magically discover it. The community manager, the marketing team, the PR folks, you’re all that first 10% of the chain. It’s your job to let people see that you’re passionate about what you’ve created. (And if you’re not, time to go jobhunt, innit?)

Breaking the habit

So here are my three top tips for those who want to come out of the proverbial shell and learn to feel good about their business:

  • Go sing karaoke, both in front of friends and strangers: Putting yourself on stage forces you out of your comfort zone and requires you to take on a braver personality. It’s like a fun and more social version of Toastmasters’ public speaking organisation. Alternatives involve joining an improv league, speaking at a BarCamp, working as a tour guide, etc…
  • Get a grip: Write down what makes you, your product or your company great and ask your customers to do the same. You’ll probably be surprised by the number of positives that crop up!
  • It’s a fine balance between self-assurance and arrogance: Ask your bluntest friends and colleagues to evaluate your performance after a presentation or when you finish writing a piece about the company. Take in all their feedback and listen patiently (but don’t take it personally). Build on that in the same way as a ballet dancer analyses her movements in the dance room mirror to perfect her step next time.

[* These two were not singled out due to any negative press even though I’ve talked about rubbing people the wrong way. They’re examples of folks who are more pro-active than your average community manager!]
[Image: Grrrrrr… by Peter Williamson on Flickr, Creative Commons]

Blogging as part of a marketing role: Give it the time it deserves

In the corporate world, there are more blogs than ever. Along the lines of 70% of Fortune 500 companies will have at least dipped a little toe in it by this year, according to Wikipedia’s utterly incomplete entry. For a handful of us, it’s an integral part of the job; important internally, important externally, yet so little time allocated as thinking time. That’s frustrated me for a long time.

Blogging is natural for me, but it still doesn’t come as easily as having a morning dump. Seriously. I realise that my entries are rough and ready; I don’t have Seth Godin‘s conciseness, Chris Brogan‘s punch or Jeremiah Owyang‘s insight (especially with my comparison above, for which I truly apologise) but even with my willingness to keep entries in a natural state – thorns, weeds and crawling critters included – it takes some time to cook up. And unfortunately, I don’t believe most marketing teams generally allocate enough simmering time for even the best in-house blogging god or goddess to write something meaningful.

I’m a strong believer that in every business there is a story worth telling, a mistake worth owning up to, a success worth sharing. Or just a story. A really honest, truthful story that allows customers, prospects, fan boys and haters to see behind the marketing pitch. A blog is so much more than a home for your latest press release.

So marketing managers, directors and CEO’s, please remember that beyond the board reports and year-on-year growth charts are human stories which will help your users, current and future, love you more and become true evangelist for your brand, if only you’d open the door and let them in. How good is your relationship with your users? Honest enough to let you see without makeup on Sunday morning?

and they say that the truth will set you free
but then so will a lie
it depends if you’re trying to get to the promised land
or you’re just trying to get by

ani difranco (listen)

Open letter to PR agencies: It doesn't have to be that way, you know…

Recently, there has been a rise in the number of press releases I’ve received, an observation many bloggers around me have confirmed. But these PR emails are accompanied by intros as uncomfortable as the teenage “Will you go on a date with me? Yes/No” scribbled by the nerdy girl who sat next to you in geography class.

Nerdy Nancy wants to go on a dateRanging from impersonal emails to borderline harassment calls and Facebook messages, there just seems to be a plague of poorly thought-out attempts at exploiting the circles of bloggers who are gaining influence in the media by the day.

According to Forrester Research, the general public doesn’t seem to trust us bloggers just yet, and might think we’re still total nerds, but it doesn’t matter, PR agencies have got a total crush on us.

So this is my open letter to all PR agencies we have had the (dis)pleasure of dealing with recently.

“Dear PR agency guys & gals,

We’re all very flattered that you fancy us now that we’ve gone from being viewed as the losers who spend too much time on their computers to being the cool kids with influence. We appreciate it’s difficult to accept that bloggers were never in the curriculum in your marketing theory classes, and that you feel the need to poke us with a stick while observing us from a distance, like you’re the Steve Irwin of public relations and we’re a wounded python. But I’ll let you in on a secret: We’re actually really quite normal. And we don’t even mind being treated that way.

I won’t be pointing fingers and naming names today, but I’ll use a few examples to illustrate where you unnecessarily complicated your own lives recently. If you recognise yourself, feel free to either take it as a call to action to review the way things are done, or roll your eyes and mutter that I’m an idiot. Don’t worry, I’ve got thick skin. But if you choose to do the latter, I may just name and shame you next time you stick your foot in stinky cow dung.

Exhibit A: The Lazy Approach

“Hi,

Please see below for news on this weeks launch of the [Product Name], which I thought would be of interest for the blog.

Let me know if you need any more info.

Thanks,

R”

Now, not only did I not give permission to R’s agency to email me, but R here failed to call me by my name (it’s in my email address, can’t miss it), use my blog’s name (also in my email address) and didn’t notice that I’d already reviewed the viral campaign for the product they’re pawning. Already, 3 strikes, you should be out.

Below that dull message is an equally dull press release, using 3 different fonts and sizes, a LOT of ® characters, no real call to action, no freebies/samples offered and a link to an entirely Flash-based website with no HTML alternative. What the hell good is all that tripe when I’m on my iPhone?

Honestly how this PR agency received two PR Consultancy/Agency of the year is beyond me.

Exhibit B: The psychopath

Blogger pal receives mail from PR agency who wants them to show up at a product launch in exchange for a measly fee and liveblog the event like it’s the Spice Girls’ reunion tour. Blogger takes offense (rightly so) at the suggestion that his readership can be bought for the price of a cheap pair of shoes and chooses to ignore PR agency.

PR agency follows up deluge of pushy emails with “Email broken – Msg me your phone #. Love facebook!” via social networks. Next thing you know, they’ll be outside knocking at the window as he gets out the shower.

Creepy. Not good. Sometimes, the non-verbal signal should be enough to tell you to back off.

Exhibit C: The foreign agency

“Hi,

Hope you would forgive the intrusion.

We have been working on this for a couple of months now and are NOW live. Allow me to present Plooshh [name changed for anonymity] – why the extra ‘h’? We think it’s sexy! We think it gives you an extra H – oops, ‘extra EDGE’ we mean. :)”

And it continues on for two full screens worth of awkwardly friendly banter, filled with bright coloured large fonts, caps-lock sentences and extraneous exclamation marks. The English flip-flops between too formal and chat-speak, a bit rough ’round the edges yet endearing.

Exhibit C is the product of an Indian agency jumping head-first into Web 2.0. Nothing wrong with their pitch, everything strikes me as being done textbook-style, ticking every box. But it’s soulless. Again, there’s no attempt to get to know the bloggers they approach, opting for a scattergun mail-out. Throw enough stuff at the wall, something’s bound to stick.

While this wasn’t a particularly thrilling email, I suspect that once these guys catch on to the nuances of public relations in the new media age, their willingness and motivation might allow them to overtake many Western agencies who otherwise had a headstart in the game.

Jury’s Verdict:

Toilet cat is guilty! PR agencies are too!While a few PR agencies have embraced social media and are actively engaging with the communities their clients have an interest in, most have totally blown it so far. They’re as guilty of carelessness as this cat is of drinking out of the toilet bowl.

But hope is not lost. Assuming said agency is willing to put some elbow grease into their day’s work, I dare say there is a huge amount of potential for a beautiful relationship to blossom between PR people and bloggers.

So dear PR guys and gals, behave in a natural and human way; you’ll resonate emotionally with us. Emotional resonance is invaluable; we feel that we can become friends and are far more willing to listen to you, even when the product you’re pitching isn’t 100% on target.

I appreciate that we are the means to an end, helping you reach the (sometimes unrealistic) targets set by your client, but remember that we’re all human – yes, even us weirdo bloggers – so treat others as you would like to be treated and we’ll be more than happy to give you a hand.

In Summary

Your future cheat-sheet.

Do…

  • Have a Twitter account or personal blog where we can find out about the real you.
  • Have a product geek or evangelist we can speak to and quiz without getting the canned marketing answers (Carphone Warehouse and O2, I’m looking at you, guys. You could have definitely done with a public-facing real-person on the days surrounding the iPhone launch.)
  • Participate in events in an altruistic way every so often. We’ll get to know each other, and it’s bound to be good for your karma.
  • Put some chili in your cornflakes; By that, I mean, have genuine energy and passion about your client’s product. If you don’t get up in the morning loving your job, maybe you need to find something else to do.

Don’t…

  • Try to buy our participation to your event. Telling me you’ll pay £150 to show up on Thursday morning with a video camera for a “secret launch” isn’t social media, it’s cheap labour and fake hype.
  • Send us a stock press release with an intro that betrays you’ve never even looked at our blogs
  • Always play it so safe that we’d rather read the back of the cereal packet than your press release. Have some balls, and hey, have some fun!
  • Don’t run with scissors Be afraid of asking a couple of bloggers for a pint to bounce some ideas. Most of them will be happy to help you out!

I’d love to hear what PR agencies or other bloggers would like to add to this. How’s your PR-to-blogger relationship going?

With much love & geekery,
Vero”

Aroma-first thinking

What’s the first thing you notice when you approach a Starbucks store? Almost always, it’s the aroma. Even non-coffee drinkers love the smell of brewing coffee. It’s heady, rich, full-bodied, dark, suggestive. Aroma triggers memories more strong than any of the other senses, and it obviously plays a major role in attracting people to our stores.

Keeping that coffee aroma pure is no easy task. Because coffee beans have a bad tendency to absorb odors, we banned smoking in our stores years before it became a national trend. We ask our partners to refrain from using perfume and cologne. We won’t sell chemically flavored coffee beans. We won’t sell soup, sliced pastrami, or cooked food. We want you to smell coffee only. [Solving Starbucks Problems, Idea Sandbox]

However, since Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz said this, things have changed. Coffee comes pre-ground, “FlavorLock” packaged for a longer life and, in some regions, food is being cooked within the store. The smell of fresh coffee, which used to wrap itself around you, inviting you inside, isn’t as omnipresent as before. Where’s the aroma? Where’s the theatre of beans being ground daily in front of you?

There’s no use pretending, human beings are all but rational, and your products need to have a spark that makes us feel special – whether it’s the aroma wafting from your bakery or coffee shop, the handcrafted feel of your beauty products or the shine of your electronics.

What are the key emotional deciding factors for your product or service? Why did your customers cross your doorstep the first time?

No aroma, or no enticing factor, means that no new customers being led in, but it also means no emotional reminder for your previously loyal users. The business decisions you make shouldn’t steer you away from the source of that emotional tie. Your Aroma doesn’t have an ROI attached to it, but you need to take it in account when making decisions. Don’t compromise on it.

We love to believe in stories that match our worldview. We like to buy from our local cheese shop rather than buying it pre-packed from the supermarket, even if it involves going out of our way on the way home. It’s more “real” and we feel we’re helping local business. Sometimes, that worldview is a romanticised truth. We like to think of Starbucks as fair trade, even though most people order regular non fair trade coffee.

It makes us all fuzzy inside.

So how does your product make users feel fuzzy inside like the smell of fresh brewed coffee in the morning?

[Note: This post was salvaged from a project I started last year I never fully set live, so you may have spotted it before… Still as relevant as ever, though.]

Oh hello there!

I'm Véro - a crafty, knitty, spinny gal who enjoys making (and drinking) a cocktail or three. If you've stumbled here, you might enjoy browsing some of my older posts with the tags over to the right or finding out more about me.

Say hi in the comments or on Twitter! :)

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