What makes unique?

Are you in the business of solutions? Most people are. Everyone solves problems, no one creates them. Everyone claims to be unique.

Is anyone unique any more?


I’m not sure. The Internet, increasing globalisation, macro economics, social media and the rise of the customer are all great levellers.

Think about what unique is:

‘being the only existing one of its type or, more generally, unusual or special in some way’ Oxford English Dictionary

So in trying to distill what you do, or better what you offer, down to a single unique selling proposition (USP), do the words you are using really epitomise what you do, what you offer, who are you, how you come across?

To me unique is about blending a product, service, people and attitude which no other company can provide. Accept that this means 90% of the market won’t be interested. Operate in the niche and seek out customers with a specific, identifable, serviceable – but enduring – need.

Or broadcast to the mass market. The worst, and laziest marketers are those who don’t believe they have competition. But they’ll learn, sooner or later, that they do.

How can you possibly be unique when trying to reach everyone?


Training Day

We’ve all attended dull, uninspiring training sessions. Yet we know that we are more likely to enjoy, learn and apply new techniques and thinking if it is delivered in a more engaging way. (Isn’t this why we naturally migrate towards the visual in all things viral – videos, animations, audio – and then share and discuss it with friends, family and colleagues. Because we want to be associated with the cool?)

I digress. So, how to make training and learning fun?

In preparing for some in-house training sessions, I recalled the learning pyramid I’ve used in a previous life. The statistics that underpin it are staggering.

From this, it is reasonable to deduce that any good training session needs to include a mix of presentation, demonstration and application.

Here’s how I structure even a one hour training session:

1. Introduction and pooled aims (what do attendees want out of it) – this achieves engagement.

2. A quick icebreaker (what do you know) – to establish base level of understanding . Guard against using icebreakers to soften the group socially, this can lead to a lazy session.

3. Provide some brief context (linking to aims and icebreaker) and some definitions.

4. Main presentation/lecture containing the core information you want them to take away. Keep this light and remember, repitition, repitition, repitition.

5. Optional video reinforcement. Ideally something that is either smart, cool or funny works best. Even better if it involves a brand that means something to the assembled group. Don’t run a boring corporate showreel.

6. Application exercise – the core part of the session. Breaking the group into pairs or smaller groups and encouraging them to graple with specific problems. Make it decision and time sensitive, as there is nothing like working under a bit of pressure.

7. Feedback. Ensure there is sufficient time for everyone to get their moment in the sun. It’s amazing how empowering this can make people feel, especially those team members that rarely speak up in group situations.

8. Summary. Throughout, you the trainer, are making notes ready to provide feedback and closing thoughts at the end, reinforcing the messages of the session.

9. Review of aims. Check back to the aims of the session and the content presented and discussed. Offer enough time for questions, either in the group or as a one-to-one.

10. Follow up. Statistics show that learnings tail off dramatically even three months after a training session. To combat these, provide materials, set up a working group and encourage everyone to keep talking and discussing. Ask for evaluation and tailor re-runs and refreshers in the future based on the feedback.

It all takes work, but great teachers and great training sessions are worth their wait in gold, and lead to better informed and motivated teams in your workplace.


10 top recession marketing tips

Recession marketing, bootstrapping, call it what you will. These are difficult times as business buyers shop around for the best suppliers offering the best all-round deals.

The Marketing Assassin blog was spawned in the recession and was a response to the excess and confused marketing that blights our profession.

Most companies don’t have seven [six, even five] figure marketing budgets and can’t count on award winning agencies, so they have to be targeted and smart.

Here is a quick fire list of ten things you should be doing to ensure you give your business the best chance of success, whilst at the same time restricting cost.

1. Apply a metrics-based approach to every marketing project. If an activity doesn’t fit with a business objective, stop it immediately. This is especially relevant to costly advertising plans and trade shows.

2. Cancel magazine and news subscriptions and set up Google Reader RSS feeds and Google Alerts. If articles get placed, buy print quality PDFs and reprints for marketing purposes, it will be cheaper in the long run.

3. Tap into freelancers rather than bulking up on staff. The recession has created a huge and experienced community of talented but displaced creative individuals that can be brought in on short term projects. Use them as required in stead of taking on additional headcount cost.

4. Move any new employees and kit to the ‘cloud’. Consider using free Google docs rather than costly MS Office.

5. Visit your most profitable customers and tell them how much you value them. Create reasons to talk to them and see them more. Present some insight, fresh ideas, act as a connector by facilitating introductions to other clients.

6. Engage / re-engage customers via email. Send an opt in email suggesting you will contact them quarterly and showcase latest work, ideas, industry trends and insight. Remind them what you excel at, and advise them of any changes, improvements and news. A simple html email designed and delivered through a service like Dotmailer will suffice.

7. When you cut back or cancel your advertising plan (point 1), use measurement  as an excuse and adopt a PR based approach instead. PR has longer legs and supports leadership and credibility objectives – essential in the b2b sale.

8. Use existing content. Give lots of presentations? Repackage and host on Slideshare. Add a audio commentary and captions and post to YouTube. Recreate PR as blog posts and white papers. Produce best practice presentations for use as webinars. In essence adopt free to use social media techniques, but the right ones for your business.

9. Use Linkedin. A global network of 80m (stats vary) business people means your future customers, suppliers, freelancers and recruits are all there. Use search filters available for free from the home page.

10. Feed all news, blog content to your website home page to bolster SEO, to your Linkedin company profile page and to a Facebook business page. If you don’t have one of these, set one up, if for no other reason than SEO. (More on Facebook for business in upcoming posts, bookmark the blog now).

Most businesses are working on reduced budgets in 2011 yet have to deliver more just to stand still. Give yourself the best chance by being focused on critical objectives, removing unnecessary cost and stimulating demand in your products and services.

Images: Michael G Holmes, Craven Publishing

How to make a sexy car ad

If, like me, you tend to fast forward through the ads because you watch all your television on a hard disc player such as a Sky+ box, it may take a while for interesting ads to register on your radar.

Advertising, the original interruption marketing tool, still has validity as it goes more direct response and increasingly viral in reach.

But remember that if you add advertising (in whatever format) to your marketing toolkit, it is used to specifically raise awareness and bring about some kind of response. For that to happen it needs to be relevant, it needs to resonate with and engage your target audience.

It is for these reasons that I liked the recent Volvo ‘How to make a sexy car ad’ when I stumbled upon it this week.  because it tackles the conventions of the traditional car ad head on, in a thoughtful, creative and engaging way.


Five ways to think more creatively about your marketing

Whether you are in the creative business, have a team to motivate or customers to provide creative solutions for, thinking creatively is essential.

But a longer than usual holiday period, coupled with short days, miserable weather and clients and customers slow to get off the mark can all contribute to quickly  stagnating creative thinking.

In the constantly switched on world, how can we create time and space for ourselves to think creatively about the challenges we face and break the cycle of thinking inside the box?

Here are five techniques that I use, maybe they will be useful to you.

1. Upset your daily / weekly routine: Once a week take a different route, look out the window. Take the train or bus rather than the car. If you can, walk. Look at the billboards, bus stops and read the local free paper. The objective is to come off ‘autopilot’ and take in the creative stimulus around you.

2. Use your time more efficiently: Take your lunch hour and use it productively. Set up a Google Reader account, sign up for some blogs and news feeds related to your sector, your speciality and your interests. Or join some Linkedin groups and join the discussions. Or scan content on YouTube or Slideshare. The point of these activities are to open yourself up to available free content and influence.

3. Read something new: Is there anything you don’t understand or want to understand in more detail? Learning stimulates the grey matter and can be powerful in equipping you with greater capacity to think more creatively in the future. Hit the Amazon bestseller list – it doesn’t have to be a business or self help book, but they might be a good start. The reason to consider this is to learn from others.

4. Handle meetings differently: Creative brainstorms can actually inhibit creative thinking. Why? Dull, uninspiring boardrooms are not generally conducive to free flowing ideas, time pressures are usually set, and the loudest or most senior people in the room usually dominate the discussion. Break these conventions be setting an agenda, dishing out the brief in advance, relocating the meeting to a coffee shop, park, museum, the client’s offices and encouraging the involvement of all not the will of the chairperson. The reason for going to these lengths is to achieve creative ‘breakthrough’.

5. Look at brands you like and learn from them: Who is to say that b2b packaging companies, food service or building product manufacturers can’t learn from high profile b2b, b2c or fmtg brands? That professional services businesses can’t learn from coffee chains? What do the brands you trust do well? How do they treat you, how do they communicate, how do they encourage you to engage further and deeper?

Which ever way you view it, creativity is a key differentiator, and the ability to quickly and decisively tackle complicated communications challenges demands creative thinking.

What do you think?

Image MessageMarketing

How to develop influential presentations

I stumbled across some interesting presentations on Slideshare this weekend and thought I’d share. I really feel that if you give presentations of any kind to any audience, regardless of your experience, there is something here for everyone.

This first takes on the ‘keep it simple’ approach and after some strategic preamble, gets really interesting at the slide 43 where it melds content with design. As I’m preparing for a number of conference presentations and lectures in 2011, slides 43-71 are consequently invaluable.

Then I stumbled across PresentationZen, a very simple but very effective presentation summary.

Finally, I happened upon Peter Walker’s ‘The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs’. Quite simply awesome. So much interesting stuff in here, but for me, it’s the central messages about planning and practice that really resonate.

What are you going to do differently?

If your company works to a January-December financial calendar, you are probably knee deep in planning right now. But have you learned from what happened this year, how you went about it, how you motivated your team, how you did or didn’t engage your customers?

There is an old saying ‘if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got’.

If your 2011 is about getting bigger, delivering more, being more efficient, being more creative, being more attentive, protecting and defending what you have, you need to be approaching things in a different way. Here’s some things to get you started.

#1  Think creatively: Take your planning meetings and brainstorms out of the stuffy confines of your boardroom and stage them somewhere else – a shopping centre, a museum, a park – anywhere where there is new and unusual creative stimulii.

#2 Have a campaignable idea: Create a hook on which all marketing activity can be hung, and stick to it for one year. Familiarity pays off. Advertising theory suggests people need to see an ad five times before it registers and stimulates an action.

#3 Be realistic: Shooting for the stars in the current downturn creates unnecessary pressure on your most precious assets – your people. Set achievable targets that are rooted in market insight not a standard 5-10% which can’t be validated.

#4 Know where you’re coming from: Appreciate what made your business successful and stick to it. Sure, there are opportunities to diversify along the way, but the best companies stick to what they’re good at, and deliver it consistently.

#5 Know where you’re going: Document and share company goals with everyone in the organisation, your partners, suppliers, customers and prospects. Writing it down and communicating puts it out there and gives it the best chance of happening. An idea only becomes so once it is shared with others.

#6 Plan for the best case: In an ideal world, where budget is not an issue, what do you want to achieve and how would you achieve it?  Scale this back within your resource to ensure your activities align with your business goals and where you are going. Be encouraged that the tactics don’t change even if the tools might.

#7 Think measurement: Attribute marketing investment directly to leads generated by mapping the process through given channels and tools. Digital inevitably works best, but specific landing pages can be set up to support all types of activity.

#8 Getting management buy in. Present your plan passionately to your management team as if it is your own business. Sounds obvious but most employees without a shareholding don’t think like this. Nothing achieves engagement better than passion, commitment and belief.

So, we come back to the burning question. What are you going to do differently next year?

Five questions you should ask before promoting or redesigning your website

If you’re anything like me, you don’t have a lot of time to spend on websites that can’t quickly and easily communicate what they’re about.

Here are five things you should check on your website before you spend any more time promoting it or in advance of a redesign. If you can’t subjectively view your site through the eyes of a customer, ask your partner, mother, neighbour instead. Do it today, the results might surprise you.

1. Can I identify who the company is if I enter the site on any page? This will often happen through search. Prominent logos and strap lines should appear on every page.

2. What does the company do and what does the website offer me? What information, downloads, transactional opportunities exist for me?

3. What can I do now that I’m here? What action prompts are in place – can I watch a video, open a brochure, sign up/register, visit a blog or news page, visit a store?

4. Where I can get started? Which elements from the above can I start looking at now? (Holiday and hotel sites are adept at encouraging instant search in their navigation).

5. Why should I stay? What benefit can this site / business provide for me?

If you’ve just discovered you’re in the business of ‘total integrated efficient streamlined solutions’ you probably  don’t need me to outline the damage this messaging has been doing to your business over time. You’re not alone. The good news though, is that you can do something about it right now.

Remembering who you work for

The peculiar practices in some markets can often leave us thinking that companies don’t always have their customers in the forefront of their minds.

This seems a strange thing to say but we see it day in, day out. Product/service led companies create something and then try to push it onto a market segment they think will benefit from it. They have an agenda to sell as many widgets, insurance policies, after care plans as possible and work diligently to achieve that objective.

Take the residential property market. Estate agents are contracted by a property owner to sell a property for the best possible price. Normally on a % commission of the final selling price, it stands to reason that it is in the agent’s interest to secure the best possible price. In most cases they have also advised on the price they property should list for.

But this is rarely the case. In fact, rather than working to achieve the best possible price and a win-win for themselves and their customer, some work their contact list, encouraging interesting parties to view and then make any offer below the price requested.

This is reinforced by the advice found on the nation’s favourite property TV shows, dedicated property channels and websites, where there is now a prevailing tendency towards never offering the full asking price.

The lesson: Remember who you work for. Don’t act like an estate agent!

Why? They don’t have their customers – the sellers who write the commission cheque – foremost in their mind. They chase the fast, easy buck, they rail road people into viewing properties they don’t necessarily want to view, and they create the disconnect between asking price and offer price.

Harsh? Maybe. But grounded in experience. Have your say?

Recession marketing

In an interview with Marketing magazine, Nick Smith at Accenture talked recently about the four key things that businesses should be focusing on in order to safely navigate the recession. They are value, innovation, expectation and organisational ethos. Here’s my take.

1. Value Fundamentally are you overpriced for what you offer? What do you stand for and offer? What service, experience, add ons and extras can you or do you provide that make your offer more competitive from a total package perspective?

How does your value proposition sit when compared with the competition and the perceptions of your customers?

2. Innovation Despite recessionary economics suggesting that we ‘regress’ and seek out brands that remind us of more prosperous times, there is a data supporting the proposition that we’re attracted to innovation and the idea of the new, exciting and different. There are countless examples of companies and products (including Apple) that start up in recessions, capture the imagination of an audience and ride it out.

Where you can innovate in your product/service without losing focus? Perhaps on value?

3. Experience/expectation Nick says high performing companies understand the customer experience. What is undeniable is the power of the Internet, broadband, the mobile revolution and the viral nature of communications now means that businesses have to think much more strategically about their marketing communications. Brands like Vodafone map brand touch points well to ensure consistency and clarity.

Have you mapped your brand touch points? How do customers find you, engage with you, convert and keep coming back for more?

4. Organisational ethos With the Internet at the heart of everything, non responsible behaviour, or poor or non-response when a brand is under the spotlight, is amplified. Strategy, speed, impact and a feel for emerging technology are all key if today’s marketers are to make the most of opportunities and to head off potential crises.

Is your organisation ahead of the curve or behind the times? Surviving the recession depends on it.

Image watblog.com