What’s wrong with the digital marketing industry?

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It’s almost four months now that I’ve been ‘out of the agency game’.This unprecedented chunk of time has provided a fantastic opportunity to stand back and reflect on my fifteen-plus years in the sector with a clear head and obtain some valuable perspective.

I was in my late 20’s back in 2001, when Coolpink was born. The business would eventually grow to employ some thirty-plus full time members of staff and reach close to £3m per year in income, becoming one of the leading regional agencies in the rapidly emerging ‘digital marketing’ sector.

At the time the two founding partners, sitting across a desk from each other in a cheap, by-the-month rented office the size of a broom cupboard, had pretty much zero business experience. Yet we were about to attempt to build a business in a sector which had, up until that moment, not previously existed. Just in case that wasn’t daunting enough in itself, the sector itself would then continue to relentlessly change, evolve and fragment at an alarming rate over the coming 13 years, requiring constant innovation in terms of products and services offered and frequent strategic ‘adjustments’ in terms of the overall direction of travel and value proposition, just to remain relevant.

Quite an ask, on reflection.

No wonder it was such an exhilarating and, at times, exhausting ride. So here I am, writing this, a few days before my forty-third birthday. I’m older, certainly much greyer, and hopefully at least a little wiser. So, back to the question I posed at the top of the page. ‘What exactly is wrong with the digital sector? In fact, what gives me the right to suggest that there is anything fundamentally wrong at all?

Well, for a start, I’ve been there myself, too many times. I’m ashamed to say that, irrespective of how much we cared – and we did care passionately – or how hard we worked – and we did work extremely hard – in far too many cases we were simply incapable of delivering a satisfactory end result for the client. Project after project overran on deadlines and budgets, bleeding cost and resources – both the client’s and ours. Relationship after hard-won relationship damaged over and over again, and then finally lost completely, due to a perpetual failure to deliver on time, on spec and on budget.

It didn’t matter how hard we worked, how many systems we tried to implement, how many painful changes of staff and management we underwent. Nothing seemed to fix the issues, and the mistakes just kept on piling up. Change the people: same result. Implement new processes: same result. Pretty bleak summary, and hard words to write, but that’s the truth.

In the end, that’s the core reason the business failed. We may have looked great and sounded great; and we certainly had a fantastic ability to read the market and get to the heart of a client’s requirements. We produced great creative work and pitched very convincingly. Strategically, we were bang on the money. We were extremely warm and personable, likeable even. We genuinely believed in what we were doing and wanted to make a real difference. We wanted to be – and believed that we could be – part of a truly great business: an award winning business: something to be genuinely proud of.

Why the baring of the soul? This isn’t about a public catharsis. I’ve had four months to contemplate, lick my wounds and reflect. As I said, perspective is a wonderful thing. The point is; well, actually there are a couple of points…

Immediately off the back of Coolpink I was approached personally by several former clients, looking for solid recommendations as to where to take their business in the wake of our sudden collapse. It suddenly became apparent to me that I couldn’t offer a single suggestion that I would be willing to personally endorse one hundred percent: a pretty damning indictment.

Zero sour grapes, you understand. I would have loved dearly to help these people out – some of whom I had built business and personal relationships with, going back over 10 years. The simple, shocking fact was that, during over fifteen years in the sector, I could count the number of positive digital agency-client experiences that I was aware of on one hand. Well, less than one hand, to be honest.

Every story that we heard from clients coming to us for help was the same. Appling experience, budget overruns, projects delivered late and full of bugs and then taking months to get right, if ever. It was all scarily familiar, given our own previous experiences. All the while we’d be praying, vowing to each other that this one, this time it would be better. This time, with this iteration of the team, with this client, with these new measures and processes in place we would make it happen. And no. Repeat ad infinitum.

Now, there are plenty of good people in this sector, don’t get me wrong. Passionate, hardworking, committed people, even genuinely talented people. You’ll find them in abundance. A couple here: one or two there. Some businesses maybe even have more than their fair share of them, as I know we did from time to time, over the years. Yet despite this abundance of talent, commitment and hard work, the vast majority of stories still remain the same.

Agency X has just lost XYZ client because the project overran by almost 100k and is 12 months late. Agency Y delivered the project 18 months late. We had four different project / account managers in a twelve month period. Etc. etc.

Some may think that I’m exaggerating. Others might be inclined to suggest that I am just bitter and that Coolpink was a particularly poor business, with a worse track record than our peers. Maybe: maybe not.

The point remains that this doesn’t seem to be working anywhere near as well as it should be by now. After all, the sector is well over fifteen years old and one might reasonably expect some basic level of competency and professional standards to have emerged by now. But that’s not my experience. Nor is it the experience of many clients out there, even today.

This very morning I met with the senior team of a successful regional retail business, to talk about the ongoing development of their digital strategy. Upon enquiring about the existing website, guess what? Delivered a staggering eighteen months late and so far over budget that it almost sank the agency responsible, which has now been replaced by another development partner. And this a relatively straightforward Magento based ecommerce site.

I feel for the client, I feel for the agency, but most of all, frankly, I’m just sick of hearing this kind of thing. Simple as that. It just isn’t good enough.

So, why isn’t it working?

Well, if you think back to what I said at the beginning  of the piece about how we got started in business, I think you’ll find several clues. Businesses in this sector are typically started – and therefore subsequently run – by the enthusiastic, the entrepreneurial: generally relatively young and for the most part woefully inexperienced. I’m including my younger self in that description – and that’s the man/woman at the top, leading the organisation! Learning on the job is the order of the day. You find help, guidance and support where you can, but mostly figuring it out as you go is all you can really do. Because no one has actually done this before. There is no body of experience to draw upon, because none of this existed fifteen years ago. This is the first generation. The pioneers. And being a pioneer is a lot about trial and error.

Unfortunately, as in most pioneering endeavours, there are likely to be many, many versions of what doesn’t work discovered before folk start to get the hang of things and delivering reliable results.

Lower down we have the ranks of even younger, even less experienced account managers, junior account managers, account executives, and on and on; all passionate to the core, idealistic and willing to work until they drop. Often with only a couple of years out of university under their belts, they are naturally sociable, naturally ambitious and naturally mobile – both geographically and career wise. In short, they tend to move around quite a bit, given the slightest incentive – such as a recruiters promise of an extra couple of grand in the pocket and a fancy new job title. Many haven’t really found their calling yet, but simply love the agency life for all of its drama and excitement.

So, we have an industry of relatively young, inexperienced business owners and second tier managers learning how to run a business on the job, the pioneers: we have teams of even younger, enthusiastic but inexperienced and often commercially naïve support staff, and on top of all of this we have an entire industry which is itself continually undergoing really huge, fundamental changes as we all try to figure out exactly where this whole ‘digital thing’ is going.

Consumer behavior changes practically by the month. New channels emerge before marketers can even begin to understand what they are and how they impact their business. Agencies have to try to react by developing new products and services, new value propositions. There is little opportunity to become ‘expert’ you have to react to the demands of the market place or face becoming redundant. There are no experienced staff to hire. No experts to consult. No body of knowledge as how this should be done. No best practice to adhere to.

I’ve already written about the ‘rise of the content marketing expert’ and I certainly am of the opinion that here is a LOT of smoke and mirrors going on out there at the moment. It’s the next wave. People can see it coming and they are desperate to grab a piece and not be left stranded, clinging to an outmoded business model. PR experts scramble desperately to reposition their businesses and themselves as content marketing gurus. SEO companies realise that content is the future of search and have to set about disassembling and repurposing their huge link building teams, who become, overnight, social media experts, content marketers, authors and campaign managers. Digital agencies start to properly grasp the significance of Martin Sorrell’s ‘Mad Men vs Maths Men’ debate and realise that, unless they start to understand marketing in a much broader sense, their own futures are no more certain in the short to medium term.

And that’s the industry. It’s like Thomas Eddison attempting to invent the electric light bulb; only someone keeps swapping all of the available raw materials and fundamentally alters the basic laws of physics every six-to-twelve months or so. All in all. Not an easy task.

So what’s the answer?

At this point, the best answer that I can offer is the same one I gave to those former clients and friends looking for recommendations, which was to take all of this completely to heart. Realise what you are dealing with. Realise that this is a young, inexperienced and rapidly evolving industry. These people may look confident and they all seem to know what they are talking about. No doubt they do. But talking and doing are very different things. For some, this could be the very first project of this size (or type, or based on this particular technology platform) that they have ever been responsible for; possibly even involved in at all.

If I were you, I’d check those agency credentials carefully. Do your due diligence thoroughly – on both the business and the individuals working on your particular project. What is their real level of experience in this particular role, technology, medium, etc.? Not that you should expect to find out that it’s very much. As I said, things change quickly in this industry and experience in anything is pretty thin on the ground, especially when dealing with recent grads, or people migrating into digital from more traditional marketing roles. Usually, by the time they’ve started to figure out how to do it, no one wants it any more and it’s time to lean the next thing.

Maybe they have done it all before (with what results, I wonder?) but have only recently joined the current team. Either way, keep your eyes open and your ears peeled for the faintest whiff of uncertainty or deviation from the plan. Few agency staff at any level will have undergone any professional training, most are completely self taught – on the job – which means your job, in this case. Be prepared to invest serious time, effort and energy alongside your chosen agency partners in order to keep a very close eye on progress. Demand frequent, up to date project progress reports and financial updates.

‘Exercise extreme caution. Don’t assume anything is naturally going to go completely according to plan. Don’t expect this to go smoothly without you having to get hands-on and closely manage the entire process.’

And finally, to all of you agency owners and staff out there: this is not meant to be a criticism of your work and efforts.

Far from it. I know exactly how hard you all work and I know how much everyone in this sector cares. It just tears me up and frustrates the hell out of me when I see the same mistakes that we made, being made over and over again. So this is meant to be more of a gentle provocation to take a long hard look in the mirror, as I have been doing, and face some unpleasant facts.

I for one would love to see a happy, healthy, thriving agency community continue to blossom in the region: one with happy clients, gleefully singing the praises of their chosen partners to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen. It certainly is a nice dream.

And (adopting the tone of a grizzled American frontier old-timer) when that time comes as I’m certain it eventually will, I hope those agencies of tomorrow will think kindly of those early pioneers – both clients and agencies – who sacrificed so much in blood, sweat, tears and hard cash, to lay the foundations for a better future.

Admen.

 

Is your web technology project doomed to failure before it even begins…?

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When it comes to digital projects of all shapes and sizes, why is it that so many go so spectacularly, horribly wrong?

The sector is littered with disgruntled clients and the aftermath of projects that were badly conceived and badly planned; essentially doomed to fail from the very outset. Sadly it seems that this isn’t a rarity. A lot of clients that I speak to – most, in fact – have a horror story or two of their own to tell and many are left wondering which way to turn, in order to find a reliable supplier. Meanwhile, we have a thriving digital sector full of passionate, determined and in some cases, talented individuals all hell bent on doing the best possible job. Something just isn’t adding up.

 So what’s going wrong?

Well, a lot of it has to do with the level of experience of the actual teams delivering these projects. The prevailing pattern over the last 10+ years has been for small, relatively inexperienced ‘digital agencies’ or ‘web development’ companies to attempt to run these projects in-house.

Invariably these businesses lack serious, experienced project managers and business analysts. Oftentimes the business will undertake work using technologies or in sectors in which it has little to no prior experience. Couple this with young, inexperienced account managers and development teams constantly in flux, resulting in poor continuity of communication and this indeed looks like a recipe for almost certain failure. This just wouldn’t happen in other sectors – at least not to this extent – but in digital it’s pretty much the modus operandi.

How can I possibly say this? Well, I’ve certainly been there myself too many times in the past. The typical new client-agency relationship runs something along these lines: senior team does a fantastic job up front in terms of nailing the strategy and winning the business (because those are the guys who really ‘get it’) but when it comes to handing over to the (usually far less experienced) delivery and account management teams, things start to come undone; often rapidly.

A customer centric approach to delivering technology projects

After watching all of this go down I do feel that something very important has been lost along the way. Often times organizations seem to lose sight of the fact that that the most important people in any technology project are the end users – your customers.

Before starting to talk about technology, we should focus 100% of our time, effort and energy into understanding and defining precisely what constitutes an outstanding online experience for your target audience.

Only through developing a deep understanding of the business, the sector and your customer can we begin to design appropriate user interfaces and experiences. How does mobile fit into the picture? What about Social? Tablets? How do the customers research products and solutions before making a purchase decision?

Avoiding premature obsolescence

Once we have answers to these fundamental questions we can begin to specify the most appropriate suite of technologies to meet the needs of your audience in a seamless, fully integrated manner. What works and what doesn’t. What’s easy to integrate with and what isn’t and in fact is going to cause us nightmares for years to come.

The fact is that technology in this space moves at a frightening pace. Yesterday’s ‘enterprise solution’ is tomorrow’s junk. Anyone fancy a shiny new Flash based website? How about we build you something in ColdFusion?

Excellence in execution

Irrespective of the rigorous and insightful work done up front to define the proposition, it’s most often at the delivery stage where things start to come unstuck. Project slippage, missed deadlines, missing functionality, endless bugs, endless headaches and enormous, unnecessary pressure for all concerned. Not to mention the potential for significant financial losses on both sides.

A commitment to best in class

It’s therefore absolutely essential to select the most appropriate delivery partners to fulfill the needs of the project.

Here’s a simple set of criteria for partner selection that, even if you take nothing else away from this, I would suggest you adopt to qualify any potential supplier in this space.

  1. Extensive experience with this specific technology platform – including multiple live examples backed by testimonials from happy clients
  2. Size and experience of the team that will be implementing our project.
  3. Availability and flexibility of resource
  4. Evidence of a repeatable, solid project planning process
  5. Ability to support the project post launch.

Seems pretty simple, yet in my experience you would be amazed at how little due diligence actually seems to take place around these issues in actual fact. Don’t fall into that trap! Do your homework and check references carefully!

How to get it all wrong:

There are of course an almost infinite number of ways to get it badly, horribly wrong when it comes to technology projects. In order to save everyone some time, I’ve compiled the following list of fundamental ways in which you can almost certainly guarantee a complete and utter fiasco – irrespective of the technology platform or delivery partner involved!

Choose the technology platform too early. This one alone will sink most projects before they even get started. Classically, this often occurs when the boys from IT get involved too early in a project and start getting excited about technology platforms. Often times, once you have completed the planning and requirements gathering stage you will inevitably discover that something just doesn’t fit, but by then we are several months and usually several tens-of-thousands-of-pounds down the road. It’s a nasty and unpleasant route back from here, with the likely potential of a fundamental re-think of the entire piece (re-scope, re-budget, re-timeline) required in order to get things back on track. Lovely!

Greatly underestimates the scale of the project and the amount of internal (client side) work required to bring it to fruition, resulting in significant re-scoping and re-planning and re-budgeting multiple times throughout the delivery phase.

Attempt to deliver the ‘build’ phase with limited, relatively inexperienced resource. This may seem reasonable in the early stages of planning the project, but as the scale and complexity grows you will almost certainly struggled to scale the resource to meet the demands of the project. Once the project is live (assuming it ever does go live) what about the issue of dependable support?

So, what’s the answer?

I believe that the ‘digital’ sector still has some way to go in terms of developing the requisite body of experience required to reliably deliver anything above the smallest projects effectively. There are some great people out there, no doubt, but few really great teams and therefore, businesses in this space.

To further compound matters, the labor market is youthful, extremely volatile and salary inflation is rife. People move around frequently. IP and experience is limited at best – and then we have to factor in the aforementioned fact that the underlying technology base is in constant flux, meaning that skills and experience can become obsolete almost as quickly as they are obtained. It’s hard to lock-in the ‘know how’.

In the meantime, agencies should focusing on what they can do – be that up front insight, research, strategy and creative – and perhaps look to work collaboratively with clients in choosing suitably experienced, professional development partners to deliver the build elements of the project where the skills and resources do not credibly exist in-house.

Software development is a very different business to marketing, after all.

From a client’s perspective its all about expectations and due diligence. One thing that I can definitely guarantee for certain is that ‘getting it right’ is not a foregone conclusion, even with a great team in place. Expect to put in significant effort alongside your chosen partners to get to the end result. Plan for contingency. Be realistic about budgets and timescales and try to foster a working relationship based upon honest and open communication as opposed to one based upon threats, bullying and old fashioned ‘beat ‘em up’ techniques as employed by outmoded purchasing departments the world over. In my experience most folks in this sector are a pretty straight bunch and genuinely do want to do the right thing by their clients – who they hope to retain for many years to come!

Irrespective of your choice of platform and partners I of course wish you all the best with your project and I hope that some of what I have said here helps in some small way.

Take care!

Mark.

Mad Men Vs Maths Men

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I was pleased to see WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell recently defending his position on the whole ‘creativity in the age of the maths men’ debate.

Sorrell seems to be right on the money when he states that ‘the future of advertising and marketing services belongs as much to Maths Men (and women) as it does to Mad Men (and women)’.

Naturally this sparked much wailing and gnashing of teeth; largely amongst those unwilling to take the statement at face value and understand (as Sorrel himself has taken great pains to point out) that this does not in any way denigrate the importance of creativity, or the pursuit of that all powerful ‘big idea’.

We’ve seen this debate play out in interesting ways within our own business.

Coolpink as an agency was ‘born’ in the Dot Com days and we spent most of our early years happily building websites and undertaking technology projects. We definitely thought of ourselves as a ‘web development’ company and, to be perfectly honest, had little or no knowledge of or interest in ‘marketing’ in its broader scope. Back then, everything was a bit partisan and very few people involved on either side of the marketing / technology divide had much interest in or respect for their opposite numbers.

We thought all the traditional marketers were luddites for not getting this new fangled digital stuff – and they regarded anyone vaguely involved in digital as a dweeb or a nerd; to be humored at best, but preferably ignored entirely until hopefully they would eventually go away and everything would go back to ‘how it used to be’.

To be entirely fair to both groups, looking back, perhaps neither of us was actually very far off the mark, except that of course digital didn’t go away.

In fact for a while, I’d agree that the balance probably swung a little bit too far towards the realm of the maths men.

Suddenly marketers had access to never-before-imagined levels of data and insight, all at the click of a mouse. The age of UX, Multivariate Testing, Analytics and Conversion Optimization had begun! Books were published and literally millions of studies were undertaken. The web was (and still is) awash with whitepapers and webinars prescribing exactly how to squeeze the last 1/100ths of a percentage point out of your onsite conversion by applying boilerplate ‘best practice’ techniques to web layouts. Everything could be measured and analyzed, right down to the individual click. The maths men were finally calling the shots and having their day in the sun. Hurrah!

Meanwhile ‘creative’ was in danger of turning into nothing more than a glorified exercise in coloring-inside-the-lines; an activity which creative types are of course genetically programmed not to comply with, let alone feel existentially fulfilled by!

Something was wrong. Something essential seemed to be missing among all those ones and zeros.

The answer, of course, lies in exactly what Mr. Sorrell is proposing.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a human; always have been, probably always will be. As a typical human, I like to think of myself as a reasonable, intelligent, rational being. But of course, like all humans, in actual fact nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst my rational brain likes to sift data and carefully weigh its options, my dumb-ass emotions are busy running riot, stirred by an endless stream of conscious and unconscious influences.

Punchy headlines, impactful imagery, stirring music, powerful ideas; all have the ability to unbalance my rational decision making machinery – tilting me haphazardly this way or that – often without me being aware that it’s even happening.

That’s brand. That’s Creative. That’s the power of the Mad Men, working their insidious (not always) subtle magic. You can’t plan that stuff on a spreadsheet. Nor will you find a formula for writing a killer headline in your ‘Best Practice in UX’ book.

So the Mad Men and ‘creative’ are fundamentally important. Agreed. 100%

The only real difference being that, now days, the output of this process is just as likely to be a YouTube clip, Facebook App or Social Campaign as it is a 48 sheet outdoor poster or 30 second TV spot. In fact, more than ever, maybe it’s all of those things.

In short, it’s eminently possibly to create dull, ineffective or just plain rubbish advertising and marketing, irrespective of the deployment channel.

Digital marketing, when powered by powerful insights and outstanding creative, will undoubtedly impact the target audience and drive desired responses. But so will a truly great TV ad.

The future of marketing and advertising really depends upon us completely abandoning our preconceptions about what ‘being creative’ looks like and indeed, who is ‘allowed’ (or expected!) to have creative ideas. Manipulating the medium for maximum effect is right at the heart of the advertising creative approach. Today we have new channels with new rules. Some of the rules that apply to traditional mediums are not going to be directly transferable.

In conclusion, it’s obvious that some old dogs are going to need to learn a few new tricks. But at the same time, let’s not assume that the young guns have all the answers either. Kind of reminds me of the old joke about two bulls on a hill… but probably best if let you look that one up for yourselves!

ZMOT… Zee, What??

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We’ve been banging the ZMOT drum now for quite a while here at Coolpink.

Pretty much every new business meeting, presentation or talk that we give includes a section on the topic and at each I always ‘ask the audience’ if they have come across the concept previously.

It may be surprising to learn that, even today, 90%+ of marketers that we speak to, haven’t. Occasionally there is a vague glimmer of recognition, but on the whole, awareness is still minimal.

This is troubling; given the fact that we are talking about Google, talking about the very future of marketing itself. And, let’s face it; they ought to know a thing or two about it, given the fact that they are, to an ever-increasing extent, creating the agenda!

So, why are people failing to fully grasp the enormous, market-redefining significance of the principals wrapped up in ZMOT?

Maybe that’s the issue. ZMOT is such a big idea, impacting across SEO, Content Marketing, Mobile, Social, PR and even in-store and customer service experiences. It’s everything that your business does, or doesn’t do. It’s how you look, sound and most importantly of all, act across all of these channels. Was the website accessible? Could you be found on mobile search? Was the in-store environment friendly and welcoming? What about after-sales? How do your email communications look, compared to the rest of your marketing activity? How friendly were the people on the phone when I called to ask directions to the store?

All of this stuff, good bad or indifferent, now finds its way into the ZMOT melting pot, gets socialized and shared and becomes part of the decision-making process of your next potential customer.

That’s ZMOT. And its implications for your business are indeed vast and potentially terrifying.

Unless, of course, you are getting things right.

In which case ZMOT becomes your best friend. In this brave new world, good ideas, great products, great, engaging campaigns and great service all become genuinely leverage-able marketing assets; more effective than any passive ‘above the line’ advertising campaign could ever hope to be.

From the consumer perspective this is all great news, of course. The market chooses the products and businesses that it prefers and these are borne up on an ever-increasing tide of essentially free word-of-mouth, peer-to-peer promotion. Advertising throws fuel on the fire, driving in potential new advocates and we have ourselves a genuine virtuous circle of good feelings, increasing sales and happy customers, whom in turn go on to spread the happy word. That’s ZMOT.

Meanwhile, the unscrupulous, the disingenuous, the sub-standard or plain just-not-quite-good-enough fall by the wayside or are publically shamed into either improving their offer or, potentially, withdrawing from the fray for good. Double your ‘advertising’ budget in this scenario and all you are going to achieve is to inform an even larger number of people of exactly how bad and unpopular your offer is, even faster. That’s ZMOT too!

In conclusion, this is all pretty basic stuff. But maybe we’ve forgotten some of the basics.

Marketing 101 tells us that, essentially, ‘marketing is everything’. It’s the product, it’s the service, and it’s the brand. Meanwhile, business guru Peter Drucker famously stated that business could be boiled down to just two fundamental activities, marketing and innovation.

I believe that ZMOT will eventually force business to return to that basic starting point. In too many businesses, marketing has become abstracted; an ‘after-the-fact’ activity, designed purely to try to shift units. As opposed to something fundamentally built-in, the essential reason-for-being, that runs through the very DNA of the business.

We’re seeing this come to pass at an alarming rate. Marketing teams struggle in the face of mounting business-wide obstacles and an ever-increasing mountain of disparaging social commentary, filling up the ZMOT space.

So our message is simply to echo the great Peter Drucker and urge businesses to think long and hard about those two fundamentals.

Continuously strive to understand your consumers and to innovate (i.e. improve) every aspect of your business, your product, and your service. This is, now more than ever, absolutely vital to your ability to survive and prosper in business today.

Get this right and you may never have to worry about ‘advertising effectiveness’ again… all you have to do is start the conversation and watch as ZMOT does the rest.

Content marketing: a new idea, or just another case of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’?

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Content marketing is at the very centre of the ‘new marketing’ ethos: and rightly so. To the modern consumer, compelling, engaging, valuable content is certainly King. And anyway, no one likes those nasty, misleading, uninformative ‘adverts’ do they?

We want facts, substance, honesty and ‘value’ in exchange for our precious attention. Ultimately, if we deem to like you and trust you enough, we may grace you with our patronage. But hey, if you get this right, we may even grow to love you, fight for you, maybe even internalize your values and integrate them with our own sense of personal identity. How’s that for a prize?

Still, I’ve been having a few thoughts recently, which have led me to conclude that maybe ‘content based marketing’ isn’t quite as new, or anywhere near as revolutionary a concept as it currently being touted to be.

If the idea here is to develop ‘valuable’ ‘engaging’ and essentially ‘useful’ content ideas in order to attract and maintain the attention of our desired target audience and to instill in them feelings of trust, loyalty, desire and maybe even, in some cases ‘awe’; in short to powerfully influence them; then we can certainly look a little further back in history than the year 2010 to find some pretty large scale precedents for this approach.

In his book ‘Twenty Ads That Shook The World’ (well worth a read) James Twitchell proposes the fascinating idea that some of the very first – and probably finest – examples of the utilization of paid-for media, designed to impart a message and change the behaviors and beliefs of a target audience, are to be found within early Christian Art.

How about the Michelangelo’s ‘Roof of the Sistine Chapel’ as an exercise in influence via the provision compelling content?

Just think about it for a moment. Are not these awe-inspiring masterpieces, commissioned by the church, nothing more than jaw-dropping examples of ‘content’ on a mind-boggling scale?

Ok, so that’s fairly extreme, but I think still a fair example. Let’s wind the clock forward 500 years or so, to the early 20th Century and take a look at the early days of television advertising and the birth of one of today’s most pervasive and overlooked ‘content marketing vehicles’, the ‘Soap Opera’.

Straight from Wikipedia:

“A soap opera, often referred to simply as a soap, is a serial drama, on television or radio, that features multiple related story lines dealing with the lives of multiple characters. The name soap opera stems from the fact that many of the sponsors and producers of the original dramatic serials’ broadcast on radio were soap manufacturers, such as Dial Corporation, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Lever Brothers”.

Just think of the budgets involved in creating a weekly TV or Radio show. And these things ran for years – decades even – in some cases and were engaged with (semi-religiously) by millions of the ‘target demographic’ – i.e. mainly working class housewives, the desired target audience for the products in question.

If that’s not an example of a large-scale commitment to content based marketing, I don’t know what is!

In fact, every religious leader, despot, dictator, politician, CEO and Marketeer, has used these same tools of influence, in one shape or another, ubiquitously throughout history, from the Nazi’s flirtations with cinematic propaganda to Nike’s latest free personal training app. They didn’t achieve mass buy-in via passive advertising. They employed emotive, highly engaging content based vehicles of various formats, deployed via whatever mediums were the most relevant to reach the target audience.

Anyway, I suppose the point is, by now, well made. For hundreds of years, if not the entire history of mankind (I’m thinking about cave paintings now!), ‘advertisers’ have used combinations of words and pictures – sometimes moving, sometimes static, to create compelling ‘experiences’ aimed at influencing the beliefs and actions of particular audiences.

So, hopefully we can agree that, without question, in the battle for attention and influence, content is, and always has been, King.

My question, or challenge then, is this:

What’s your level of commitment to the content you produce?

Are you, like many, merely paying lip service to the idea of content marketing, seeing it as just another ‘fad’ or at best a small scale, bolt on to your ‘real’ serious marketing activity?

Think about it. Proctor & Gamble perhaps wouldn’t have sold quite so much soap powder if they had limited their activity to the equivalent of asking the office junior to ‘bash out a few tweets’ or commissioning a pointless infographic full of already freely-available industry statistics. Would they?

Sorry, although that may be the sad reality of things within many businesses out there, that does not represent a serious commitment to content marketing!

So in closing, if you are in, or desire to be in, the business of mass influence I would argue that the most effective way to win the hearts and minds of your target audience is to seriously think about making a large scale investment in a compelling content strategy designed to ‘pull’ your audience towards your proposition in droves and to keep them gleefully and eagerly coming back for more, over and over again.

To see how you could embed content marketing into the core of your future marketing strategy, why not try this entertaining little mental exercise.

1. Re-read the above and get excited about what real content could do for your business. This is real marketing. Don’t see it as an optional extra.

2. In your mind, take that big fat above the line budget of yours and cut out a big, juicy slice. I’m talking in the region of 35-50% (no, not the 3% or less that you previously had in mind).

3. That’s a lot of money, isn’t it? Good. Now relax. It’s ok. This is just an exercise. You can easily go back to doing everything the same as before afterwards, if you still think that sounds like a good idea.

4. Now let your self go crazy. Imagine what you could do with that money instead of spending it on passive, ineffective above the line advertising. (Because you already know that response rates are falling across the board, right?)

5. What could you build? What could you create? What would your audience flock towards? What do they need? How could you genuinely utilize those funds to improve or enrich their lives on a daily basis?

6. Relax again.

Hopefully, at the very lest, you now have some potentially interesting, maybe slightly scary ideas swirling around in your head about the true power of content based marketing.

If you’d like to talk to our team to figure out if, or how, this approach could be implemented within your business we’d naturally be delighted to help!

About us:

Working with some of the UK’s biggest brands for over a decade, we’ve established a market leading reputation offering Insight & Strategy, Creative, Digital Marketing, Web Development and CMS, Mobile and Social & PR.

We believe that common sense clouds innovation, so we practice uncommon sense. That people want real information, and that brands which make themselves useful, sell more.

Mark Bower

CEO: Coolpink.net

2012, exploding Comets and the rise of ‘furry’ retail

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Dec 2012 is almost here. It’s certainly been the end of the world for some of the UK’s best-loved retail brands.

And wait, what’s that? Now we have a highly unstable COMET to contend with too! Oh no! If I were you I’d get your running shoes on.

Oh, but then again… umm… where do we go for those, now?

Facetiousness and doomsday predictions aside, this is not shaping up to be a good year for retail: at all.

By as early as JUNE this year we had already lost 47 Brands, threatening the future of 3,673 individual stores and a staggering 44,402 jobs! (http://www.retailresearch.org/whosegonebust.php)

But for many who have experienced the murky inner workings and deeply ingrained plodding pace of change – worthy of an arthritic brontosaurus – inherent in much of the sector over the last 10 years, none of this comes as much of a surprise.

I’ve spent 12 years pulling my hair out at the inexplicable, blinkered reluctance of senior management within some of these businesses to take seriously the seismic changes taking place in consumer behavior. I’d be inclined to say that, given the absence of strategic foresight and a willingness to do something about it, these implosions were nothing short of inevitable. In fact, the bottom line is that they were in fact self-inflicted.

How many marketing managers, directors, CEOs, MDs and COOs have stood by for most of the last 10 years doing literally nothing to fundamentally restructure these businesses to best take advantages of these trends?

I’ve written on the subject numerous times, but now the plop is really starting to hit the fan in a big way. Sadly, I think we are far from seeing the end of this. For many I now think it’s probably too late to turn around the oil tanker. You can’t reverse ten plus years of institutionalised denial in 6 months.

Maybe it’s not all bad though. Whilst the pain on the high street is horrible to watch and we all feel for the jobs of those affected by the closures, perhaps, as consumers at least, we can take some small comfort from the lessons of the past.

When the dinosaurs spectacularly checked out – I believe a Comet was involved that time too – they left behind a void; or to look at it another way, an opportunity; possibly the biggest of all time.

Gradually, as we know, a plethora of smarter, nimbler, smaller and better-adapted beasts emerged to inherit the radically re-shaped landscape.

I can’t help wondering if we are about to witness something similar. Could it be that successful retail business of the future might just have to become warmer-blooded, more intelligent and more socially focused creatures in order to survive?

Kind of a nice thought, isn’t it?

Ps. While I’m thinking, we won the DADI award (http://www.dadiawards.com) for ‘best integrated marketing campaign’ last night for our work with Weber Barbeques over the last 4 years.

View the case study online at http://www.coolpink.net/case-studies/weber

Kipper ties and basin haircuts..

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It’s over 11 years since Coolpink popped into existence back in the heady days of the birth of the ‘web design’ industry and there’s been a lot of water under the bridge in that time. Today the sector feels as vibrant and new as it did back then. Today the news isn’t about websites, flash and HTML but about social, mobile, earned media, apps, gaming, Blippar, Pintrest, etc, etc. the list goes on and on and there is absolutely no sign of a slow down. Young, ambitions upstarts are diving in headlong, starting exciting new businesses springing into life to support all of these emerging markets.

With all of that in mind, now seems a good time to take the broad view of the last ten years or so and see if there is anything that we can learn that may give is some pointers as to the how all of this is going to pan out.

When we started out pre-2000 the worlds of marketing and technology were pretty well divided, with both parties eyeing each other with deep-seated skepticism and distrust. On the one hand you had the IT guys; stereotypically somewhat geeky types who you’d occasionally see shuffling about under a desk, plugging wires into things and generally avoiding social interaction wherever possible. It’s ok, I can say that; I sort of was one of them once upon a time; a long time ago.  Then we had our ‘fluffy’ marketing types; the creative team; all haircuts, trendy clothes and magic markers. The chances of this lot deciding of their own accord to get together in a room to create something useful to the business were pretty much non-existent.

And let’s get something straight. Those of us finding ourselves – presumably by accident – residing on the less glamorous, cool and trendy side of that fence were always jealous of those creative guys! What fun! Wearing jeans and a sweater to work? If you’ve ever wondered why some – not all – (ok most), IT guys are surly and miserable most of the time, don’t get angry, rather pity them and try to remember; it’s usually just some combination of self loathing, crushing boredom and jealousy causing them to behave in such a manner.

So, the stage is now set for the biggest coming together of the two most unlikely sets of business bedfellows since the Romans decided to put the lions and the Christians on the same bill.

Maybe I’m being overly facetious, but I think you see my point. IT despises marketing – particularly creative; meanwhile, marketing folks giggle at the geeks in IT with their 12-year-old-boy basin haircuts, super-hero ties and badly fitting grey trousers. Bingo. Enter the ‘world wide web’ and let the greatest bun-fight in corporate strategic history begin!

And therein lies the nub of the issue that, over the last 12 years, I’ve seen bring project after project crashing to a mangled, bloody, half-assed, badly-implemented, non-conclusion. Or in some cases never get out of the blocks at all.

One client’s internal teams spent 8 years arguing about how best to implement what they referred to as ‘eTrading’. So long in fact that our main point of contact eventually died – possibly on purpose, through sheer disillusionment – and we too eventually ended up resigning the account. I note – with just a hint of vitriol – that they still don’t appear to have ‘eTrading’ up and running today: approximately a further four years later.

How did this happen? Essentially the IT boys terrified the old school, conservative senior management team so badly about the possible security risks of trading online that the plan never got off the ground. And why? Because marketing were looking to outsource the project to a specialist ‘web development company’ (yes, us!) and IT wanted to keep it in house and build it themselves; presumably because it’s a lot more exiting (and better for the CV) to do that than crawling under desks plugging wires into things.

This is far from being the only example that I could discuss of internal IT/Marketing teams practically coming to fisticuffs over web related projects.

Sadly it hasn’t been much better when it comes to looking at the way that agencies have handled their approach to integrating web and digital into their client offerings either; time and time again its offline fighting online for share of the budget. Creative runs off with the brief and tries to do all the ‘fun stuff’ without consulting anyone from the digital side of the conversation until, at some late stage of the game, someone remembers to ask for a quote for ‘someone to build a website’.

Ok, I seem to have ended up getting my pants in a bit of a twist there – BUT – I guess I’ll I’m really saying is, isn’t it time that all of this stopped?

Fortunately I do believe that there is a new age about to dawn. Even my dear old mum, a committed technophobe at 67, is now online. So that’s pretty much ended any discussion about online penetration and demographics.

She watches TV to find out about things she may be interested in, has a poke about on line to do a bit of research and then maybe gets distracted and looks at a few photos of her grandson, or chats with one of her sisters on Facebook for a bit. Just yesterday she bid for – and won – a disability scooter on eBay! Yes, I’ll have to go pick it up in my car, so I guess that’s a true multichannel experience.

Conclusion:

Businesses – and agencies – have absolutely no choice but to rapidly remodel their entire communications strategy to become 100% customer centric and integrated. This means that we – agencies AND businesses – have to eliminate once and for all the petty inter-departmental rivalries of the past; commit to understanding our consumers real behavior patterns in this diverse, complex, multi channel world and get our thinking properly joined up from the outset if we are to stand any chance of keeping pace.

Top management challenge for 2012 and beyond: properly integrate the internal business structure in order to integrate your external communications strategy.

You cannot compete in today’s marketplace with one arm tied behind your back.

Salt and vinegar please!

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I’m delighted to announce that last night at a glamourous, high profile ceremony in central London attended by the cream of the UK’s creative gliterati, our very own, equally glamourous, Sally Aisbitt stepped up to collect up a prestigious ‘Chip Shop Award’ on behalf of the Coolpink team; stealing first prize in the highly competitive ‘Best Use of Plagiarism’ category, beating entries from some of the Nation’s best respected and long established creative workshops. As it happens we had TWO entries nominated through to the finals. Sadly, the other didn’t make it through to win, but hey, this is our first time out and we got a gong, so who’s complaining?

Whilst the Chip Shop Awards is certainly a tongue-in-cheek affair and definitely not to be taken too seriously there is no doubt that the competition is just as fierce as at any other similar industry event. Here is an all-too-frequent chance for the creatives to really let rip without limits. No deadline, no brief and no client breathing down your neck or imposing ‘sensible’ limits. In short, every creative team’s dream!

So, yes, we are pretty chuffed with ourselves. I’ve long believed that we have an amazingly talented, bright, creative bunch of people within the business and to prove on the Nation’s stage that we are every bit as capable of producing ideas as some of the big London outfits is extremely gratifying. And, the best part is, we didn’t even send the best stuff we had because we thought it was too good to ‘waste’ and instead decided to hold some of it back for further development!

So, in a sense, bold as it sounds, it was a win for the second team. Next year we’ll have to really dig deep and see if we can’t bag ourselves the crème de la crème – ‘The Big Chip’.

Until then, here’s a link to the winning entries. Enjoy!

http://www.thedrum.co.uk/news/2011/06/08/22278-chip-shop-awards-2011-big-chip-award-goes-to-topshop-ad/

Digital Social Etiquette Q&A

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Q: How can social media increase a company’s brand exposure?

Social media is an extremely interesting phenomenon, in that its essentially just good old word of mouth but turbo charged via the power of technology.  Therefore, techniques that would have worked well in a traditional media sense can often become extremely effective social media campaigns. What you need more than anything to get social working is something interesting to say! (For interesting read genuinely interesting, funny, shocking, amazing, frightening, etc, etc) It’s extremely difficult to get social media working in any meaningful way if there is nothing that people want to share about your brand. So you have to create great content. Publish a report. Hold an event. Pull off a stunt or a great new business coup. This is where the world of social media blends with the world of PR quite nicely. Anything that would have been a great PR piece is an ideal starting point for a social media campaign. The challenge then is to figure out how to best amplify the campaign via the various social channels available to get maximum exposure.

Q: What is the best way to reach new customers through social media?

There is a saying within the social media community that it’s very difficult to create a community from scratch, but there are existent communities out there surrounding almost any topic or interest that can be tapped into and exploited. That would be a great starting point. But think laterally. If you manufacture pork pies or smoked haddock there may not be a specific community of people blogging about your exact product, but there are plenty of food lovers out there and some very active discussions going on around all aspects of food preparation, recipes, local produce etc that could provide great springboards for your initial forays into the social scene.

Q: Is social media just a tool for brand promotion or can it be used in other ways? 

In a lot of ways I’d probably suggest that brand promotion is perhaps one of the more difficult things to pull off via social media, or at least brand promotion in isolation. Social is fantastic for generating and sharing things like reviews, testimonials and for keeping in touch with existing customers. Of course there is an element of brand promotion in all of those activities, but it’s a much deeper brand experience than just seeing a piece of content and being entertained for a few seconds or minutes. Often we are hoping that existing customers will share their experiences – which is a very powerful way of winning new business, but of course demands that the whole customer experience – from start to finish – was good in the first place! This is why we say that social goes all the way through the business. It shouldn’t really be thought of as just a branding or even just a marketing tool. It can be used as a customer service tool, a research tool and can – and maybe will as we go forward – become one of the driving forces helping us plan the look and feel of our entire businesses around the actual (as opposed to perceived) needs of our customers!

Q: What are the potential pitfalls of social media?

I mentioned earlier that social media is a lot like word of mouth – and they both come in two flavours! Take the old adage that a happy customer tells maybe one or two people whilst a disgruntled or disappointed customer tells 10-15. Now apply the kinds of multiplication factors that technology can bring to the table and you can see how this can go horribly wrong if you upset your lovely new social media aware consumers! Case in point was the famous United Airlines ‘United breaks guitars’ debacle. Whereby a deeply disappointed United passenger decided to write a song about the fact that United Airlines broke his guitar and were ‘reluctant’ to deal with the matter. He then posted this song (complete with accompanying video) on YouTube, where it received over 3 MILLION views in the first 10 days (http://mashable.com/2009/07/15/united-breaks-guitars/) and, as I sit typing this, has now reached 9,388,596 views in total. That’s a lot of musicians not flying on United ever again!

Q: Don’t social media sites such as Facebook carry big risks in terms of reputation – you could be exposed to very public criticism of your products?

In short, yes. And there is nothing that you can do about it. However, this is NOT a reason to stay clear of the social space – far from it. What you need to understand is that, if you are creating bad experiences and upsetting you customers, they ARE going to go online and share this information on blogs, review sites, Facebook, YouTube or wherever they can vent their spleen. The only difference being you will be blissfully unaware about it…. Until it’s too late!

The key here is to be AWARE of what is being said about your brand

in these channels. First of all, listen. You can use social monitoring tools these days to collate ‘mentions’ of your brand or other key words or phrases across the social media spectrum. Once you understand what the perception is currently, you have a chance to do something about it. In some ways this could be THE single most important use of social media for businesses – to monitor, listen to and respond to chatter that already exists around the brand. This is real time, 100% genuine customer feedback, and it’s all yours for a lot less than the cost of one (usually ineffective and often downright misleading) artificially staged customer focus group.

Q: How can you guard against feeding information to competitors?

That’s a very good question and one that’s not all that easy to answer directly. Anything that you allow into the social space AND a lot of what you don’t publish yourself but others do, is instantly available to millions to share and distribute as they see fit.

I listened to Doug Gurr (CEO of ASDA) speak at a recent Multi Channel Retail event about how social media leaves businesses nowhere to hide. He envisaged a world of ‘total price and service transparency’ driven by social sharing, reviews, price comparison engines and customer testimonials.

In essence, if this really happens, it could change the way that business thinks about marketing and brands completely. With playing fields being levelled to such an extent, true value to the consumer gets put right back at the heart of the organisation. If the product isn’t the best in the market place you won’t be able to charge a premium for it. If your service is second rate, then you will be found out and no one will pay top dollar. The only way to go here is once again to embrace the full impact of customer feedback and do something about it – and quickly!

Never before have consumers had so much power to literally make or break the reputations of businesses almost overnight. No amount of traditional branding or positive PR is going to be able to stem the flow of genuine feedback from real customers. This represents a huge challenge to us all, but also, for those willing to tackle the issues head on and make changes boldly, possibly the most cost effective and exciting marketing tool at our disposal.

Have a Merry Multi-Channel Christmas!

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With Christmas now a mere 12 weeks down the road, this could be the last chance for retailers to make adequate plans for everyone’s favourite annual shop-fest.

We all know that Christmas trading performance can literally make or break the year’s results, or sometimes the entire businesses. Yet I believe that online opportunities are still being massively underestimated – or often times just plain ignored – precisely and ironically due to the heightened focus (not to mention pressure) in other areas.

But what does Christmas mean to your business? Are you set up to capitalise on all the available opportunities? Are you even aware of what those opportunities are – particularly from a digital or multi-channel perspective?

With all of the above in mind, here’s my early Christmas present to you, in the form of my ‘5 top tips for multi-channel festive domination’ in the run up to Christmas 2010.

1. Understand the scale of the opportunity.
Use analytics, research and industry trends in an attempt to properly understand what a multi-channel Christmas 2010 looks like for your business. Too many times opportunities are missed simply because no one in the business really fully appreciates the scale of what is potentially on the table. Believe me, spending the last 12 years in digital I’ve seen this happen A LOT and it would make me weep in frustration – if I hadn’t already run out of tears many, many years ago. Please, please take the time to understand what all those numbers could mean to your turnover and more importantly, bottom line, figures for the year.

2. Plan to out-think the competition this year…
Fortunately it’s not too late to get back in the game – although you have left it a little late to get started. Take a long, hard look at your Christmas plans and figure out how a multichannel approach could help you to amplify and compliment your existing silly season marketing efforts. What could you do differently this year in an attempt to out think the competition, as opposed to merely trying to out shout them? Media is expensive, whilst a dollop of creativity is a great leveller of playing fields. Think outside the box! Consider some different approaches. Maybe you don’t have to spend £10M carpet-bombing us with the same TV ad 40 times a day to get cut through?

(I’m not denying this works – just suggesting that, in 2010, there may be more elegant, cost effective and higher impact ways of reaching your target audience. No, I do not mean direct mail.)

3. Understand your analytics
Maybe this should be ranked as tip number one – as the number of organisations still paying lip service to the idea of using ‘web analytics’ is simply frightening. Not only are many businesses failing to use analytics effectively, quite often they haven’t even decided what it is that they should be measuring in the first place! The problem is, I think, that in the online world we have so much data at our disposal that we often become overwhelmed. Where to start first?

Well, a good place to start is by defining some really simple but critically important KPIs for your business. In our collective experience the number one sin in analytics is not focusing in on and understanding which numbers really matter the most.

The second cardinal sin would be a tendency to aggregate things like conversion rates and CPA targets across wildly differing product lines, or in most cases, across the entire business. Whilst this approach can offer a general indicator of overall performance, this is one area where the extraordinary granularity of online reporting really comes into its own. For example, its no use targeting an over-all CPA target of £50 across the business if 20% of sales comes from low margin, low value accessories. Unless, of course, its part of a larger strategy based on lifetime value of the customer etc… in which case your CRM / Referral and Social Media strategies all need to be geared up to driving that long-term value and measured accordingly to make certain that the profit is indeed coming back at some point in the equation!

I seem to have strayed from the point a bit here, but what I am trying to say is that the world of analytics is a complex one, and the numbers can often be misleading.

Considering this data is used to make critical business decisions about marketing activity and site redevelopment it really does warrant the attention of senior managers – whom I would encourage to ask as many difficult and probing questions as possible until they are completely satisfied that they a) understand what is going on and b) are convinced that they have correct, useful data upon which to base such decisions.

At this point in time the above scenario (senior management taking an interest in setting up reporting frameworks) is extremely rare, and this vital piece of work is often left to a junior ecommerce manager or assistant with little insight into or understanding of the real mechanics of the business.

4. Ramp up your visibility on search engines.
Increasingly, people start their multi-channel shopping journeys in cyber space. As more and more potential customers flood into the market in the coming months, search volumes rocket. Make certain that you are visible to these early stage researchers in order to get a shot at the sale when they eventually do decide to buy – be that online, from your catalogue or, heaven forbid, by intrepidly braving the British winter and actually turning up in one of those beloved ‘physical store’ thingies of yours. Yes, don’t worry we still love your stores!
(**After all, they give us intrepid Christmas shoppers somewhere nice and warm to hide when it’s raining or snowing outside, meaning that we can Google the price comparison engines in relative comfort to see where we could buy your stuff cheaper! So that’s nice. By the way, ever thought about installing free WI-FI? C’mon, this 3G is running like a dog. I can barely manage to upload the photo of that Sony plasma TV I just took to the Amazon instant search app! How frustrating!)

5. Systematically optimise your onsite experience and conversion rate
So now we have a good understanding of how our multi-channel audience are moving between and interacting with the various on and off line manifestations of our organisation or brand. So what? How do we get more of them and how do we sell them more stuff?

Again, whilst doubling your media budget could be a tad daunting, often times massive improvements in onsite user experience and ultimately conversion-to-sale can be achieved by investing relatively inconsequential sums into effective testing and onsite conversion optimisation.

The other upside to this approach – apart from the hardly inconsequential effect of increasing the ‘’bang for buck’ value of pretty much all of your existing marketing activity – is that your site visitors also get an improved experience and therefore are more likely to return and tell others!

It’s not unusual to be able to drive double-digit percentile improvements relatively quickly using simple, tried and tested methods. Yet, to this day, very few businesses take this really seriously – instead choosing to continue to rely on ‘gut instinct’ or on occasion, what colour the chairman or MD’s wife thinks the ‘buy now’ button should be.
(Err, yes. It still happens.)

In short, instigate a program of regular onsite measurement, testing and improvement. Flirt with A/B split tests or go the whole hog and commit to a long, wholesome relationship with multivariate testing. But whatever you do and however you measure it, do it systematically and do it regularly.

So there you have it. Five fairly broad-brush pointers towards a more prosperous, better integrated and ultimately more profitable Christmas trading season. To reiterate, it’s not too late to make a decision to make 2010 the year that you do things significantly differently and really make the multichannel approach pay dividends.

Wishing you all the best with your Christmas preparations!

Mark.