Archives for category: Marketing

When I drink a pint of booze I often think about the effort that went in to getting it into my hands and to my lips. Someone had to grow the ingredients, then harvest them. Somebody had to take the ingredients, combine them with other ingredients that they didn’t have to grow but still acquire, and using skill, technology, equipment and time produce a barrel of beer.

Somebody then had to warehouse the barrel, schedule it for delivery and get someone to distribute it to a licensed place that served booze. Finally, somebody to had to set up the barrel, connect it to some pipes, pour the product into a glass and serve it to me in their furnished, heated, cleaned building.

A pint is generally 20% either side of €4.50. It lasts about 10 to 30 minutes, depending both on its number in a sequence of beers and my mood.

Does that not strike you as being ludicrously good value? The effort that’s gone into producing the lovely, creamy work of art that should be in front of me right now, as I write this on a Friday evening.

Whenever I want to pay for something, anything, that’s relatively small, I use the pint benchmark:

Is this item expensive compared to a pint? Does it provide comparable value to me?

Then I act on my decision accordingly.

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A spent a few enjoyable hours the other day in the company of the excellently apostrophised and excellent Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2018. This weighty tome’s reputation precedes it, as you probably know, and justifiably so. This was my first owned copy and it is indeed an invaluable resource.

It’s true what they say, and it’s repeatedly endorsed by all the published authors who contribute guest articles: everything you need to know about publishing and getting published is in this book.

One thing that struck me though was this: is the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for young people? You wouldn’t have thought so. In fact, the readership is probably on the older side. All those people who’ve promised themselves to be true to the notion that they’ve a novel in them, now with a little more time on their hands and a still-burning ambition.

My point is this: the book is over 800 pages long and packed with useful information. Packed being the operative word, since…

..the print is tiny, really hard to read, even with reading glasses on. It’s a book for young eyes. I know it’s not simply an option to raising the point size a couple of points and making the book 1,000 or 1,200 pages long, since that might price the book at the point where people are put off. It’s a good job, though, that the information is invaluable since the size of the type is a turn-off.

Also, I have a suggestion for improving this esteemed organ. Why not have a section listing the literary agents by genre? There is a section doing the same with publishers. It should be relatively easy to do, and stops the reader having to wade through every single agent blurb to get to the nub: do they specialise in my area? This might also stop the majority of agents from the lazy, don’t-want-to-miss-the-next-big-thing catch-all of listing that they cater to ‘all’ fiction and non-fiction genres, all of whom I ignored.

I wrote recently about how many of us are in front of a device keyboard all day and manage to get by with 2 or 4-finger typing, rather than potentially the 10 digits at our disposal. When was the last time you saw a job ad for an predominantly office-based role that wasn’t for a PA or secretary that said ‘since the majority of your time is desk-bound, you must be able to type 50 words a minute or more to apply’?

When I had a few months off between jobs about 15 years ago, I went to a typing course. I didn’t last more than a couple of weeks. Even though I wasn’t working, I couldn’t spare the lost productivity while my typing speed was cut into a quarter of ‘slow’. I didn’t have the time to engrain the behaviours to see the long term benefit.

Because I’ve probably typed a million words since then, I’ve improved my typing ‘organically’. I’ve made it up as I go along. My organic typing is now a flurry of activity as hands cross over each other and fingers overlap. I look like a piano player when I type, and it’s hardly a virtuoso performance.

Interestingly, one of my brothers can type properly, and he’s had some issues with RSI – repetitive strain injury. I wonder if the act of anchoring your wrists down more and being more regimented with the spaces your fingers occupy makes you more prone to these injuries of ‘isolation’ compared to the organic way of letting the fingers go where they want to and damn the downturn in efficiency.

How many of us spend large amounts of time at a computer, device, smartphone or other digital device? What do we do on them? Well, principally we’re typing our part of some dialogue.

Isn’t it amazing that computers have formed the central role in our working and playing lives yet so few of us can type properly? What a bonus it would be to type as fast as we can talk, as fast as we can think even. How much more productive could we be?

Many of us continue to get by on 2-finger typing. I’ve graduated to 4-finger typing, with the occasional thumb for the space bar and the pinkie for the return key, when I don’t use the dictate function on my mac. It’s still painfully slow, but it’s progress of a kind I suppose.

I find it flabbergasting that the primary and secondary schools my kids go to don’t get typing and keyboarding lessons. Boys and girls both need it; it’s an essential skill for the modern world, even if we never type anything during our working day.

We’re all looking at the keyboard, when we should be looking at the screen. There’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

Your staff are your greatest asset. They form the culture of your organisation, and culture is almost everything.

It’s our job as employers – and plain common sense – to protect our staff. We get the staff we deserve, so it’s our responsibility to look after them.

I was reminded of this fact lately, when a story emerged in the English football premier league about a player who had transferred from a Spanish club to an English club at the very end of the last day for club transfers. Except that he didn’t. The papers had left the selling club, had been received and processed by the buying club, and all the papers except one had been received by the governing body. The last paper was received 15 seconds outside the transfer window, so the transfer hadn’t been completed properly.

Who suffers the most here? The player himself was in limbo, a kind of non-self-imposed purgatory. He wasn’t on the staff of either the selling club or the buying club. Both clubs were firmly in self-protection mode and distancing themselves from the situation.

In my day-dreaming moments of being a world-class footballer I naively imagine that my responsibilities would be to country first, club second, and self third. With money, stakes and ego all unbridled in football these days, that priority list looks more like club first, self second, country third.

It’s a pity that clubs can’t reciprocate, putting the player first and protecting their staff. It’s the staff that win the trophies, isn’t it?

Almost everything we do is guided by self-interest. It’s human nature. Heck, it’s in every sentient being’s nature, otherwise it would cease to exist.

This rule seems to apply to us humans at all levels of the famous Maslow hierarchy of needs, from the basic acts like food and warmth to the more sophisticated ones like self-actualisation, which I think means achieving our potential.

When we do something with family and friend interests at heart, there’s probably a degree of self-interest in there too. Even when we do something for people we don’t know, in an act of charitable kindness, self-interest figures in the mix, aside from the simple satisfaction we get from our generosity of spirit, time or money.

It always comes down to that, the underlying reason for why we do stuff.

The question for me is this. Can we rise above it? Can we do something that’s genuinely not self-serving? Not all the time, but once in a while, perhaps occasionally?

Sometimes automation adds to a process rather than improves it. It automates the human chaos.

The first time I encountered the McDonald’s automated self-ordering system was at Dublin airport a year or so ago. It simply took too long to order my early breakfast meal so I went to the counter and did it the old-fashioned way.

I was again reminded of this fact recently in France, when my whole family was in with another family for a special treat. There’s hardly ever a queue for the ordering ‘machines’, but it took simply ages to navigate through the menu 7 times for each order, then figure out which part of the restaurant we were in so the staff could deliver our food. There appeared to be no option to go up and order the old fashioned way.

After we had got our meals I watched a Welsh family trying to order deserts and coffees. They couldn’t find the screen with the coffees. It had disappeared. They didn’t have much French, and tried to enlist the help of a staff member, who tried to do the same with her slightly broken English. She couldn’t help so then had to find another staff member to help. This staff member then said ‘the coffee machine is broken and coffee is not available today, sorry.’ Obviously someone had the ability to disable the relevant screens when a product is unavailable, but this was not apparent to the customer. 15 minutes had passed during this process.

A more traditional ordering system might have taken a third of the time, even with traditional queueing, and gone like this:

‘Hi, can I have 2 McFlurries and a coffee please?’

‘The coffee machine is broken and coffee is not available today, sorry.’

‘OK, just the McFlurries then please.’

People, process, technology. If you don’t get the mix right, you make it worse, not better.

I was in France for a family holiday recently, and it got me thinking about how many French phrases we’ve incorporated into English. I mistakenly wrote ‘thinning’ on my first pass at this post, which is what I need to do after a fortnight of sublime croissants, brioches and baguettes has turned me from svelte to felt.

Déjà vu is a prime example of such a phrase, where a combination of visual stimuli brings back a memory where we pocketed exactly the same combination – or something very close – a long time ago. It’s quite a powerful thing.

Even more powerful I think is the recollection we get from one of the other more minor senses, namely smell. The smell of a certain food can instantly bring us back to our childhood. There is also a certain foul smell that makes me think of the smell of burnt bones from the glue factory near my childhood home. The smell of cinnamon always makes me think of Christmas shops in the mid-west US around December time – obviously…

It often occurs to me how compelling a force smell would be in marketing, even B2B marketing, away from the food and drink-related B2C areas where it is already deployed to great effect. ‘If you could bottle that’, as they say.

I don’t think the French would use the phrase, but if they did it would be ‘déjà senti’, I suppose, meaning ‘already smelled’. Doesn’t have the same ring unfortunately.

Many books have a beginning, a middle and an end. An introduction with an outline, a body and a conclusion. They tell a story. You start at the beginning and you work through the end to follow the narrative flow. This is true for works of fiction and non-fiction, or business books and leisure books.

Occasionally, a book is a collection of self-contained, separate topics that don’t fit into this conventional format where the narrative hangs the content together naturally. I’m coming to the end of the drafting stage of a self-help book I’m writing. It’s more than a hundred different ideas around a very broad topic, loosely arranged into 4 themes. Each idea fits into the typical length of blog post that I’ve been writing for the past few years.

The challenge – without the guiding structure of a narrative flow – is arranging and presenting the ideas in an order that works for the reader. I could present each of the themes in turn, but that might appear uneven. Or I could sprinkle all of the ideas randomly, but that might appear disjointed. Alternatively, I could go for a mixture of the two approaches, but I might not be able to build momentum to get the reader to the end.

I’ll get to the bottom of how the book will hang together, but it’s an interesting challenge.

 

It’s a bit of a mouthful, this blog post title, but stay with me for a minute or two please.

I fell between the consumer cracks the other day. I needed a product immediately, and I don’t live in a big metropolis where I can get something delivered to me within an hour of an online submission, nor would I take that route for one item.

I needed some fresh sour cream for a taco dinner with the family. It was the only ingredient I didn’t have. I needed it within the half hour. It’s safe to say that it’s a fairly long tail item, even within the realm of fast moving consumer goods, or FMCG. There is one large supermarket, one medium-sized supermarket, one small supermarket and one corner store within a few minutes’ drive.

I went to the large supermarket, my regular place, first, where I normally get said ingredient. They were out, and there was none in the back, as the manufacturer fulfils them directly onto the shelves in the morning. The corner shop didn’t stock sour cream. The medium sized supermarket was closed (it was 6:45pm). My last resort, the small supermarket, didn’t stock sour cream any more because it was an item they never sold much of and went off quite quickly.

Boom, no sour cream for dinner. No-one to blame here, except me for leaving it too late. No criticism of the retail outlets; why they should go the extra distance for the chance of making a buck or 2 on an obscure item?

Just one ticked off consumer, a casualty of what sometimes happens with in-store long tail FMCG goods.