Archives for category: Marketing

I’m not sure I qualify as an Ex-Pat, an Englishman  living in Ireland. It’s not quite Singapore or Sao Paolo is it? Still, if and when Brexit happens perhaps I’ll have more of a case.

As long as there’s been an Internet I’ve used the BBC website as my de factor home page. I use it to get a snapshot of the news, the sports goings on, and some of the magazine articles. Even though I live in another country the exemplary BBC site is my anchor.

One thing gripes, though, and has always griped. About every year or two they issue a survey on the site for their foreign readers, which usually culminates in the offer to be a member of the BBC Global Minds community. Every time I complete the survey I always mention my major gripe. Due to the licensing laws, most of the sporting videos are content ‘not available in your location’, or similarly worded nonsense.

What’s that all about? I can switch on BBC on my Freesat box and watch the sporting highlight. Same jurisdiction, same video footage. So why is not available on the web? And what is the BBC doing about for its British nationals abroad?

Even though the site is still peerless, there is a small disappointment in the product not delivering every time the video content is denied to me. Less than optimal.


When you’re an employee, you’re paid for working 52 weeks a year, and in many European countries you get about 4 weeks off, plus national holidays. You’re paid for those holidays, which is great, so the challenge is being able to switch off and not think about work when you’re on a well-earned holiday.

Nothing new there of course. When you’re working for yourself, in a consulting capacity, you can only charge for the time you’re spending on a customer’s work. When you’re not working, you’re not earning. You surrender a good deal of certainty, benefits and a regular monthly cheque for a good deal of flexibility.

I’ve been working in a consulting or contracting capacity for something like 6 out of the last 30 years, but, tellingly I suppose, 6 out of the last 15, and exclusively the last 4-plus years.

I should be used to the ebbs and flows of the consulting life, and I am, mostly. Except that when I have periods of not earning, I find myself worrying more, and the worry increases proportionately to the length of the period of not earning. This is an interesting dynamic when you’re working on a speculative project, like a pitch for work, or an idea for a new business, or book and so on. There’s an opportunity cost to choosing to spend your critical time on a non-paying project, which might turn out to be a pipe dream, over both a paid project and a proposal for a project. You’re not getting paid for the work you’re doing, but you are investing your time in the hope of a decent return. Still, it can sometimes make you feel uncertain, and makes you examine a bit more carefully your choices of what you choose to spend time on.

I don’t know about you, but it makes me very conscious of not wasting these non-earning days. I want to make them productive, because in effect I’m sacrificing income. Conversely, when I elect to take the day as a day off, I make sure to treat it as a day off, as if I was an employee.

Doesn’t always work though…

There is a skill to editing. A different skill to writing I think. Where writing is more creative and subject to emotional highs and lows, editing seems to be on an even keel, more clinical.

Sometimes I prefer writing. The chance to take a blank canvas and turn it into something unique that moves, influences or informs people – possibly – is one that I take up three times a week on this blog.

Other times I like to edit. You can get through more material when you’re editing, especially if the writing is good and it sits within a sound structure and flow. It can be a slog to create something, heavy going, but then I suppose it can be the same when you’re having to do a major edit or, worse still, a re-draft.

Editing your own work is quite a challenge, particularly if it comes right after you’ve finished writing. You’re so close to the content that sometimes you forget you’re copy editing and you get taken along by the narrative. What you should be doing is checking every single word for appropriateness, spelling, typos and punctuation accuracy, as well as the sense and flow of what you’re reading. It’s hard to maintain that dispassionate distance from something you created. It’s easier to do that when it’s someone else’s work.

Copy editing is draining. You need to maintain a very high level of concentration, frequently circling back through what you’re editing to make sure you’re consistent in how you approach every instance of a heading, indentation, number, quotation or other conventions. In contrast, when you’re writing and it’s going well, it can feel like you’re not concentrating at all. The writing is flowing as fast as you can type, and you’re in some kind of zen-inspired zone, a passenger to the words flowing from your head through to your fingertips.

Editing your own work is not ideal. The role should really belong to someone else, unless you can take a big break after the creative phase and approach it as more of a stranger. This is less important when you’re blogging, as you can always go back and make a change after publication. When you’re publishing something final, however, like a brochure or a book, it’s a different story – literally.

I was able to pay off a mortgage the other day. I expect it’s the kind of thing that happens all the time to thousands of homeowners. It had a few months to go before it was finished and it seemed to make sense to get a redemption figure and get rid of the very small outstanding amount a few months early.

Another reason was that my other mortgages are not due to be paid off for another 15 years or more, so I wanted to get this one out of the way.

So, in the time-honoured and fuddy duddy old way, I wrote in looking for a redemption figure, they wrote back a fortnight letter, and I sent off a cheque for the balance the next day. Fabulous.

That was a few weeks ago. I haven’t heard anything. No acknowledgement letter with a zero balance. More importantly, no congratulations letter.

This is a missed opportunity. Firstly, it’s a golden rule of marketing that you celebrate each milestone of the customer journey with the customer. Secondly, this doesn’t have to be the last milestone, it could be the chance to say ‘hey, well done, you’ve paid off your mortgage, you’re going to be a few quid better off a month, here are some savings suggestions.’

I realise much of this is automated these days, but you can still build rules into your process that trigger a congrats letter to each customer, celebrating the mortgage payoff. It’s very cheap, it’s common sense, it leaves your customer with a good feeling and it might prod them to buy another product from you. Easy.

I heard an ad on the radio the other day. It was for the travel company TUI, who used to be Thomson Holidays in the UK before they were taken over. So the ad passed the first test, namely that I was able to remember who the ad was for.

At the end of the ad it delivered its payload, which as far as I can remember was this: ‘We cross the T’s and dot the I’s on your holiday, and put you [as in U] in the middle.’ Beautiful. Achingly beautiful.

In one line it has made the brand the message.

You have to bear in mind that TUI is a German company. Someone came up with this genius strapline to work in the English language, so it’s almost certainly not the case that the strapline came first and inspired the brand name.

For me, when the brand becomes the message, or is the message, you’re onto a winner. I can’t imagine how well the strapline works in a visual – rather than auditory – ad, perhaps with a touch of animation. Delicious.

I was driving in central Dublin late on a Friday and a Saturday a few weeks ago, marvelling at the traffic. There’s not much traffic about, but it’s almost all taxis. Whole armies of them, pulsing through the arteries of the city. I don’t know how you can make money as a taxi driver that time of night. Supply seems to far outstrip demand.

Perhaps people can’t afford to pay Dublin parking rates, or perhaps they fear for their car’s safety at night time. Perhaps the one-way systems drive them mad or maybe they simply prefer public transport or taxis when they’re out at night. Either way, it got me thinking.

There seems to be a considerable drop in the amount of private cars in the city at night time. There’s been much written about the Uber platform over the last few years and what it’s done to the traditional taxi industry. But has the Uber phenomenon also contributed to a drop in car ownership in each metropolis?

We’re supposed to be moving to an eventual situation where we don’t need to own a car anymore. We’ll simply dial up a request for a car which will be deposited at our departure point. We’ll drive it to our destination there, where someone else will drive it somewhere else.

I was talking to a friend the other day who came back from a sabbatical in England in the summer. He’s not bothered to move back up to a 2-car family – they sold their second car before heading to London – and on the odd occasion he needs a second car he simply hires one for the day or weekend.

It feels like we’re gradually making the move towards treating a car as a service rather than an asset, if the connection of uber and car ownership is truly causal. It’s about time too. There’s no other major asset we purchase which starts depreciating the moment we get it.

Blanket banner advertising

Online advertising is getting more and more targeted, as you’d expect. Companies and websites are getting better at collecting and mining customer information so that they can deliver more targeted ads which have a higher chance of converting, since in theory they resonate and are more relevant.

That doesn’t stop the odd bit of blanket advertising. Here’s one I got earlier in the year from M&S, promoting their Big & Tall range. I’m far from big and I’m far from tall. Surely if this is just a bulk buy from hotmail then it’s not appropriate for a section of the population in the high 90’s per cent?

I get lots of such ads to my hotmail account. I can tell you that they’re not remotely targeted. The only ones that are targeted are when I’ve abandoned a purchase on an ecommerce-savvy website like Amazon, and then it presents back to me the exact product I was either researching or declined to purchase.

To understand why companies still persist with untargeted ads and their microscopically small click-through rates, you have to put yourself in their shoes. Perhaps they don’t get the data from the owner of the space. Perhaps the click-through rates are still worth it. Perhaps the front-of-mind awareness, which has always been so hard to measure in the traditional offline world, is good enough for them.

Either way, it’s hard to believe that this form of untargeted online advertising has much of a shelf life.


Are you a ‘State of the Art’ person or ‘State of the Ark’?

State of the Art people love trying and owning the latest hot tools and playthings. They’re always on the lookout for the fresh and the new. They don’t mind paying a premium for being at the front of the queue and in some cases they’ll tolerate the kinks and bugs before they get ironed out.

State of the Ark people are quite happy with their outdated device, since redundancy or obsolescence don’t faze them too much. It works well for them, and if it isn’t broken then they don’t want to fix it. For them the gains in pleasure or productivity don’t offset the pain and effort of scaling the learning and adoption curve. Let the guinea pigs deal with the problems; we’ll take it when it’s 100% ready to go.

Much of this depends on where we are on the adoption life cycle for new things, toys and technology. It’s a kind of bell curve with innovators and early adopters at one end, and laggards at the other. In the main part of the bell curve are the early majority and the late majority who make up the vast bulk of us all.

It’s not just gadgets and gizmos though. The adoption lifecycle works for anything new and our place on it says a lot about the kinds of people we are and our attitude to change.

Some folks use short-hand to convey that something was too long for them to read it. They simply write TL;DR, as in too long, didn’t read. It’s often levelled at overly long blog posts and the like, something you could never say about this blog.

I was recommended to subscribe to Tim Ferriss’ emails by a friend some months ago. He’s very well-known as the creative force behind the 4-Hour Work Week, Tools of Titans and so on. His emails on interesting stuff he’s coming across and recommendations for life improvement are really good. I’d been saving a few of his emails to read in one go, because they featured podcasts of TV interviews he’d done with people I admired.

The other day I got the chance to listen to the podcasts. Except that I didn’t. They were so long! Each podcast was at least an hour, comprising very long pre-ambles and sponsor messages before you get into a conversation that seemed to last forever. I tried clicking into later parts of the podcasts, but it didn’t work and I ended up deleting them all.

I’m sure the content was excellent, but I didn’t have the time to wade through them. Perhaps I wasn’t the target audience, since I’ve not got my working week down to the stage where I’m only doing 4 hours and have oodles of time to spare. I suppose I could have had the interviews playing in the background while I was working, but then I wouldn’t really have been paying attention.

For me it was a case of TL;DL – too long, didn’t listen. A missed opportunity, for me and the originator.

I’ve been travelling on Irish trains for 10 or 15 years. On the whole they’re reasonably comfortable and reasonably reliable, and quite expensive, perhaps because there’s a lot of fixed assets to maintain and a lot of staff mouths to feed. It being a state body, I imagine there’s a quite a lot of fat on the business that can’t be easily trimmed.

Irish Rail trains have these automated train announcements for their inter-city routes. The announcements come on at various points in the journey. I thought they were perhaps driven by GPS, so that when the train was a certain distance from a station, this triggered the ‘in a couple of minutes we’ll be in X’ announcement, and so on.

I don’t now think this is the case, because the announcements have been coming in at oddest the times, for quite a while. Recently I was on a Dublin-to-Galway service that was announcing we were coming to the various stops before we got to them – which is good – while we were at them – not so good – and after we had left them – not good at all.

Also, Irish Rail would do well to listen to the announcements of other operators like Gobus, whose messages are much more friendly and positive rather than negative. Irish Rail announcements have rather too much ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’ about them. What’s wrong with saying ‘please avoid sitting in pre-booked seats’ or ‘please keep your feet off seats for the next passenger’? It’s less negative and conveys the same request. Theirs comes across as a bit semi-state and antiquated to my mind.

Finally, before I fall off my soap box, there are ticker tape-style notices on each carriage which display what the audio announcements say. On one of them, there has been a typo – an extra space like this  ‘please do not put your  feet on seats – for years and years. It must appear on every train, on every route in the country. You can’t tell me no member of Irish Rail staff has never noticed it and thought to get it fixed? It’s the detail that counts in the service business.