Our thoughts, opinions and ideas on a variety of subjects close to our heart. These include design, development, marketing, running a business and more.

How do you like them apples? When social content is the filling in the pie

SEP 14
Recently a colleague brought a bagful of windfall cooking apples into work. He left them in a bag in the reception area and sent an email to everyone in the office saying that they could go and help themselves. Nothing out of the ordinary there, and a pretty nice gesture; the kind of thing that happens from time to time everywhere. However what made this noteworthy was that within the email under the offer of free apples was a set of clear and simple instructions on how to make an apple crumble. A pretty nice touch. Now he gets asked for more apples, you might even say he’s the ‘go to guy’ for apples and their associated uses in baking! The power of social content maybe? So the little takeaway from this story is clear: be useful, friendly, knowledgable and helpful and you’ll have a far better chance of shifting units.

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Time to free yourself from digital feudalism?

AUG 24
Permit me to share something astonishing with you. You still need a really well-designed web site. Yes, that's right, you really do. I've been extolling the virtues of a certain amount of what some are calling (rather dramatically) digital sharecropping myself. If you're a small business and you want to take control of your online presence then using Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter seems like a really liberating and empowering thing to do. It's a free and easy way to get your message out there and there are a lot potential customers inhabiting these spaces. And that's great of course. However, ultimately those that own the social digital landscape are in control of the 'means of production', not you, and if something happens in that relationship between you and these landowners you might end up like a farmer without a plot. So let's not forget that having a good website of your own still has a major part to play in your marketing tactics. 5 reasons why a good web site is still important:
  1. Your content the way you want to present it
  2. Ability to build something bespoke and unique for your audience
  3. It's not at the whim of the latest trends or fads (see MySpace)
  4. It's not at the mercy of changes to features or terms of service policies
  5. You have control over it; it's your asset
So the message is clear: use the social media platforms as part of your marketing mix, but it's wise to make sure you don't rely solely on them. Owning your own well designed and professionally-built web site is crucial if you want to get liberated!

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Why B2B marketers might want to watch Google Plus closely

AUG 16
If you work in marketing or design, or tech or are just an internet groovy-hipster-pioneer-type person you'll probably have signed up to Google Plus by now. And you'll probably have an opinion on it no doubt. Facebook killer or another Google Buzz? If you take a look around your Circles (that's Google's neat way of allowing you to 'segment' people and share what you want with who you want) you'll probably notice something: despite Google Plus having acquired over 25m  users in two months none of your friends or family are there. And if they are, they're not doing very much. And guess what, many of them won't be there. Ever. My wife is a teacher, all her friends and family are on Facebook. She couldn't care less that Google Plus has a nicer interface and looks like it's been designed thoughtfully (unlike Facebook). I told her they'd launched games on Google Plus to entice the Facebook crowd. She stared at me blankly and told me to lay the table for dinner. My wife's story is the same as millions of others. Facebook has become their online community, why go elsewhere and be on your own? To them Facebook feels like a completely natural place to share things with the people you care about, because that's where they all are. Google Plus might offer a few extra features, but these things are of no interest to the large majority of Facebook's 750m users who are completely comfortable with the Facebook user experience. So is Google seriously expecting millions of people to desert Facebook over time? Or even use both social networks? I'm not sure, but let's go back to those 25m Google Plus users. Who are they, and can they seriously be called 'users'? That asymmetric relationship thing As I see it (and as I mentioned from the outset) these individuals are those you'd expect to see trying out something shiny, new and digital. In the main it's the same bunch of people who first 'got' Twitter and helped shape it into what it has become. Designers, Marketers, social media people, techies and bloggers of all shapes and sizes. Sure there are others, but the ones who are actively posting content seem to fit into those categories. But there's still 25 million of them already. Moreover if we're talking about Twitter, the asymmetric nature of the relationship - which is a little like Twitter - means that you can add people to your Google Plus Circles without being added yourself. In other words thinking about it like Twitter, I can follow someone because they seem interesting or have something interesting to say, but they won't necessarily follow me back. So, why is all of this really interesting (potentially) for B2B marketers more than anyone? Facebook in B2B B2C marketers were quicker to take to Facebook because consumer brands realised that their audience was spending a lot of time there. Business brands were initially hesitant because it didn't feel 'serious' and being where people spent their leisure time is not the right fit for business at all. Now these barriers are being broken down to a certain extent - people are online more and more and individuals see far less distinction between their work and leisure time in online spaces. Put simplistically not only do people use the internet in their own time to help them to do their job better, but businesses are alive to the fact that online communities are hugely valuable to their business. Business pages with built-in Googleness If, as expected, Google Plus introduces business or brand pages you can expect them to have seemless integration with Google Analytics. That's a very powerful set of data for performance marketing built-in. We know that Google Plus posts will feature in Google searches and there will be integration with Adwords - that all brings SEM/SEO strategies right into the mix. Circles allows you to easily segment and separate your contacts not only by friends and family, but by industry and expertise. Add in to all of that integration with Maps and Google Places, recommendations by G+1 and you see a powerful and attractive package coming together for businesses. But what if nobody's there? That's all very well I hear you cry, but how can we add people to Circles if they are not even there? Well actually you can do that (and email them links to your content), but that's not really the point. Especially if you consider that you can not only share content to different Circles but also publicly, to the whole world wide web. Put it another way, your Auntie may never be on Google Plus, but she's not on Twitter either. From a B2B marketing point of view that doesn't matter. Consumer brands need consumers, and that's your Auntie, my wife and millions of others. Business brands more and more need to target the influencers and influence the influencers - and actually some of those are already there. And just perhaps Google Plus will become the social network of choice for a lot of those influencers, thought leaders, opinion formers and general business people who have eschewed Facebook as a bit too frivolous and dismissed LinkedIn as the place for recruiters and sales people who are tired of cold calling? So to talk of Google Plus as a 'killer' of Facebook is probably wide of the mark. I'm beginning to think it might be more of a Twitter with bells and whistles (but not a killer!). It'll certainly take a while until we fully understand its potential and to see exactly where it fits in the social network landscape - and whatever happens if Google are involved you should ignore it at your peril.

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Writing a simple Twitter strategy document

JUN 01
Where to start with social marketing? It's a question facing lots of businesses, large and small. Once you've made the decision that your business objectives can benefit from a social (or 'mutual', a term I've heard used recently) approach to marketing communications then Twitter often seems like the best place to start: it's free to join and unlikely to embarrass anyone. So when organisations want to 'dip their toe' in and minimise the risks then diving right into 140 character micro-blogging is the way to go right? Well, yes, but not quite. Without any clear objectives, metrics or guiding principles it's easy to stray of course and lose sight of why you're using this channel in the first place. Drafting a simple strategy document that outlines some clear aims and sets out a few guidelines can also go a long way to silencing the naysayers and getting buy-in from the sceptics. So here's my template (originally gleaned from many resources and then honed by experience!) for drafting a complete Twitter strategy document for business use. I would start by dividing the document up into four distinct categories:
  • Objectives and Metrics
  • Risk and mitigation
  • Channel use and content
  • Promotion 
Objectives and metrics From the outset objectives will need to relate to a clear business goal. Once established it's then up to you to set some objectives. Examples could be: Provide thought leadership & credibility, increasing our visibility with experts in the field and the way to measure that, or the metric, would be: Retweets, click-throughs to other content Of course both of those are relatively easy to measure, it's then up to you to decide what value you give them as a benchmark. Risks and mitigation It's important to understand that once you start Tweeting on behalf of a company then you're suddenly a very visible brand ambassador. If you're a small company it's likely that you'll have no social media policy and therefore no guidelines for best practice. That makes understanding the risks and mitigating for them doubly important. So what are the possible risks? Inability to meet demands of followers eg they will expect to get answers to all problems To mitigate you might consider the following: Be clear from the outset about objectives and then manage expectations (eg ensure followers realise that you are not using this account for customer service, be clear about what it is for!) Channel use and content Here you should start with your profile. This should include the Twitter account name and profile message - this is the summary that tells other users who you are and what they can expect from you. It has to be clear and concise, if this is misleading or poorly written it could undermine everything you're trying to do. Resources Whilst it might seem easy to do well crafted messages can take time and some effort. Be sure to outline here the resources involved, for example if you will need help with the content of your Tweets. It's also a good place to mention the tools you'll be using to manage your account and to help you monitor your metrics. You should also include your content principles (the tone and style of your 'human', informal) and also other considerations such as frequency of Tweets. The type of content should be considered and outlined clearly in this part of the document. What are you going to Tweet about? Are you going to push out links to your own blog or video channel? Reply to your customers? Offer advice? Post links to interesting articles? I'd recommend that these are clearly listed. Promotional plan Here you'll want to consider the way you will inform your audience that you're on Twitter. Obviously following others and sharing good content would be an important part of this, but what about including your Twitter name on marketing communications? Is it right to put it on your stationery or business cards? And that's it. The length of your document really depends on the nature of your organisation and the objectives you set. Hopefully this will help you stay on course and make Twitter a successful social marketing tool for you and your business.

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Social marketing for the sake of social marketing?

APR 20
A few weeks ago I received a targeted email communication from a print supplier inviting me (and other recipients in the design & marketing world) to join them as they 'ride the social media wave'. Nice. That phrase set alarm bells ringing immediately. The tone was admittedly self-deprecating, but reminded me of when an avowed Luddite or digital sceptic finally gets an iPhone and parades it around telling you how they are 'down with all the touchy-screen hipster kids now!'. Well done. Now you can leave that one turned off 95% of the time too. Seriously, what's in it for me? What struck me immediately was that there was no mention in this email of what we might expect to gain from following them or joining their Facebook community, no suggestion that there might be some intrinsic value in there. How about some useful tips on design considerations for pre-press? How to get the most from your printed marketing material? How to make your print budget go a bit further? It really made me think 'What on earth is in this for me?'. Maybe they are waiting for the Twitter Gods to reveal these secrets once they start their microblogging odyssey. Buy before you try Twitter often feels like something you can dip your toe in and just try. After all it's pretty instant and anyone can manage to say something in 140 characters right? And Facebook, well all our customers will join us won't they? There are our customers for goodness' sake. I'd venture to say that's wrong, and what you actually need to do is to buy into it before you try. In much the same way you would with any marketing channel or tactic it's rather a good idea to consider what your objective is. What does success look like? Social media isn't free, it takes a commitment of time and resources. So if you're going to try to do something you should have an idea of what success would actually look like. If that goal is to reach a certain number of followers and fans then there's a start right there. Worth considering too if it will allow you to reach an audience you can't already reach, or add some depth to your existing relationships. And as with any marketing campaign, it's important to analyse and measure what you do. And keep doing that again and again. So thanks, but I won't be joining that particular wave right now. I never much liked surfing anyway.

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The inbound marketing journey: an infographic

MAR 16
Inbound Marketing JourneyI've been wondering how best to visualise some fairly simple concepts about inbound marketing strategies for a while. These days the web is crammed full of 'infographics' of course, data made easy to digest (in theory) with simple visual communication. I'd heard a lot about this idea of user journeys in marketing and wondered if that could be a good starting point for some inspiration. So if it does its job (and please let me know what you think!) then this needn't be a very long blog post at all, in fact, without further descent into meta-discourse I shall promptly end it there! Download the PDF

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Designing the PeopleRun logo

JAN 25
I've always been fascinated with the creative process and what it is that turns an idea into something real and tangible. This makes me a sucker for wireframes, concept sketches, thumbnails, scamps and the like - they represent a peep behind the curtain of the inner workings of creativity. So when a little 'pro bono' logo work  project came up recently I thought this might provide a good opportunity to shed some light on how we like to work at Seedr. The brief Let's not waste too much time in explaining the importance of the brief in any design project. You won't be reading this if you think that some vague instructions and a 'carte blanche' approach is going to be a satisfactory way forward for anyone. Fortunately I knew a bit about PeopleRun beforehand which is helpful. They are a community of runners who are taking part in a number of races to raise money for the Naomi House hospice & charity. The difference with PeopleRun is that you sponsor the community or collective of runners, not individuals, over a two year period. It's the brainchild of Dan Bowsher, who by day is in online PR bod for Vodafone. Dan outlined what he felt the core aspects of the brief were:
  • Something simple and easily identifiable
  • One, maybe two colours/tones max
  • Clearly communicating the community/people aspect
  • Something to indicate running in the image
  • Flexible enough to be used on a variety of media such as icons, avatars, t-shirts etc
The tools Paper and a pencil. That's it. If I'm out and about then it's always handy to carry a notebook (because I'm a traditionalist/artsy-fartsy type I always carry a Moleskine with me). This is the same for graphic design and web design. Draw something first. It's not just that it saves time but I feel it allows the ideas to flow in a much more free, easy and (dare I say it) organic fashion. The place So where is the place where we create our best ideas? When I started analysing this for myself recently I was left with a startling conclusion: almost all the best ideas begin to germinate in the mind when I am not in a traditional working environment. And here's a few of those places: in the shower, on a lunch break, on the train, cycling to work, in a coffee shop. In the case of PeopleRun I was in my house but a stone's throw from Seedr HQ (which is actually a fancy log cabin in my garden) when I started scratching out a few ideas. The radio was on, my daughter was drawing some pictures, stuff was happening - and that's all fine. However, once the ideas need to be taken from the thumbnail stage to be drawn up into something more polished that's when I can head for the relative tranquility of the office/studio environment. [caption id="attachment_251" align="alignnone" width="475" caption="PeopleRun logo - initial sketches"][/caption] First ideas I'm a fan of logos that are simple and unfussy. A good idea well executed need not be the most elaborate, beautifully drawn creation. I also always try to steer clear of current trends, but to a certain extent that depends on the business and the brief. There's some beautiful work on sites such as Logo Pond, but frankly much of it can look a little self-serving: 'Look how clever this is and how great it will look to other designers!'. I follow the basic design principles of colour, form and consistency and try not to worry about creating the world's next great logo. Initial sketches With the brief in mind I usually just start putting the most obvious things down, I try not to write too many words but to draw rough sketches or pictograms of my thoughts (yes, in my opinion real designers simply must to be able to draw). So in this case, unsurprisingly, there's a lot of sketches of people running. I'll often explore the possibility of doing something interesting with the letter forms or with negative space too. Once I got into it I became concerned to avoid making it look like a logo for a sporting products company so steered my thoughts away from swooshes and lone runners; ensuring it conveyed the message of a community of runners was essential. [caption id="attachment_245" align="alignnone" width="475" caption="PeopleRun logo - further sketches"][/caption] Eureka moments? Working on a logo can involve those great moments when you know you're on to something. The PeopleRun logo had an element of that when I realised the letters 'P' and 'R' worked very nicely together and could easily represent legs 'in action'. The sketches above show how this grew into the 'big idea'. but getting from that moment to something that really works is not always easy. In one 'sketchlet' you can see where I tried to over elaborate the runners to no great effect. A logo is a representation, it's symbolic, it's not a picture with words, so when it gets to that point it's time to take a step back and remember to keep it simple. Colour Without any prior branding or colour guidelines we needed to see what worked well and apply some simple principles of colour theory. After a bit of tinkering we chose blue which is seen as positive, trustworthy and confident which seemed to suit perfectly what PeopleRun is all about. Fine tuning I showed Dan from PeopleRun where I'd got to (not the sketches, you can see my first draft worked up in Illustrator below), and he agreed that to try to show the people actually running would be uneccesary and might detract from what we had. The addition of the circles above the letters was of course the crucial community element of the design and I decided to show them in 'perspective' to represent a line of people and give them a little more depth and interest. It was also felt that we needed to promote the web site within the logo which is the hub of all PeopleRun's activities, this was eventually added on the final logo design. [caption id="attachment_275" align="alignnone" width="475" caption="First logo ideas presented"]PeopleRun logo ideas[/caption] Conclusion Thankfully Dan at Peoplerun is really happy with the outcome (very important!) and they've already rolled it out on all marketing collateral. I'm pleased with how quickly it all came together and I think it gives a very worthy project a more authentic and dynamic symbol of what they represent. You can see the new logo in use here (or get involved!): Twitter Website Facebook If you'd like to know more about what Seedr offer please get in touch.

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7 email personas we might all recognise

JAN 12
Yesterday I was reading a really interesting article on the 99% site about ‘Email Etiquette’. Yeah sure, email’s on the decline, but it’s going to haunt us for a while. And there's no doubt it can be major time-stealer and workflow-killer in organisations of all sizes. As a champion of email etiquette (and a past transgressor!) I've been observing the habits and traits of colleagues over the years, and here's my light-hearted view of the 'personas' we all might recognise at our places of work... The Vague Ever get emails from people who barely make sense? Of course you do. Every message looks like it’s been written in a hurry on a mobile device while the sender was distracted. These often need about 30 follow-up emails to understand what the point of the message was in the first place. Hey vague person - just pick up the phone! The So-Very-Formal These guys just can’t give up the old ways. Things were easy when you just got a secretary to take a letter or circulate a memo right? Usually messages from such individuals start with a ‘Dear Steve’, have an abundance of ‘carriage returns’ and end with something like: ‘The Kindest Regards, Your Humble Servant, Jeremy Smythe Esq.’ It’s an email not a letter to a 1950s Bank Manager. Just stop it! The Grammar Killer Yes we want concise and to the point so we can forgive some errors written in haste, but some people really should do a simple check before they hit send. I’ve had messages from people that have been almost impossible to decipher because of poor spelling and lazy grammar. Call me pedantic (and believe me, you won’t be the first!) but it would be good to receive messages that suggest a small degree of thought and care had been applied. The Rambler Oh please, do get to the point! Do you really mean I have to digest all of this rubbish to get to the meat of the sandwich? Meta-discourse is not your friend. Ever. Of course email should be concise. If not write a document and attach it. End of message. The Ranter Long-winded rants don’t belong in emails (guilty m'lud!). It’s not really an opportunity to rant, if you want to do that you can always start a blog. Or get a soapbox. Irony and sarcasm are completely redundant in emails, it’s always worth taking a step back and wondering what an angry email is going to add to a sensitive situation. The Carbon Copier Some people just love to copy the world, his fiancé and her second cousin's dog in on emails. I filter these straight to a folder marked ‘When I can be bothered’ because they are almost always not useful in any way. The Texter Let’s get this straight, I don’t really need a ‘Thanks!’, or a smiley, or a couple of kisses in return for an email I’ve sent you. :-P OK, is there anyone I've left out? Do please let me know!

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What if they don't care about social media?

DEC 01
I just read an interesting post by Danny Brown about measuring traditional media. The jist of it being that social media is a really cost-effective way for reaching a lot of people, but it might not be the best way of getting your message to a particular audience, especially if they don't even care about social media. And it got me thinking. Just this week we were asked to produce a booklet for senior healthcare professionals which would be a useful summary of all the clinical studies and articles written on a particular product of ours. Yes, a paper booklet. Here we go I thought as I rolled my sleeves up and went valiantly into the fray. I was ready with all my well-thought out arguments: Who the heck wants a booklet in 2010? Wouldn't they just use Google to find the articles and studies? Hardly paints us as a progressive company does it? And so on and so so forth. But what became apparent after a lengthy and lively debate was that really understanding the needs of the target audience is of absolutely fundamental to success. Maybe my desire to push us into the Brave New World meant that my vision had been clouded slightly. These healthcare professionals read and enjoy what might seem to us to be very dry academic journals. And these journals are often picked up from a coffee table and read during a break, which in itself sparks discourse and fuels discussion. Sure they have smartphones and some probably use social media themselves. But it's just not the primary touchpoint for these people. So we agreed to producing a well designed booklet, but also to support it with a specific landing page - which will mean we can measure the success of the campaign too. It's likely that we'll also use some social media tactics to spread the word wider and further. Yes, I'm afraid I'm going to use the 'i' word too but in this instance integration (waiting for the QI style klaxon here!) of offline and online really feels right for the audience.

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For the love of Google Analytics

NOV 30
I'll come clean, I'm not that into data. Well, at least I never thought I was. I mean I like facts and stuff, and heck, I even like the odd statistic or two. It's a guy thing. Anyway, as I trained as a graphic designer back in 'the day' (now officially short hand for the 80s) I didn't need to concern myself too much with 'data'. Then came the internet and designers were suddenly convincing businesses to 'have an online presence'. It was a fairly isolationist approach at the time which hardly took into consideration the broader concept of online marketing at all. Web sites were simply an extension of a brochure, isolated pages filled with text. You want some data with that? Here's a counter on your web page, now you know how many people have 'hit' your site. Job done. Counter-criticism Now many businesses consider their website as part of their marketing strategy and an opportunity to advance their business goals. So it still surprises how many people still undervalue the wealth of free useful and sophisticated data available to them about their site and its visitors. You might not believe how many people I have spoken with who still either a) don't really look at their web site analytics reports at all or b) appear to be only interested in the 'number of visitors'. Google Analytics allows us to track the journey a visitor takes on a web site yet so many are still stuck with a kind of 'hit counter' mentality. Used correctly it can address strategic questions and allows us to see what's going on at a tactical level - why wouldn't you want that knowledge and insight? It's all about goals Whether your 'customer ecosystem' (the cycle of acquiring, converting and retaining customers) has at its heart a process  which is transactional or lead generation focused you still need to know if it's succeeding or not. For example at Intersurgical we set up specific goals in Google Analytics for enquiries made via our website form and also for visitors looking at 10 pages or more during the same visit. This allows us to quickly see if we're achieving what we set out to do: generate some leads and produce a variety of interesting content. All of this can inform the web design process too, allowing us to gain understanding about the usability of the site. Ooh, and what about advanced segments - do visitors from the North of England convert into enquiries more than those from the Midlands? Well let's just have a look shall we? Performance not 'guess work' Data and me get along a bit better these days - it's a more meaningful relationship you see. It's really worth spending some time and effort to learn a bit more about analytics to make your online marketing efforts measurable and maximise the ROI. Defining these online strategies should be based on performance and not left to chance or rely on guess work.

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