I went to a really interesting CIM workshop at the Confex show today. I was tweeting through the event and surprised that there wasn’t a better twitter presence for the event given the type of people that would be attending if I’m honest.

But…back to the session which as I say was excellent. Speaker for CIM was Thomas Brown who was a confident and fluent presenter. I was sat fairly far back and couldn’t really see him or gauge his body language but I felt very comfortable with his approach and understood all the points he was making, which isn’t always easy in a noisy show floor exhibition seminar like that.

He started by commenting that customers’ attitudes towards value have shifted, and that this will have a long term impact on our approaches to marketing. He didn’t spend time discussing the impacts of the recession as such, but did say that a recent CIM marketing trend survey shows that the majority of large companies surveyed are starting to increase marcomms spend in 2010, showing that there’s a shift from the doom of last year.

His aim was to share some ways that marketing should be shifting to respond to the new environment we are in.

The first was to integrate customer experience. In other words, to put customers at the centre of what we do, and ensure that their experience of a brand is comprehensive, so every contact point that a person has with a company is consistent with that company’s ethos/vision/strategy/whatever you want to call it.

For this to happen, the whole organization has to unite behind the strategy. He said – very rightly – that marketing is just one strand of this conversation, and they can facilitate but shouldn’t dominate. This has to be achieved in conversation with all parts of the business, to figure out how do you want to be perceived and how does that play out in these different areas (from finance to customer services to marketing). You need to think about your customer journeys, where are the touch points and – most importantly – what is their need?

The really strong take away here was that consistent integrated experiences create tangible value: think about starbucks for example where maintaining this consistent brand experience has been shown to have made a big difference to the bottom line.

His next theme was the need to revisit value propositions: businesses must articulate real understanding of customer needs. He suggested this doesn’t need to be achieved through expensive research, but rather by engaging with key customers, chatting informally about what their top needs/issues are, and then correlating that with internal knowledge across the business. Again this isn’t just a marketing function but across the whole organization.
Theme no. 3 was using alliances/partnerships: what opportunities are there in collaboration? For example what are others in your business chain doing to engage with customers? How could you benefit from working with them? How would customers feel (could they benefit too?). It is definitely worth considering whether your business could benefit from brand association with another organisation.

His final theme was on marketing capability: what should marketers be doing? In another CIM survey, marketers commented that skill-sets are becoming more cross-functional, e.g. engagement in business strategy and a better understanding of finance. This means it’s crucial to be savvy about how the business operates outside of marketing.

His points don’t just apply to marketing but PR and all comms professionals. We all have a role to play in business strategy and brand/customer experience. I’ll certainly be looking up the free reports he referred to on the CIM website.

Alison Flood writing in the Guardian this week shares the advocacy campaign of Burlington county librarian Andy Woodworth, who set up Facebook group ‘People for a library-themed Ben & Jerry’s flavor!‘: the aim? Get Ben and Jerry’s to introdce a library themed icecream!

Ice-cream-001

Why? Well as Andy puts it, libraries are awesome and B&J’s is tasty: where could this ever go wrong?!

What makes this a really neat little PR campaign is firstly the completely random marriage of libraries and icecream, coupled with the witty names of flavours suggested. My favourite has to be sh-sh-sh-sherbet!

Working for an academic publisher we always have a number of activities underway targeting the library market. But too often academic PR can be stuffy and unimaginative. Librarians are – as Andy has said – awesome. Why can’t we be more fun in our campaigns, try out new and creative ideas, and most of all treat these people as ‘awesome’ individuals who clearly have a sense of humour!

Ok, so this was a public library campaign, so maybe I’m being unfair and perhaps there are some amazing advocacy campaigns out there that I just haven’t seen before, but this is the first one that I have seen in this market doing something very creative and getting amazing profile as a result. Major kudos.

This is slightly off-topic for this blog, but I just got married. It’s been all-consuming for the past eight months, and then now it’s all over. I haven’t got that completely crushing feeling of loss just yet – I suppose that will come as soon as I get back to work on Monday. In the meantime I’m still just basking in all the amazing memories from the past week.

Apart from the obvious similarities of putting on a wedding and a large-scale corporate event – bookings; suppliers; muchos coordination etc etc – I feel like there are other things I must have learned along the way that I can take back to work with me.

Having said that though, planning a wedding was a hugely personal and emotional investment that I don’t think I could ever give to a single corporate event. While I’m sure I’ve shed tears over work many times, not quite with the same intensity as I did over my own wedding!

I wonder whether wedding planners get to the point where they have no emotional response to the events they help to create. Or whether they get the same rush every time. I was talking to our waitress at our honeymoon hotel who had previously worked for an events company planning weddings. She said it was a hugely-responsible job – arranging the most important day of someone’s life was an exteremely stressful occupation. But while that may certainly be true, I wonder what it must be like to work with people who are so very very happy. I’d love to know.

Boris is at it. So is Amanda Wilkie, a participant in the recent charity ‘moonwalk’, and so are countless others including charities, sporting organizations and government.

Nothing cynical, underhand or even remotely relating to expenses scandals here. What are they all doing then you ask? The answer is ‘phlogging’. The aptly named concept of sending a blog entry live from your telephone.

The clever idea has been coined and developed by ipadio, a subsidiary of communications company Nemisys.

So simple to use, you sign up with your name, email address and up to two telephone numbers, and are presented with a dial in number and pin code. Then you’re all set to do your first phlog!

So what is different about this to other blogging/video/audio online? For one thing it’s instant. As soon as you dial in, you are broadcasting live over the internet. (Good thing or bad I haven’t decided yet). For another, you don’t need to buy anything. No new equipment, no geographical restrictions, no need to have wifi available where you are, or any cables to move something from your phone to your computer. You dial in from a landline or mobile and you’re set.

I think this is amazing, and you can listen to my first attempt right here

Likely uses? SO many. This thing is so simple that there’s no training required. It’s also so friendly that even people who have no idea how to handle anything web-related should be able to manage it. And the fact that you can do it anywhere in the world is really cool.

Have a look at Boris in action.

Downsides? I am sure there are many. Firstly cost. I have so far only tried a really short entry and I’m nervously awaiting the phone bill. As you’re calling an 0845 number, chances are that there will be a cost of around 50p per minute in the UK on most networks. So if you were interested in using this for recording something longer - an interview for example – the costs may mount up pretty quickly, particularly when compared to recording something for free onto your laptop using something like audacity.

Having said all of that, I think this is really neat and I’m going to play around with it some more. I’m hoping others will too!

I’m loving the current fashion for nostalgia in PR and advertising. You’ll have done well if you managed to miss the massive Wispa campaign last year. Stuff like that is just such strong testimony to the power of using brand advocates to spread your messaging for you.

The recent trend is a bit different but aims to generate that same nostalgic buzz. Three examples are Persil, Hovis and Nestle (with Milky bar).

Persil is cutting in clips from their ads over many years  – I love the ’90s one with the teen pouring powder all over the floor – celebrating 100 years of the brand. It’s great. Really can’t help smiling watching it.

The Hovis ad is a little bit different – same concept as the Persil ad, we watch a boy running through time from when Hovis first launched, through to the present day. I don’t recognise the clips or the music so I think it’s been made from scratch, but it’s meant to feel familiar.

Then today the Milky bar Kid found his way back into our hearts. I can’t find the ad, but Zoe Wood’s Guardian article looks at all of these examples.

I hadn’t read the Guardian article until I sat down to write this post, and I feel a little sad that it wasn’t just me wondering what the psychology is that is behind this – although also secretly pleased that my random musings on the journey home may actually be interesting.

So what is the psychology behind this trend? Well according to Wood, as well as researchers from Washington State Uni and Wolverhampton Uni, it’s about remembering ‘better times’. Wood’s article contributes the rise to the current economic doom and gloom. People look back on the past with a fondness, so the nostalgia ads give us that warm happy glow that makes us want to part with not only our money but our brand loyalty too.

A while back I posted a step by step experience of setting up a social network on Ning. After trying it out, I put forward a proposal to my employers to develop a Ning social network. I have to say that I’ve been really pleased by the results. It’s by no means a perfect platform, and in the long term if you have budgets to custom build then something like this looks pale in comparison, but this was a low cost route to getting a really dynamic two-way conversation started not just between us and our customers, but between those researchers who could now talk directly to each other. It’s a joy to behold (no, really!). So, with all this in mind here are a few pearls of wisdom on getting started with setting up a social network on Ning.

  • Do keep it simple. Like most things in life, you need a straightforward idea to make something like this work. Start out with a clear objective of what you want users on the network to do. Think about the big players – Facebook wants you to connect with your friends, Twitter wants to know ‘What you’re doing right now’, etc. And think about other dynamic tools such as blogs: the best ones are those that have a very simple objective, such as Problogger’s aim to, in essence, help bloggers blog better.
  • Don’t get feature-itis. Simple simple simple. Do you really need that ‘what cat are you’ game? Does it really meet your site objectives? I didn’t think so.
  • Do map your user profiles and identify top needs. At the end of the day, what you want doesn’t matter. We sat down and drew up a list of who we thought the site’s key users were, and prioritised a list of ‘user needs’ that they might have, for example “I am a lecturer, I want to share resources with my students”, or “I am a researcher, I want to share information about upcoming events I am organizing”. After prioritizing these, we put together a site that offered the functionality to fulfill just these needs, and nothing more. And as I’ve alluded to, while we got some of the priorities right, in other cases we were wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. Users will show you the things that they want and show you the things that they need once the site is up and running. It’s not static you can change it once you see how they are making the site their own.
  • Do try everything out. The site can be really clever, and sometimes just plain annoying. One of the best things about it is how easy it is to move features around. See what it looks like, and if it doesn’t work, just shift it or remove it. If you don’t like the functionality of certain segments, take them out. The only things you can’t remove altogether are things like the ‘My page’ and the individual blogs. But even there if you experiment with textboxes and blank pages you can find ways to work around any difficulties. The help section is pretty good on Ning so look it up if you get stuck.
  • Don’t go in blind. In this arena don’t be afraid to take advantage of the wide body of good and bad examples and learn from them. Ning is a social network platform – there are a vast number of networks on there. Spend some time taking in others in similar areas to yours or completely different.
  • Do edit the text. One of the least intuitive functions on there but HIGHLY useful – to change certain phrasings across the site, select ‘Language Editor’ from the manager’s tab, then click in to edit the language that the site is set to (don’t confuse which version of English you are using: select either US or UK and stick to it!). Then from within there, you can search for specific words or phrases and choose to re-write them. For example the automatic invitation text reads “Come join me on…”. That wasn’t something we thought worked for our target members. Very useful.
  • Do edit the registration information. Once someone is joined then they no longer have to give you any information about themselves. Think carefully about what you want to know about them (the edit is under ‘Profile questions’). Keep the registration short, and if you don’t need something to be compulsory, think about whether you really need it to be there at all.
  • Don’t be put off by power users. It’s well known that the majority of social networkers are lurkers. You’ll get a small handful of people who are regular contributors, and that is absolutely no bad thing, as long as the discussion stays on topic and open-minded.
  • Do set guidelines. This is for the site users but also for anyone within your organization that is contributing. There are some fantastic examples out there on best practice for blogging that apply equally well to social networks.
  • Do monitor daily. Only by actively participating will you understand what is working and what isn’t, and more importantly will you understand what your users are getting from the site.

Interested in seeing how ours turned out? Visit www.methodspace.com

Harper Collins last week launched HarperPlus (see Bookseller coverage here). The site describes itself as “designed to enhance the reading experience”. By entering a page number from the print title where a symbol is displayed, you will get access to a variety of additional content (either video, audio, image, text or game).

The first book on the site is Apache by Ed Macy. It’s easy to see why a book like this works well. There are lots of additional photos, and creating a platform like this is a way to introduce additional value without adding to production charges, while at the same time creating something that readers can interact with.

This is a great strategy by HC. Not just in terms of reader engagement, but more for the benefit of providing the book with free online advertising. Readers get to experience something of the book’s essence outside of just the print title.

Where I think HC’s site falls down is in the levels of interaction possible. Given this is a very glossy-web.2.0-looking site, it’s almost frustrating to find that actually, once you’re on there, it’s all pretty much flat content, with little or no opportunities for the fans to engage on the site. They can read the additional content, listen to the audio and watch the videos, but they have no choice other than to do this on their own. This is missing a trick: while reading is a solitary activity, sites like this should be faciliating dialogue, and letting fans connect. Other than social media bookmarking, you’re on your own on HC Plus. Shame.

Wordle: mithums' twitter

Do I REALLY say ‘really’ all that much? oh dear. Check it on twitter.com/mithum

Make your own twitter wordle

I went to an absolutely brilliant talk last night arranged by the CIPR’s Greater London Sector Group (GLG). Nick Fitzherbert provides tips for presentation skills that are based on principals he acquired during his years as a member of the Magic Circle (if you really are too young or were deprived the joys of Paul Daniels in the 1980′s/90′s then see here for more).

Everything he said reinforced previous presentation training sessions I’ve attended over the years, but he did it in such a sparky way (throwing in magic tricks along the way) that he had the whole room engaged and excited in a way you wouldn’t have expected.

All attendees came away with a book of 44 essential tips, summarised into four top sections: engagement, attention, impact and conviction. The really nice example he gave was of live performers and how they prepare. He talked about QUEEN’s preparation for Live Aid: they were booked for a 20min set, which they planned out (it’s short), thinking about their audience (what do they know already – best hits) and constructing it accordingly (short attention span, so it’s got to be a medley), practising it over and over, getting it down to a perfect 18mins, and then planning a BIG FINISH (sing along to We are the Champions). Result? They were claimed to be the best act of the day by some of the biggest names there.

Other really interesting highlights were thinking about expectations and perceptions: it’s not something I’ve ever really thought about in my preparations. But it makes complete sense: the whole ‘picture’ has to be based on an understanding of what the audience already knows, what they’re distracted by both in the room you’re in right now, but those other external distractions too (what’s for tea, when’s my train…).

I also really liked the advice on setting up: attention drives from left to right: so you should stand to the left of your projector screen so that attention comes back to you. You also shouldn’t look at that screen unless you want your audience to look at it too!

Nick runs two-day training courses on presentations. He also runs coaching and creative thinking courses. I’d definitely look him up if you are looking to fill any training requirements in those areas.

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