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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.

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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.