Wednesday, September 23, 2020

How to use Google Shopping to get Local Sales

Google changed the game today, making its Google Shopping tool the daddy for retail SMEs and businesses selling locally.

When people search for things these are the pictures that appear at the top of the search results and link through to retailers sites and points of purchase. Google Shopping compares prices, etc., but now it also adds local retailers on a map and highlights who's closest to you.

Searchers can navigate to the Shopping tab, click the 'nearby' filter, and voila. They can also, and this is a far more common way of searching, add the phrase “near me” or “nearby” after whatever it is they're looking for and get localised 'crap on a map'. Brilliant for mobile searches and more and more important in modern times when people are shopping more and more locally and provenance and 'food miles' are more valued by future customers.

This is great, but actually getting your products onto Google Shopping just got super important and it's a bit of a hidden art. Here's how to get your business up and running in a few easy steps, with just an afternoon of playing in Photoshop and fiddling with your product data (depending on how many products you've got, obviously).

Step 1 - Join Google Merchant Centre.

Adding products and the whole process is done here. It's actually a pretty simple interface and this is where you add your products. Managing shopping campaigns is done through Google Ads, because they want your ad dollars, but more on that in due course.

Step 2 - It's all about the visuals, and I really can't stress this enough. Have nice imagery or die trying. Google Shopping is a visual experience, like Pinterest for bargain hunters, and this is what's going to make your artisan bath products, widgets and spares, Danish home office furniture, local history DVDs, value veg boxes, or reproduction whatever stand out from the crowd.

Google Shopping uses the images on your website to 'create' listings, so it's these images that you need to fluff appropriately for the platform. Google has it's own image guidelines which are well worth following - give them what they want, Google knows best. You will have to consider this during photography as well. A basic guide is:

  • Use even and clear lighting. For small stuff, you should probably invest in a light tent and a couple of teeny spots. They're buttons on eBay and some traders offer custom kits just for this purpose. A YouTube video later you'll have all the skills you need to use it properly.
  • If it's something like clothing show it in situ. People buy clothes more if they see them 'on body'.
  • Avoid overly complicated and madly coloured backgrounds. Go for white, plain grey or anything light. Keeping the product up-front and clear makes Google happy.
  • Show what you're selling at the right scale - it should be around 90% to 75% of the total image. You're not selling set dressing. Keep the product dominant.
  • No major image additions like watermarks, dissolves, blur, fancy frilly borders or whatever. Keep it super simple.

Step 3 - Set up your feeds.

With everything ready to rock it's time to get busy with Google Merchant Centre.

Next, click on Products > Feeds, and then on the blue “+” icon. Add your country and native language so that Google knows which initial demographics are going to see your wares. There's no point me going over all the particulars of how to do this when so many others already have - Google itself has a really good section on this, here. Just make sure all your input fields are full.

Step 4 - Link this account to your Google adword account.

Yes, they want your money. Google Shopping, like liberty, is not free.

At the top right-hand corner in your Mechant centre click on the three vertical dots, then click 'Account linking'. If you've not got an AdWords account, you can make one from here. If you have,  click on 'Link account' and enter AdWords customer ID. If you need to know where this is sign in to your Google Ads account then click the help icon at the top right corner - you'll find your 'Customer ID' at the bottom of the menu. Sorted.

Step 5 - Create a campaign.

In your Merchant Center account you should then be able to click on 'Create Shopping Campaign'.

Give it a campaign name, a location and daily budget. When you press 'Create' you’ll be asked to carry on via your Google AdWords. You can also do this directly in AdWords if you like, just open your Campaigns tab (on the left) and click that blue “+” icon, than pick 'New campaign'.

Again, Google has a really painless how-to on the topic, here, which will save me waxing lyrical.

Step 6 - Place some bids on your Shoping campaign.

In settings, you’re asked to select a bidding strategy and set a campaign budget. Go on. Spend some money. Google has a Bid Simulator Tool that's actually quite a lot of help here, and shows how any changes will impact on your ad performance. This gets pretty involved when you're trying to get the best bang for your buck, but there's some good tips here.

Step 7 - Targeting and scheduling.

More important stuff. Pick the places you want your ad to target, but be sure to only target places you ship to or where you're actually located.

You can change the Target and Exclude settings under 'Under Location', but the default's usually good enough. This going to be especially important for the new map settings to get folks ready to come in-store to pick up that bargain today.

Next set the start and end dates of the campaign. Rocket science it ain't. 

Step 8 - Create Ad Groups.

The final step is to create campaign ad groups. It's these that determine what sort of ads are going to be run and how you’ll organise the bids for them.

There's a couple of types - Showcase Shopping (multiple items as part of a sort of catalogue style ad that showcases your overall business, working on cost per engagement) and Product Shopping ads (for a single product, working on cost per click).

Click 'Save' and you've made your first ad. It's actually surprisingly simple.

It takes a bit of time and fiddling to get the best out of Google Shopping, but it's well worth the effort if you ahev a sutable product type - especially now it's local. The Ads work connect sellers and buyers in a unique and efficient way, right at the top of the search results if your bid is strong enough. It's compaetative, but a good solid place for ad spend dollare, especially now it's rolled out it's new map functionality.

I recommend having a play. Highly. There's a tonne of Google Shopping tutorials out there, especially on YouTube, and rally no need to seek a pro-tool or agency help.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

What are Porters 5 Forces and are They Still Important?

As well as working in digital marketing for many years, I've often operated within a traditional marketing framework. When creating strategy or insight for a new company, part of my remit has sometimes been to identify their strengths and weaknesses in their chosen marketplace. This is part of the process where we create brand voices, brand personas, etc., and is a part of the overall marketing process often missed in digital marketing.

Luckily I'm old, and this is what we used to do "back in my day" that's still (of some/limited) value today, all be it a very general analytical framework suitable only to gather the basics about a company and its market position.

Please also read the end of this post. This method has its limitations and is really just a beginning to look for better understanding, rather than a solid framework for success.

So, what are Porters Five Forces?

This is a tool invented by a chap called Micheal Eugene Porter back in 1999 (at Harvard Business School) in order to create a framework for business analysis (and us marketing types) to document and evaluate the competitive strengths and weaknesses of a company in any given marketplace. It helps to recognise your USPs and your possible profitability - so gives your positive (and negative, in relation to your competitors) talking points in relation to any content marketing you might undertake.

Understanding 'Porters Five Forces Analysis'.

Most businesses keep a close eye on their competition, and while this is one element there's far more to a business strategy than just doing things better (or differently) to your nearest rival. Mr Porter identifies 5 specific forces at work against sales or recognition in a competitive environment. These are:

1. Competition.
"A monopoly renders people complacent and satisfied with mediocrity.”
This is the first and most obvious of Porters 5. In short, who (if anyone) can undercut you or offer a better service to the same target audience? The more competitors, plus the equivalent number of products or services they offer, the weaker your business position. Factors such as geography and standard segmentation elements also play a part in this. Potential clients and suppliers will always look for a company offering a better service at a reduced cost.

Naturally, if competitive opposition is low, businesses have more leverage to charge higher prices and set the terms to reach healthier sales and turn a better profit.

2. Supplier Power.
Change is inevitable, but everybody resists change.
The fewer suppliers of product (or service) elements, the greater pricing power they have over their customers (you). Do you have exclusivity in supply? Just how much DO you depend on your current suppliers? Can you source your componentry or raw elements elsewhere? Sometimes profits end up being diverted to suppliers rather than the end businesses.

Remember in the 90s when Microsoft surpassed IBM when they licenced MS-DOS and IBM lost the PC market? It pays to buy your suppliers a bottle of Johnny Walker and to send them a card at Christmas.

3. Customer Power.
"This job would be great if it wasn't for the f***ing customers."
How many buyers do you have and how much would it cost you to find a new one? This is – essentially – the crux of customer power. Some businesses have a small but dedicated user base (like our local butcher) while some have a broader but more fickle clientele (like Tescos). A tighter and more influential customer base means each client has more authority to negotiate for lower prices and better deals, just through their footfall or purchase power. A business that has numerous, smaller, independent customers has a simpler time charging higher prices to boost profitability.

4. The Threat of Substitution.
Coke came before Pepsi, but only just.
What’s the likelihood of your clients finding a new way to do or source what you offer them? As an example, can your customers substitute your piece of accounting software by doing the work manually or by paying someone else to do it at a lesser price? A cheaper or easier substitution could be a killer for your profitability or market position.

5. The Threat of New Entry.
"Here come the Belgians, and they're playing their Joker."
Existing business in areas that have high barriers to entry – which could be through the likes of legal requirements, expensive start-up or running costs, mad brand loyalty (I only buy Apple), protected copyright elements, specific geographical hurdles (like platinum mining), the economics of scale (we’re bigger than they are) etc. - have a lot less competition than businesses that have lower barriers.

Pharmaceutical companies, for example, have patents on certain drugs. Oil and gas exploration needs serious capital to let businesses spread the risks of an unsuccessful drilling venture across lots of potential land leases.

Some Limitations of Porters Five Forces.

Easy enough, but this is only really useful - and this is worth remembering - for short term strategy. 

Nowadays the world moves a damn site faster than it did in Mr Porter's day. Rapidly changing technology and globalisation means your data can go out of date pretty damn quick. After all, it only takes one pandemic, a new device (see iPhone), a rapid-response marketing platform (social advertising) or fast-evolving trend to blow EVERYTHING out of the water. Great for the short term. Not so good for the long. Revisit your 5 forces analysis often or if you see any major or possibly disruptive change (all your customers just moved to a new social platform!?) in any of the elements above.

Porters Five Forces also has its limitations for businesses that cross into more than one industry and/or have wildly different product ranges. One size does not fit all. Apple and Cannon are competitors when it comes to cameras, for example, but not in other areas. Apple doesn't make printers and Cannon don't make smartphones.

This framework doesn’t work for not-for-profits, obviously, where making money for direct gain isn’t a prime consideration.

The Five Forces model really serves best as a starting point for a further examination of a business’s strengths and vulnerabilities, but it is at least a simple start. It also acts as a catalyst for ideas and messaging. Examining competitors, for example, can highlight competitor weaknesses against your strengths –  “We pride ourselves on our customer support”, for example, when a competitors clients are complaining about their poor helpdesk response or their returns policy.

Use it, by all means, but review it often and be aware that Porters Five Forces is a starting point and not an answer. It's dated, like me, but it's solid if you keep in mind its limitations.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Strategic Marketing Changes SMEs Need to Make Post-COVID

After 6-months of staring at our own wallpaper, working from home or looking at the world from behind a mask, consumer behaviour has changed considerably in a way we could never have predicted. Add to this a world recession plus the UK careering toward obscurity on the world stage c/o Brexit. Factor in a national second wave (any day now) and we've got the perfect storm for change. All bets and gloves are off for UK business. Que training montage.

As marketers, this is new territory. Words like 'unprecedented' and 'marketing disruption' are 'the new normal'. For SMEs, unused to this level of rapid change and without the finances or facilities to react, this could be a blood bath.

If there's any way you can deliver or serve your customers through online channels you need to be acting on this yesterday. Amazon just had a 30%+ boost in sales. Customer intent to shop in a physical store post-pandemic has plummeted 7% in the UK. This comes in a time when the retail high street was already in distress. Empty shops are on the rise as footfall sinks.

It's time to think about how you connect with your consumers. Obviously, e-commerce and digital channels should be your number one investment. It's critical to think about (and highlight) what will make you stand out from an already saturated market and to use every trick in our digital marketer's playbook to get the best bang for our investment. Investment will have to be made and money will have to be spent - but wisely, because not everyone has that right now.

How are you going to stand out against a behemoth of online retailers like Amazon? Sure, you could join them, but could you really stand to pay the basic seller's fee of (fixed rate) of  75p an item, plus referral fees and closing costs? Add to that the bulk of people shop for value as well as convenience, so how are going to undercut everyone else? A lot of people also use AmazonPrime, meaning they want it tomorrow, so you might also have to provide what you're selling in bulk to a local fulfilment centre. In times of financial hardship people also repair or replace with refurbished items. This means you also have the likes of eBay to contend with. It's not going to be easy and there's no one-solution-fits-all approach here.

Get your own WordPress site - there's still no substitute. Get help if needs be, but your call to action could be to get people to ring you if an online shopping system isn't for you. If it is think OpenCart, WooCommerce or Magento (they're all decent for SEO). Use solid images with your staff and customers in them - humanise y'self. Get on Trustpilot and start collecting reviews and case studies.

USPs (unique selling points) are going to be critical. What can you do to stand out from everyone else? On a local level, there might be benefits to being an SME - if you can get seen to show people those benefits. Imagine, for example, the power of being a local store who can showcase their (limited-time) deals and offers in social media (to a dedicated audience), hand-picked and sourced on the doorstep, then literally hop in the company van or use a local courier to drop off what your customer wants the same day? Post-Brexit, local provenance and supporting the regional economy could well be more of a necessity than a green social issue - and being ready to capitalise on that by humanising your company and giving that extra service could be the very thing that sets you apart from the likes of Tesco home delivery and Ocado. What can you do that your big competitors can't? Personalisation? Innovation? Localisation? Specialisation? After-care? Don't be surprised if we see a resurgence in traditional values and messaging.

Imagine being able to advertise locally, free through the likes of Google Business and organic SEO, but also via low-cost ads in the likes of Facebook and on a regional level. Get those remarketing codes into your website now, even if you can't afford an ad campaign immediately, and get it collecting visitors and interested parties - Adwords, LinkedIn, Facebook, whatever's appropriate to your audience. It'll save you money down the line when you inevitably look towards online advertising, even if you're not going to use it right away.

Making smart choices about ad spend will be important. Going granular and laser targeting your customers is going to be critical. Spreading your budget too thinly is a quick way to burn funds - and many SMEs don't want to feel like they're putting all their eggs in one basket. Trust me though, knowing your audience and who wants your service or product, and having the right landing page to give them the specific information they need to make that sale, is the way to go. Again there's a power in local. Small test spends with solid targeting.

Start sharing stories. This should be on a blog platform as part of your site and within your social channels. If you sell something as simple as eggs what makes you special? Maybe you write the name of the chickens on the boxes? That gives people ownership and investment. Maybe your a small off-licence and your staff write their own personal reviews of their favourite wines and whiskeys? Local brands mean local tagging and content. Maybe you're a local greengrocer and you've bought young Sally a moped so she can deliver to people who can't get out? Do your team sing while they work? Hello TikTok. Got a cool office or get out in the field in all weather? Hello Instagram. Empathy goes both ways, and people are trusting the big companies less and less (which is probably a whole other blog post). Small boosted posts in social will get your offers and deals under the right noses at the right times. Be relevant and authentic. Be there to offer a BBQ meat pack or Bouncy Castle just when people are going to need it. Send people to your content and make the most of that Ad referral code to capture anyone who shows an interest beyond your stories. These are basic strategies that most companies can put to use, now.

It's going to be important to look at how the world is going to change. Every car dealership and service centre worth their salt knows legislation is changing and is talking about electric vehicles - by 2030 you won't be able to buy petrol, diesel or even hybrid in the UK. Times are going to change fast, and if the conversation relates to you, you need to have a voice. Watch your market and watch the legislation. Be there to pick up on the good and the bad and use it to identify your own strengths. SMEs will have to be agile - things WILL NOT be going back to normal. Talk to your customers, digitally if not in person, because in times like this going with instincts instead of facts is dangerous (and unnecessary). Right now our customers have never been more sympathetic and insight is part of what separates us from the likes of Amazon.

If you need any help with this, especially if your business is based in Northern Ireland or The Republic, give me a shout on Twitter or LinkedIn. I've been giving advice to local companies, from pubs and bars to farm shops and auto dealers - if you're not already, now's the time to get ready and this isn't going back to the old normal.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Waving Goodbye to Blighty

Just a few lines to announce I'm heading for pastures new.

At the beginning of August, things being what they are, I was made redundant at Everard Group. A bloody shame, we had such plans and I really enjoyed working with some great folks there, but this is what happens when people eat Chiroptera.

With a looming UK (nay, World) recession, a current pandemic, a change in the general attitude of the UK as it careens towards casual fascism, unemployment, and Brexit hanging over the head of the working classes like the sword of Damocles, I've decided to run for (almost) foreign shores. As of tomorrow, I'll be a resident of Northern Ireland. 

From beautiful scenery to a lower cost of living. Here's to countless beaches and dramatic coastlines. The Ulster fry. Powers and Jameson's. Friendly folks who don't mind introverts. Taytos. Brilliant local radio. Better education. C.S Lewis, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, and Gary Moore. Open fires on rainy afternoons and ancient forests to walk my dogs.

Recent politics, media bias, a lack of general education, and a swing towards general intolerance means England isn't my home anymore. I'm done.

I'm in my fifties now. Here's to the third act.

I'll be living in Co. Tyrone for the first year, job hunting in The North and The Republic for something appropriate, and filling in the gaps with contract stuff. My worldly goods are packed into a Pickfords van, and I'm heading for the ferry as I press send on this post. There's a lot that local SMEs can get from what I do, and I feel a calling.

Connect with me on LinkedIn if you're looking for advice from a digital marketing manager in the Omagh area, if you have a contract or something permanent you think might entertain me, or happen to be local and fancy a drink.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” - Samuel Beckett.

Monday, March 09, 2020

How to Work from Home Without Going Crazy

Nationwide self-isolation is probably coming. I've revamped this article in the hope it may help.

I've worked remotely from the UK, in the past - with distant company offices in Stockholm, Alaska and Colorado - for many years. I even worked from home and in a virtual world for eighteen-months. I ran my own web design business from 2001 to 2003 from a tiny cabin on a narrowboat in the middle of the Nottinghamshire countryside.

Compulsory viewing so that everyone understands
the dangers of disturbing people when they are working from home.
Here's some basic advice, in the wake of coronavirus and the sudden move to self-isolation and working from home, so that you don't lose all your social skills and avoid going stark raving bonkers within a month.

Keep scheduled and regular core hours

This really is the key to it all: It seems obvious but our bodies are used to what our bodies are used to.

We need a little order and disciple to stay focused. We need to make sure this isn't going to suck for work/life balance. It's a slippery slope once you start working outside of your agreed hours, whatever they are.

It may be that we're working with a company or agency outside of our time zone. This is fine, but we need to set rigid guidelines for our colleagues and clients as to when we're available and when we're not. If we don't we'll end up working all the damn time, or twenty minutes here and there every evening or chairing client meetings at 3AM. After a while, that's just annoying, so setting out clear hours in advance is key.

Set yourself a working routine: "I walk the dog at 8 and start at 9. I have a break at 11 and lunch at 1. I go outside with a coffee at 3.30. I close the laptop for the day at 5.30." Admittedly, in the paraphrased words of Helmuth van Moltke, "No plan survives contact with the enemy", but you have to set a basic framework as you would if you were working in an office environment with others. A light smattering of casual discipline is key to a healthy workday.

Overtime should be an aberration, not a habit. Keep to those hours if you can. Sometimes you will have to meet up with colleges if they work in different parts of the world, but most working days overlap to some degree. If you're self-isolating then you're probably working with people in the same geographic territory (or at least close to your core hours).

I've had this fail, but I've always been happier when it's worked.

As part of this, try to eat and rest at regular times. We need and receive energy in different ways and at different times. Protein and coffee were my go-to's. Cheese omelette (the power of working from home) and a pot of filter will keep you more alert than carbs.

Working late and not getting enough sleep is the mind-killer. Lack of rest is the little-death that brings total obliteration. Get away from the blue light of your monitor or mobile device at least 2-hours before you plan to hit the sack.

Have a set space in which to work

It could be a spare room, an open roll-top desk, a standing space against shelves in the corner, the exclusive daytime use of the potting shed, or whatever. Having your own workspace means, soon enough, you switch into work-mode when you're there.

Keep distractions to a minimum

Home is full of other shit you could be doing. It's a hotbed of outlets for procrastination. There no harm in hanging up some laundry, or whatever, but do it when you have a scheduled break.

I particularly liked using the slow cooker in the winter. By 4PM the house smells ace and dinner's on the way with the illusion of not having cooked it - which also saves the temptation to start it early.

I know some people who work with a TV on and some who work with music. Some people don't find this a distraction - I don't particularly - but some people do, so just see how you go and, if you do, scarp that and enjoy the focus that comes with peace and quiet. Sometimes I've worked with an open Skype channel between myself and other colleagues, 3 or 4 at a time, with mutual music.

Don't start doing the dishes or folding sheets if you're not on one of your scheduled breaks.

Stay connected: Use face-to-face meeting software

Getting face-to-face with your clients and/or other staff is important. It keeps communication flowing and gives us a reason to put on pants (except on Wednesdays, when it's custom to go without - long story).

Using the likes of Google Hangout, Skype, Skype for Business, Slack Video, Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube Live and Microsoft Teams all have their merits, limitations and maximum numbers of participants. You'll probably need a decent mic and headset combo (covering both ears, not just one, then you can still stream your tunes and be ready if you get a call) plus a webcam if you don't have one built-in. The investment is well worth it.

Face-to-face means we communicate better. It allows for body language. It's more to-the-point and it seems to humanise people. Screen sharing is possible, so technical points are clearer and more easily explained. They give just enough one-to-one contact to make a real difference in long-term communications and relations.

Keep active

Got a walking machine or exercise bike? Remove the drying laundry from it and blow off the dust - just twenty-minutes a day will make a MASSIVE difference to you well being, mentally as well as physically.

Dogs are ideal, for everything, cos, dogs, but anything that will get you out - even just as far as the garden or patio - will blow some cobwebs away, help you focus on something further away than your monitor and freshen up the fug of not leaving the house.

I have puppers which need walking flu or not, and I live out in the middle of nowhere. Obviously, dogs will have to learn to use the garden or be walked at night for a few days in the advent of self-isolation. Dogs are ideal motivators and also give one that tiny bit of interaction that separates one from those languishing at Her Majesty's pleasure in solitary confinement.

Brush your hair and get out of the bathrobe and slippers

Keep your self-respect. It's easy to just potter about in leisure pants (or no pants - see Wednesdays) and a hoodie avec breakfast stains, but that's not going to help motivate you, keep you productive or encourage you to keep a working and efficient order in what you do.

Just because others may not see you doesn't mean this isn't important. Clean clothes - clean leisurewear if you must - but make sure you're crumb-free, shaved (if appropriate) and change daily, including after exercise.

As an aside, however, done properly this is the perfect time to grow that novelty facial hair you've always wanted to experiment with.

Getting in to the pattern from day one is a great practice that means your always ready for an impromptu client meeting and stay fresher and more awake just by keeping your standards up. I'm not suggesting a suit and tie, but personal grooming is all about self-respect and positive attitude. Let it go and it's a slippery slope - before you know it your sat in your underwear and a bathrobe at 5PM and "Can't see the point in getting change now cos it's nearly bedtime..." I found a morning shower, before a stroll with the pooch, was a natural and normal excuse to put on clean clothes and have a shave. Just like my normal office-bound work day. Maybe this is something you'd prefer to do later on, to separate the workday and evening?

You might think "That's kinds disgusting and it won't happen to me" but seriously, the next thing you know you've not had a haircut for 8-months and you have toenail fungus - I've honestly seen it happen to perfectly respectable former colleagues and others (especially when we worked remotely in virtual worlds).

Set targets for yourself. Get results

Regardless of professional targets like deadlines, set some personal goals. I once decided to walk across America, while stood at my desk. This is, admittedly, a bit extreme but I was well on my way from Delaware to California (having completed some 480 miles in 3-months on my walking machine) before my job changed and my standing/walking desk was no longer a practical factor.

I also learnt PPC when it was in its infancy, got pretty damn good at Premiere Pro, learn the basics of 3D Studio Max, rediscovered painting D&D miniatures, built a Meet-Up community for digital marketers, started podcasting for myself (see the now dormant Dirty WHOers and Yank & Limey) and wrote a lot of articles in the online press on digital marketing and networking online.

Personal projects, done in personal time, expand the mind and skillsets. It's essential when we don't have as much external motivation from colleagues/clients etc., that we still keep an active interest in learning and in personal project-driven activities.

It's conceivable this could be something more immediate, like building foundations for a new greenhouse or repairing an old motorbike, but I found that anything motivational that separates work from playtime is important for our mental well being when we're 'locked-in' to one location. Also, your not gonna wanna get too physical with flu symptoms.

Keep out of the way of your partner

Does your housemate or partner already work from home or do they have a day off mid-week?

Approach with caution. They're used to having this time and space and you're about to come crashing into like The Dukes of Hazard. They probably don't want you disturbing their routine, despite how nice they may say it'll be a first, so just go softly. I get it, and when I'm working I'm concentrating. All the best will in the world and love in the heavens doesn't mean I want my train of thought breaking to be given a kiss or told about something the cat just did.

If you're both suddenly quarantined then make sure you have your own working spaces. Hot desking or sharing the kitchen table will just get annoying - trust me. Also, it's much nicer to get back together and value your time after work's done and dusted.

Online ordering is your friend

You're gonna need tissues, food, plenty of fluids, take Paracetamol (if they're not panic bought out of existence) to treat aches and pains and lower your temperature.

Amazon usually provides, but give those smaller local companies a call and they might deliver - a lot of the bigger supermarkets will deliver a week's worth of chicken nuggets and beans or quinoa and whatever the hell goes with quinoa for a fiver these days.

Make sure, if you live as remotely as I do, to order more fuel oil and pre-cut wood as you'll be using more fuel by staying at home.

One idea might be to print out a note that says "Self Isolating. Please knock loudly and leave parcels by the door." A biohazard symbol makes for a nice extra flourish.

Also, occasionally, treat yourself - even if it's just to a posh takeaway. For a while you're your own HR dept., make the most of it.

Hope that's a help to someone. Keep a structured day and you should be grand. Don't annoy your housemates and keep active. It should only be for a few weeks, not years, so you should be fine.

I do wonder how many self-styled ‘digital gurus’ will suddenly have ‘remote working expert’ appear, as if by magic, on their LinkedIn profile in the coming weeks.

Good luck and get well soon 😉

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

How to Find Your Unique Selling Point and Brand Story

I'm head of colouring-in at a large workshop design and automotive equipment supply firm.

When I started 12-months ago I didn't know the first damn thing about tyre changers, wheel balancers, ADAS calibration, wheel alignment or how Porsche liked to have their workshop tiles laid out - but now I do. In fact, it's my round-one Mastermind specialist subject.

Coming to a technical topic like this I was tasked with making our portfolio stand out from the heard. I needed to know the story points in order to be able to tell the story. Here's how I've done that and how I found the unique selling point of us, as a brand, and the equipment and services we provide.

Make a competitors list.

Start off by checking out your competitors and make a big damn list of what you do differently. Hit their website. Look at what terminology and imagery they use. What are they trying to say and how are they trying to say it? What makes you, and what you do, different? Is it quality? Is it variety? Who is their market? What strengths are they highlighting? What sets you apart?

Emotional needs.

An emotional need can be clarified as a craving that, when satisfied, leaves you with a feeling of happiness and contentment. When unsatisfied, it leaves you with a feeling of unhappiness and frustration. This need (B2C) can be anything from the aspirational ownership of a pair of Manolo Blahniks to having more free time, from the love of your partner/dog/child/parent/hobby to the satisfaction of a job well done.

Make another column on your list and (from your customer's perspective) think about which emotional need is being directly met by your product or service. Some customer persona work might be needed here, to identify the core motivation of the folks who hold the purse strings or make the purchase decisions. Some good, solid, trolling through industry website and having an eye to what the overall business environment wants or how it is changing can help.

With B2B emotional needs, it may be something as simple as "We need to make more money," "We need to sell more Widgets," "We need more footfall," "We need to save time," or "We need to be ready for a legal change in our industry."

Get hands-on.

This is, in my opinion, the most important thing that will help you towards the realisation of your unique selling points.

You're gonna have to put some effort in.

Whatever it is you sell or provide, go and get up to your elbows in it. Go to trade shows. Go to demonstrations. Get the sales team to go over whatever it is, in-depth. Stand in front of the product. Walk around it. Learn how to use it. Imagine you're doing an explainer video and sketch out the storyboard. Get inspired.

I can't emphasise how important this is, especially in an industry like mine where we're talking installations and pieces of technical equipment worth tens of thousands.

Find the time and treat yourself to a training montage.

If I hadn't stood in front of one of our pieces of kit at a trade show, next to lots of similar equipment, I would never have realised it's size - it's footprint being much smaller than that of the competitors - meaning it was perfect for crowded tyre bays and workshops where space is at a premium. That's that particular machine's USP. Finding it, I had to stand in front of it and see it for myself.

You may have a product, like ours, which is large and unwieldy and where the USP may not be apparent until completion or installation. The story (USP) isn't always obvious. You'll need to follow it through the product journey.

Ask questions. Watch the demonstration teams. Hang around in the workshop and training centre. Video it. Learn how to do it yourself. Sit down with the directors and designers and ask questions. Walk the shop floor. Script it. Is it quick? Is it accurate? Does it come with upsell potential for the customer? Can it do two things at once? Is it cheap? Is it gold-standard? Again, how does it fulfil a possible need?

Grab Your Highlighter.

Ok, grab something fluorescent and let's underline the things on your list that your competitors can't replicate or imitate. Where are the current gaps that are going to make you stand out? Get a different colour and highlight anything that that they can't easily copy or reproduced.

Now we're getting somewhere. If not, go back and repeat everything above and spend more time with the product - an epiphany WILL come. Eventually.

What's in it for them?

It's critical to state, clearly, the benefit to the customer.

Key phrases.

Have a go at fashioning some phrases about your unique service or product that are clear, punchy, concise and hit those core 'truths' that make you different. Go over your list and pull out any keywords and phrases. Make them into factual sentences, with emotion. Back them up with facts and stats as necessary. Make sure these can be easily read and totally understood by your potential customers. Write it in their language.

Us as an example.

We have a mantra for our brand: Workshops of the Future.

It says that we're the future (obviously). It says that we're more forward-thinking then our competitors. It intimates that we're ready to embrace the likes of automated vehicle workshops, electric vehicle servicing, calibration of advanced driver-assistance systems. It says that we do things differently. It says 'cutting edge'. It helps to set us apart from the 'others'.

We design, supply and install premium garage equipment for many of the world’s most exclusive automotive brands - and we have to show our customers that we're ready to give them what they need as the market changes. We combine product expertise with a dynamic approach to ensure their workshop facilities reflect the impeccable standards of the vehicles they maintain, so our content, imagery, attitude, facilities, messaging, everything, has to be able to mirror that (and the quality they expect).

It also tells our client base - the likes of Maserati, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Porsche, etc. - that we're ready to give them what they need for the next decade and beyond. We know regulations, manufacturers specifications/standards and how to embrace the petrol and diesel ban being introduced in 2035 (or possibly earlier). This 'attitude' and offer makes us stand out in an industry that, on the surface, doesn't seem as dynamic or glamourous as it is in actuality - there's a lot of Porsche and Jaguar Landrover showroom openings to go to as marketing manager. We've laid out our stall and committed to our unique selling point. This is our brand story.

After establishing the overall brand I went more granular and took a deep-dive. The overall brand is relatively simple compared to the USPs of individual pieces of equipment and departmental services. The story they tell may be one that fulfils the needs of reliability, the quest for and importance of accuracy, OE standards/quality, seamless ease, repeatability, longevity, time/space/energy saving, or a whole different need and want our clients may have.

Everything has a story, it's just a matter of finding it.

In conclusion.

No matter what your product or service just stop and look and think about the problems and industry needs that you (as a brand) and your individual service or product solves for your future clients.

Again, I can't emphasise how important it is to get hands-on and out in the field. Involvement is the key to understanding. Stories don't write themselves.