Get on your bikes – real-time marketing is key to social engagement

The riders in the Tour de France passed along the top of the road where I live today and, although the action itself lasted less than two minutes, the area was in lockdown from seven in the morning. Thousands – literally thousands – thronged to our little part of North East London to line the streets, cheer and wave their flags.

And then the rain started to fall. It didn’t dampen the spirits but it did show how seizing every marketing opportunity can really pay off. The staff of an estate agent lining the route were despatched to hand branded umbrellas to the waiting crowd and then take photos to be shared on social platforms and, no doubt (or at least I hope) sent to the local newspaper as part of their coverage.

Okay so it’s not every day that you get a major sporting event like the Tour de France passing through but that doesn’t mean to say that managing your marketing ‘in the moment’ shouldn’t be a priority.

“Newsjacking” an event or a news story as a hook for your PR or marketing message can help you gain valuable PR exposure and engagement on social platforms. Brands and agencies that resort to pre-scheduling every post fail to understand how real-time marketing can help make their business or their clients’ business part of the social conversations that satisfies people’s hunger for discussion around news and events.
The message is you need to identify the opportunity and then be quick – quick to organise, quick to broadcast and quick to engage.

Top marks went to biscuit brand Oreo last year year when they responded to a blackout at the stadium staging the US Super Bowl with a Tweet showing a picture of an Oreo with the caption “you can still dunk in the dark”. This was retweeted 15 thousand times and earned twenty thousand likes on Facebook during the black-out. This was a brand that spotted an opportunity at a moment’s notice and captured it.

Whether you’re an Oreo or an SME, you can no longer afford not to be alive to the power of real-time marketing.

Is it really important to make your customers feel happy?

ImageWe were interested to read a new study a week or two back that revealed the UK’s happiest brands and explained how they instilled an emotional connection with consumers.

For the record, Cadbury’s was selected as the ‘happiest’ brand in the UK, according to research by advertising agency Isobel in association with Cog Research. Who’d have thought research would show that our leading chocolate brand is also the one that makes us feel happiest?

The study ranked Andrex second, followed by Google, Fairy, Nivea, YouTube, Amazon, Mars, Walkers and Heinz, indicating that brands, which display ‘happy characteristics’ connect better with consumers. Apparently a happy brand is a successful brand: it is better recalled, better liked and chosen more often, according to the report.

The research says that happy brands are determined by five core characteristics: whether they are playful, happy, trustworthy, generous or optimistic.

However, we’re not sure the extent to which this rings true across all sectors. There are some brands which we may trust but which we don’t want to be either playful or happy. We want them to be serious and professional and, in fact, if by nature of their business they suddenly became frivolous and fun, we would become less likely to trust them, not more.

So what are the implications of all this? Our belief that we have become more savvy during the recession and are more discerning in the choice of brands and businesses with which we choose to engage. We want our relationship with those brands to be genuinely two-way and based on value and remain uncertain the extent to which this is compatible with a happiness index.

Our view is that your business needs to find ways of engaging with and developing a relationship with its potential customer base in a manner that rings true to the service you deliver and the role you fulfil for them. Don’t try to be your customers’ best friends or expect them to be yours; expect their loyalty only as long as you are fulfilling the need they want from you and ensure your marketing activity – whether it is above the line or below the line, offline or online – reflects genuinely what their experience and expectations of you are. They want reliability, value, professionalism and great service – they don’t want you to toy with their affections.

So don’t commit energy trying to fill the happiness gap in their lives – leave that to their friends and family. But if you can be the ones that can fill the satisfaction gap through what you offer and the way you offer it, then you will be as close to gaining their loyalty as it is possible to be.

Implications to the left of me, implications to the right of me

There’s a dichotomy in the way many clients view PR and their relationship with their PR agencies.

At a superficial level, there are those who view their agencies as coverage production factories, pumping out content to try and get as many column inches as they possibly can. These are the ones who don’t get the best value for money or have the lesser appreciation for the role of PR in terms of reputation management. 

Others do see PR in the wider context of their business, the reputation of their brand, how the service they offer or the products they sell are perceived in the wider market.

The majority don’t see this side of PR until they are stuck in a crisis. In these instances, it may be that they turn to the agency to place a sticking plaster over a gaping wound, because they haven’t involved them early enough to prevent the injury from initially being so bad.

Take this week’s news, for example.

James Swinstead, 85, died ‘almost instantly’ last week after water rushed on board the British cruise ship Marco Polo as it was battered by waves during severe storms. Now, his widow, Helen says she has been offered a 25 per cent discount off of her next holiday as compensation.

Any PR practitioner worth their salt would have stepped back from this situation and seen how offering a widow a discount on sailing again on the ship on which her husband died would be seen, at best, as insensitive and at worst quite offensive. In a state of high emotion it is hardly surprising the company has now become the focus of their despair.

The circumstances of Mr Swinstead’s death, not withstanding comments subsequently made about the maintenance of the vessel, were extreme and tragic. Appearing to fail to respond in a measured and compassionate manner gives the appearance of compounding the tragedy and, instead of leaving the cruise ship company appearing concerned, in tune and going the extra mile, they risk more damage to their reputation than the accident itself would have caused in the first place.Image

And so to the message – recognise that there are potential PR implications in almost every aspect of your business and every strategic decision you take.  Apply that thinking as part and parcel of your operation, bring your PR advisers into the fold early, have a process for managing crises like this and you won’t go too far wrong. Remember it is better to get it right first time than to jump too quickly and get it wrong.  

2014 – the year when less will be more


The architect Frank Lloyd Wright once famously wrote that “less is more only when more is too much.” The question for businesses and marketers as we enter 2014 is how to know when more is too much.

The digital explosion offers as many challenges as it does opportunities for businesses of all sizes, but especially for SMEs. Each day, there seems to be another social platform to plug your business into and how to manage your profile on Google+, Circle, Instagram, Storify and Pinterest, let alone YouTube, Twitter and Facebook can leave even the most tech-savvy marketer a little baffled. The temptation over the past couple of years has been to generate as much content as possible and spread it liberally across your various social platforms, whilst also using it to engage with media, online and offline, as well. And that’s before you’ve factored in a blog.

The focus in 2014 is not only going to be on quality of content over quantity, but also in refining your marketing communications activity and honing it into one or two campaigns that can reach across your online and offline marketing channels.

The temptation on the first day back in January is to jump in with both feet and hit the market with activity whilst it’s still digesting the last of the Christmas pudding and New Year champagne. It’s worth, though, spending some time early in January, either as a team or with an external moderator (waves!!) to explore what it is you are actually trying to achieve.

  • Revisit how you describe your business and its proposition, focusing not on the key words that you think are important but those that you think will be important to your customers. They’re often not the same!  
  • Take some time to discuss what you offer that your competitors do not and what they offer that you do not. Ask yourselves who your customers are and what they really want from you.
  • Look for the words that you would use to describe both the values and personality of your business – and then write down what the proof or justification is for the claim you are making. It’s all very well saying you offer great customer service – where’s the proof?
  • And finally….ask yourself what success for your business would look like. Where will you be at the end of 2014 compared to now – be as specific as possible and then ask yourself which products or services, which markets and which customers are going to help you achieve that.

Then – and only then – are you really ready to build your marketing communications programme and to look at the campaigns that will encapsulate those objectives and target markets in a way that also enables you to reach across online and offline media and platforms in an integrated, consistent and targeted manner. That’s where the creativity comes in but without the planning first it will be little more than creativity for the sake of it.


Time to shoot the one-trick PR pony


I can remember the time when PR companies would be dismissive of the need for advertising and advertising agencies would do vice versa in order to protect their own patch. Direct marketing agencies would dismiss both. What the clients ended up with was disconnected marketing conducted by agencies that would only reluctantly work together under duress and with suspicion.

Thankfully the silos have been broken down a little, largely due to the emergence of online as a powerful channel for marketing, and with it has come the whole new area of content marketing. Indeed, such is the clamour for good content across online platforms, Forbes recently reported that the top new marketing job recruited and hired in 2014 will be a Director of Content. 

At the higher end this may well be the case. But for many, particularly those in the SME sector – and that’s the vast majority of businesses in the UK – content needs to be a fundamental part of their marketing strategy moving forward. The conventional wisdom that PR builds relationships and content marketing tells stories may be true but to remain relevant, PR has to undertake and deliver on both.

If your PR or marketing agency is working with you to conceive, develop and implement your marketing communications strategy and your content marketing, presumably, has similar objectives to your marcomms, then the two have to work in harness with each other to be most effective.

Content marketing and PR are two sides of the same coin. The days when SMEs could afford to take on a PR agency to work purely on raising brand awareness or delivering on reputation management are long gone. Thankfully. Today PR and content have to deliver together on brand awareness and reputation management but, crucially, also on business development. A PR agency that purely focuses on conventional media relations is fast becoming anachronistic. A PR agency that delivers content for media as well as across social and digital platforms, including podcasting and blogging, is one that is best placed to help your company engage with customers and potential customers across multiple touch points.

This approach represents an intelligent use of external marketing support, should deliver better value for money, contribute to more likely achievement of your commercial objectives and demonstrate the worth of your agency far better than any spurious calculation about equivalent advertising value or readership reach possibly can. 

Bland brand – are you the equivalent of magnolia wallpaper?

I know I shouldn’t have been surprised. As somebody who walks around with his iPhone so close to him that it would need to be surgically removed, the findings of a new study into Britain’s online habits still produced some startling statistics.

The Internet Advertising Bureau’s Digital Adspend report found that consumers now average 43 hours a month online, equivalent to one in every 12 waking minutes of their lives – fuelling a record six months’ spend of £3.04bn by advertisers. Almost a quarter of this time is spent on entertainment whilst social networks and blogging take up 12 per cent of the total.

With smartphone penetration having reached two-thirds of the population, engaging with consumers in the virtual world is perhaps even more important than engaging with them in the real world.

This is both an opportunity and a challenge for marketers and brands. I am currently reading an excellent book “Predatory Thinking – A Masterclass in Out-thinking The Competition” by the veteran ad man Dave Trott (

In it Trott tells a series of stories each of which provides a marketing lesson. At the end of one particular story, he provides a series of salutary statistics that we should all be aware of. Although the stats relate to advertising, the message is relevant to all marketers and all businesses seeking to achieve cut-through in their marketing to reach stakeholders and other target audiences.

Trott writes that £18.3 billion a year is spent in the UK on all forms of advertising; 4% is remembered positively, 7% is remembered negatively and 89% is not remembered at all. That 89% means that £16.3 billion is being wasted and the marketing activity it is funding is not being noticed at all.

Too many companies want to play it safe; too many are content for their marketing activity to be like wallpaper: present, nice but unremarkable. Now it’s time to not only think about who you want to target and what you want to say to them, but also how you are going to engage with them. The challenge to businesses and marketers targeting the smartphone generation (and that’s pretty much all of us) is to be bolder, be noticed and be talked about. This is the approach we are endeavouring to take for ourselves and for our clients – we’ll show you soon the fruits of our labour.

One Direction or The Rolling Stones – which brand are you?

I originally wrote this blog last December, but in the light of the premiere of the new One Direction movie, “This Is Us”, I thought I’d give it a refresh.


An estimated crowd of 70,000 squeezed into London’s Leicester Square in an effort to catch a glimpse of the world’s biggest boy band as they turned up for the premiere of their movie. It’s a familiar scene for them. When they celebrated the release of their album Take Me Home on the Today show in New York late last year over 15,000 screaming fans in Rockefeller Plaza many of whom had camped out for as long as five days in the freezing cold and rain. 

Around the same time The Rolling Stones were celebrating 50 years in the industry by playing to a sell-out London crowd for the first time since 2007. The Stones, all in their 60s and 70s, performed in front of 20,000 screaming fans at the O2 and then went on this year to play Hyde Park and Glastonbury in triumph.

All very interesting but what’s the point? Look at it from a marketing perspective. It’s worth noting the differences between the high octane, smash and grab approach of One Direction, hitting the consumer on multiple touch points, ramping up consumer awareness steeply and sharply in multiple markets, utilising every tool at their disposal in order to create a wave of enthusiasm and hysteria that the brand can exploit without, one would suggest, expecting to still be around in five, ten let alone fifty years. It’s classic get into the market, make as much impact as you can, exploit it for what you are able and get out before the market moves away from you. 

Of course, one could argue that what One Direction are doing now is no different to the way the Stones built their following in the 60s. The difference, perhaps, is that the machine behind the One Direction brand is creating the market rather than merely riding it in a very modern marketing manner. The fans have bought into the brand, knowing that it comprises much more than just the music. They are buying into a brand which offers the individuals, the fashion, the promise and the brand values of fun, sex and a dose of boy-next-door naughtiness. 

Contrast this with the Stones, whose whole brand since the 60s has been built on longevity; on creating a sustainable, loyal follower base whilst ensuring that the brand has always remained current, never really retro and has avoided being tarnished with the nostalgia tag that has affected so many others. This has required a different approach to. They have recognised the value in being more sparing in their use of the individuals, of understanding what their consumers want from the Rolling Stones brand, of keeping the brand values consistent, even as the band members get older. There is still the same sense of rebellion about the Stones that there was at the beginning, which has kept the brand valid and true even though that’s hard to maintain convincingly as the members reach their seventies. What they have achieved is an authenticity and aspirational nature around the brand across all of its elements that has made it better placed than almost anyone else to play the long game and not only survive, but win. 

The common factor, of course, is that both are giving their consumers what they want at this particular moment in time. But how does this transfer to other brands and businesses. How successful are other brands at creating the market rather than merely riding it. How many businesses look within themselves and actually utilise the ability they have to shape the market to meet their commercial objectives. And what prevents them from so doing? How many assess the importance of refreshing the brand and the way it communicates in order to keep it current. 

Essentially it’s three things: a lack of genuine understanding about the brand and how that suites with what the consumer really wants. Don’t forget, you need to position the brand according to what your market is looking for – not what you think it should be looking for. A lack of imagination – brands not exploiting creative marketing thinking and doing what they have always done previously, regardless of the results it has delivered. As one client once said to me “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always had.” And finally there is fear. Brands are frightened, especially in the current climate, to stand out even though they know the potential rewards are greatest for those that impose themselves on their markets, in a structured, targeted and creative manner. 

The brands that are the most successful are the boldest and most targeted in the way they approach their markets. Get it right and the world could be talking about you. Fail, and your brand could disappear faster than the last X Factor contestant to fade quickly away.



I want to pay homage to the Norwegian PR company hired to inject some life into the campaign of the Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. They had him out on the streets for an afternoon working incognito as a taxi driver in Oslo, which enabled him to listen to and engage with the voters who got into the back of his cab. It’s a fantastic piece of creative PR, not just because it captured the attention of the media as well as the interest of the voters with whom he came into contact, but also because it served an actual purpose. It enabled him to engage directly with the voters and therefore, presumably, helped meet one of his strategic objectives for communications.

PR as an industry is packed full of fantastically creative people, each and every one capable of coming up with stand-out ideas that will out-innovate their colleagues or their competitors. But all of that creativity means very little unless it is working towards a common purpose.

The starting point for any campaign must be to identify what the commercial objectives are; ask yourself what success would look like if everything worked to plan and then how you would measure or quantify that success. Only then should you begin to apply the techniques and disciplines you might use to help you achieve those objectives – and only then can you get creative to come up with the ideas to create the standout you need.

There are two further caveats. No matter how awesome the idea, if it doesn’t fit with the objectives you have set, park the idea for another time. Don’t try and shoehorn the idea to fit the objectives. And second, if your brand is conservative in character, with a traditional customer base, don’t put your energies behind a wild and whacky idea that is likely to baffle, confuse or even alienate them.

Your brand profile is critical to success. Increasingly we buy products and services from companies because we value or respect the brand FIRST, and we look at the detailed features and benefits second. If we got to buy a new car, a new phone or a new television, we enter the shop armed with a hit list of brands and refine our choice from there. The key is to make it onto that hit list of brands in the first place.

Your company must live up to its brand promise. It must deliver what we expect it to deliver in the way we have come to expect it. Surprises should only be good ones; initiatives should be in keeping with the brand personality. Easy Group has made its name championing the affordable through its orange-clad airline EasyJet. We each may moan occasionally, but nobody can doubt that Easyjet has contributed to a revolution in low cost air travel.

In recent years the brand values have been successfully transferred to other sectors through Easy Car Hire and Easy Hotel. Now EasyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou is to open his first easyFoodstore in Croydon. The venture could be extended next year if it is successful. Although it has little track record in food retailing, the brand strength and the nature of the proposition are likely to be such that consumers will warm to the idea because of inherent trust in the brand. Creative communications on the back of that becomes not only easier but also considerably more powerful.

However, Sir Stelios says that his foodstore will concentrate on affordable, basic ‘no-brand-name’ packet and tinned foods at bargain prices. For a company that is all about the power of the brand, that’s an interesting move – unless it is reluctant to share the limelight with any others.


Marketing types always look forward to the plethora of surveys that come out during the course of every year that rank one brand higher than another on some random criterion or another. It makes for great water cooler conversation as people compare notes to see whether the findings reflect what they also feel.

And so it is again with this week’s YouGov survey which listed London Underground and Royal Mail as the most improved brands in positive noise generated (whatever that actually means). Apparently, London Underground’s role in making the Olympics a success is behind its rise whilst Royal Mail’s financial revival has boosted its rankings. La Senza, Santander and Sky are the other big improvers.

It’s a bit of fun that fills some column inches and keeps tweeters occupied for a few more minutes, but are the findings of this or any other survey of genuine significance?

We don’t want to be too dismissive but measuring “positive buzz” doesn’t seem to us to be the best way of assessing brand performance. Marketers may be in the brand perception business but brand perception is only ever going to be as good as brand reality. No matter how much positive buzz you want to apply to a brand to assess performance, it will always come undone if the messages you’re putting out about a brand do not align with the reality of the consumer’s real world experience of the brand.

Businesses need to acknowledge that the role of the marketer is to convey the reality of the company and its proposition, not to act as a smokescreen for them. If your marketing says one thing when your customers experience the complete opposite, it will do more damage to the brand and its relationship with customers than saying nothing it all. Marketing is about clear communication, about getting your services right before promoting them to your audiences and using social platforms to both welcome the plaudits and addressing concerns. Brands are often judged more on how they respond to complaints and concerns than on the original cause for the concern.

So recognise that your marketing should be telling the truth about your business, albeit in a persuasive and creative way that is closely aligned to your commercial objectives. But equally recognise it’s not the role of marketing to pull the wool over your customers’ eyes. Marketers can be magicians, but if you want an illusionist, call Dynamo.

Twitter @astutemarketeer

Don’t get hung up on PR, get hung up on creating communities

We all know it’s a changing business world. The digitisation of business offers benefits and advantages we could hitherto have only dreamt about. Indeed one of the recurring themes of the Accelerate 2013 conference on business growth that we attended in Liverpool last week was that, big or small, companies need to ensure that they are ready for the changing business landscape and adapting to it. Ignoring it because you don’t understand it or can’t see how it can work for you will soon render your business as a dinosaur – and we all know what happened to them. Digital platforms must become an integral part of how your business engages with its markets and made to work for them – not be a crude bolt-on to them.

And along with that there needs to be a change in outlook to marketing. We are as guilty as everyone – we call ourselves a PR agency because it is a term people understand; but in doing so we focus solely on just one of the disciplines that we use (PR) and not what we are actually about, which is helping our clients engage with existing and potential customers and grow their businesses. How we do that, in a sense, is irrelevant.

People are fixated on the fact that online and mass media can help them reach the world. The reality, of course, is that most businesses don’t want or need to reach the world. They need to reach a carefully targeted community most likely to buy their products. You can still use online and PR to do this but it requires a mind shift from many clients to get it right. Don’t focus on the many, focus on the comparative few that can actually make a tangible difference to your bottom line. By adopting a surgical approach to social platforms, using data to target down to individual potential customers and ensuring that your media work is specific and relevant to these groups you will achieve far more than if you try and take on the world and simply get lost in the crowd.

We know it can work because we’ve done it for others. We think it’s an astute approach to marketing in 2013. Now, if we could only find a way of summing it up in a few words…