Do People Still Buy From People?

‘People buy from people.’ It’s one of the fundamental business truths. It’s drummed into you on your first day in the office.

“People buy you, Ed.”

“People buy from someone they know, like and trust.”

As I say, fundamental truths.

Or are they?

After all, I don’t know Jeff Bezos. No-one I know knows him. And given what Amazon has done to the high street – and not done for UK tax receipts – there are plenty of people that don’t like him. But Amazon is phenomenally successful.

As are a myriad of other online businesses.

And as I look round the TAB York boardroom tables I see more and more business being done online.

So is ‘people buy from people’ fast becoming a myth? Do we actually prefer not to deal face-to-face? Is the ideal business model now to give people all the information they want and then leave them to it?

I was pondering these questions at the weekend when I bought a t-shirt. From time to time I treat myself and buy a t-shirt from Howies. They’re not the cheapest, but they’re great quality, the designs are a little bit different – and I like the story.

In fact for me the two most important words on the website are ‘read story.’ That and the latest happenings from West Wales. The fact that Howies are in a small town in West Wales – Carmarthen – adds to the authenticity and the story. I’m actually more inclined to deal with them than if they were in say, Cardiff.

Back to the story. Here’s what it says on the website:

And one thing you can be sure of when you buy one of our printed organic t-shirts, is that it was screen printed by hand in our own little printshop, here in Cardigan Bay.

Using an old-fashioned carousel, silk mesh screens and a bit of elbow grease, Tomos prints each and every one of them with the same level of skill, craftsmanship and respect for the end product as they deserve.

That ticks every box for me. Local, hand-made, and I even know the name of the person making my t-shirt. In fact, Howies go one step further. When I order a t-shirt I get an e-mail telling me when Tomos will be printing it. So I’m kept in touch, and I’m made to feel that I’m important to the company – and to Tomos. I’m a very happy customer.

But what about a slightly larger scale? We’ve all heard of Boden. One of the things I remember from the early Boden catalogues was the little bit of irreverent description on every page. Maybe it was about the clothes, maybe it was about the model. But it made me feel I was being spoken to directly, that I wasn’t dealing with a faceless, distant organisation.

Did it work? Well, according to Wiki Johnnie Boden, who founded the company in 1991, is now worth £300m. So I think that’s a ‘yes.’

More and more of your business is going to be done online. Whether you like it or not your online presence – and the way you interact with people online – will become increasingly important. But if you’re going to be successful, you’ll need to make it – and keep it – personal. Use your ‘About’ page to tell your story: not to list how wonderful you are. And if you’re not in the centre of York, Leeds or some other major city it doesn’t matter – as the Howies site shows, you can turn it into a positive advantage.

People still want to buy from people they know, like and trust. But these days, ‘know’ may appear in inverted commas: use your online presence to make sure that people like and trust you and you can build a significant business.

A-B-M: Always be Marketing

I was at a sales and marketing event. More years ago than I care to remember. Some nondescript hotel off an equally nondescript motorway junction. Entirely forgettable.

Except for one conversation which has always stayed with me.

There’d just been a presentation on ‘the sales cycle.’ As we queued for coffee and wondered how old the biscuits were I started talking to the man next to me. It turned out he was responsible for a direct sales team in the life assurance industry.

“So how’s ‘the sales cycle’ go with your guys?” I asked.

“Remarkably simple,” he said. “Virtually every one of my team has a four stage sales cycle.”

“What’s that?”

“You want to know? It goes like this. Prospect – prospect – prospect – prospect: close – close – close – close: spend it – spend it – spend it – spend it. Sod it. Prospect – prospect – prospect…”

I couldn’t help laughing – and I’ve remembered the conversation every time I’ve opened the paper and seen the financial services industry beset by another mis-selling scandal. But it isn’t just ‘commission hungry salesmen’ who get trapped in that four stage sales cycle. I’ve seen it any number of times in any number of industries. And I was thinking about it the other day as I drove home from the annual TAB conference.

I love the two days of the TAB conference: as I wrote the other week it re-energises me and re-focuses me. And it’s a great reminder of the basics – not just of my business, but of any business. I drove away this year with two clear thoughts: I was doing the right things, but maybe I needed to do more of them – and I was proud of my commitment to this blog.

I was talking to one of my newer colleagues over a drink – and no, this time it wasn’t hotel coffee and stale biscuits…

“I’m really busy, Ed,” he said. “In fact I’m so busy that I don’t really have time to do any marketing at the moment.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years – irrespective of the industry I’ve been in or the sales teams I’ve managed – it’s this: marketing cannot be turned on and off like a tap. It’s an essential part of your business: making sure your marketing is running smoothly and that you’re doing it consistently is every bit as important as an appointment with a potential client.

This blog was started on 29th June 2010 as part of my marketing. At the time TAB York had just a handful of members and – not surprisingly – the blog had very few readers. Before I started I spoke to someone who knew a lot about blogs. “You have to do one thing, Ed,” he said. “You have to publish consistently. It’s exactly like a newspaper. And it’s called the Sunday Times. Not the When-I-Can-Be-Bothered Times.”

I rapidly came to understand how difficult it is to publish every week. And with not many readers it would have been easy to give up. But I gradually realised what my expert had meant. Marketing today is more difficult than it used to be, especially if social media is an integral part of it. If you’re blogging or using Twitter it doesn’t cost you anything – except time and commitment.

But if you do put the commitment in – and you do it regularly and consistently – then you will not only generate a regular flow of potential clients, you’ll generate a flow of potential clients who already know that you’ll deliver, because they’ve seen it every week.

“You don’t know me,” a voice on the phone said, “But I’ve been reading your blog every week for a year. I think it’s time to talk.”

That conversation led to a great TAB member. At the time I had absolutely no idea he was reading the blog – and that’s increasingly true of a lot of our marketing. We cast it adrift on social media and we have no idea who might be reading it – or when we might get that phone call.

But make sure your marketing is consistent – whatever form it takes – and I guarantee that someone will read it and act on it. We live in a wholly different world to the old sales approach. Your clients expect you to deliver consistently: make sure your marketing proves that you do.

The Below Zero Business Pitch

How can I put this delicately? Have you been to a networking lunch lately? Did you not have a slight feeling of deja-vu?

What we need, ladies and gentlemen, is a trip to Oulu. It’s in Finland. 65 degrees north – a mere 107 miles from the Arctic Circle. And the place where you can present the coolest business pitch in the world. Literally.

Chamber of Commerce, Institute of Directors, people sitting comfortably round a table in a nice, warm hotel, please take note.

In Oulu they do things differently.

Go there in February and you’re welcome to speak about your company for as long as you like. Just as long as you remain standing in a hole in the ice.

I suspect that might concentrate your mind. If you’re in freezing water, “We really care about our customers and we’re different to all the firms out there so we’d be really grateful if you’d give us a try” probably isn’t a sensible way to start your pitch. By the time you’ve wasted those 26 words the hypothermia will be setting in. As you can see…

But back in the nice, warm hotel people are doing precisely that. They’re wasting far more than 26 words, taking a minute to say nothing at all, talking about their business in a way that’s unrehearsed, that lacks conviction and does nothing to persuade the other people round the table that they’d be worth talking to.

(In fairness, the problem isn’t confined to networking lunches. I’m constantly amazed at the people who go on Dragons’ Den and casually ask for £75,000 without researching the Dragons or rehearsing their pitch.)

But let me ask you a question. If you had to make your pitch in a hole in the ice, in water that could kill you, what would you do?

  • You’d rehearse
  • You’d get straight to the point
  • And you’d make sure you delivered the very best pitch you could

I can’t see how those fundamentals change simply because you’re in the Marriott on Tadcaster Road.

At various times in all our business lives we’re face to face with a potential client or customer. You’ve been introduced and suddenly you realise that this guy could well contribute to your bottom line. And then he says, “So what do you do exactly?”

It’s at this point that you need to give a simple, persuasive and – ideally – slightly intriguing answer.

But all too often it’s something like this: “Well, I’m a web designer. Mostly, that is. There’s a house I’m doing up – when I get round to it. And I teach guitar a couple of nights a week. But what I’m really thinking of…”

Here’s how my conversation goes:

  • So what do you do exactly?
  • I help business owners achieve their potential
  • How do you do that then?
  • I bring together business owners from non-competing sectors in a group setting – similar to a board of directors – and we help each other to identify opportunities and solve challenges we each face in our own companies. Make sense? I’m adding to my boards and I’m looking for business owners that would be a good fit.

The first answer is 7 words long: the second is 56, which I deliver in 20-30 seconds.

Did I write those answers down? Did I work on them with the help of other people? Have I practised them in the bathroom? Yes to all three. And I’m not ashamed of that.

I think in those 56 words I offer the solution to a problem, sell the potential benefits and give the person I’m speaking to the chance to empathise.

Yes, of course it could be shorter – We sell blankets that instantly warm people up when they get out of freezing water – but everyone will listen for 20-30 seconds.

So two questions:

  • Do you have an answer to the ‘what do you do’ question that solves a problem, sell the benefits and invites empathy?
  • And you must have asked a hundred people what they do: what’s the best answer you’ve ever received?

Anyway, that’s enough from me for this week. I’ve an important presentation on Tuesday. I need to practise. Dan and Rory are just filling the bath with ice…

Always Deliver what your Brand Promises

Richard Branson may not be everyone’s cup of tea – but you can’t deny that he’s been successful. Employing 60,000 people doesn’t happen by accident.

Neither does building one of the most recognisable brands on the planet. From a record business started in the crypt of a church Virgin now ranks right up there with Coca Cola, Red Bull and McDonald’s

Whatever the size of your business – one man band or multi-national – we’ve all got a brand. And it very quickly will become one of your most important business assets. (If you’d like a short, almost ‘Dummies,’ guide to branding this article is useful.)

So what is your brand? Based on all the companies I’ve worked with and for I’d define it this way:

Your brand is a consistent set of values, standards, qualities and experiences that you deliver every time you’re in contact with a client or customer.

The key word I’d pick out is ‘consistent.’ A brand isn’t something you turn on and off: the customer needs to know what to expect and have it consistently delivered every time they interact with your business. You may not like McDonald’s – but you have to agree they deliver a consistent product and experience.

Back to Sir Richard, and I was reading an article in the Guardian that inspired this post. ‘Never do anything that discredits your brand’ was the headline.

I couldn’t agree more. Your brand is exactly like trust: it takes a lifetime to build and you can destroy it – or do it serious damage – in a few seconds. Want evidence? The absolute avalanche of negative publicity DHL have managed to accrue with their ridiculous ‘like our Facebook page so you can send a get well message to Jules Bianchi.’

One of my favourite quotes about branding is from Jeff Bezos of Amazon: Your brand is formed primarily, not by what your company says about itself, but by what your company does. Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

DHL made a serious, tasteless mistake. A quick visit to Twitter will be telling their senior executives exactly what people are saying about them when they’re not in the room. FedEx must be rubbing their hands together. But as Richard Branson points out in the article, having a brand doesn’t mean you can’t take risks and make mistakes.

People in the UK love a trier – we’ve a long tradition of supporting the underdog and so much of the Virgin story is based around that: the small company trying to give the better service the big boys are denying you.

So yes, you can take a risk with your brand. But it’s like life: it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it. If you do make a mistake – if you’re trying to cross the Atlantic and you sink 100 miles offshore – be open about it. Pick yourself up and go again. As Branson says, “If we’d succeeded the first time, people might have said ‘so what?’”

In many ways a bigger challenge for the owner of an SME is getting your team to buy into your brand. How do you get them – as we said at Guinness – to ‘bleed black?’ You won’t be surprised to hear that communication is the key, and I’ll look at that in a future post. Just as everyone is part of the marketing department, so everyone is part of the brand.

I’ll finish with the one more key message on branding: as Jeff Bezos put it, on your brand being what your company does.

Amazon has had its fair share of negative publicity lately, but I continue to buy books and a lot of other things from them. Why? Because they always deliver. It’s why my wife buys clothes from Next. Because if you order on Tuesday, they’re there on Wednesday. Consistently and remorselessly – and when a company delivers like that, it’s almost impossible to go somewhere else.

Ignorance is a Choice

I don’t frequent football fans’ forums very much – as a Newcastle supporter it’s not a sensible way to spend Saturday evening. But you know how it is, sometimes you can’t resist… And what did I find after we snatched a draw from the jaws of victory against Crystal Palace? An important business lesson for us all.

If you’re not a regular visitor to football chat rooms – and let me congratulate you on that particular life choice – I should tell you that all the fans have fictitious names and ‘signatures.’ Mostly these signatures question the manager’s competence or the owner’s sanity, but one of them ran much deeper than that. “Right now,” it read, “Ignorance is a choice.”

And for every reader of this blog, that’s true.

Let’s do a simple test. How far is it from Vladivostok to Delhi? Starts stop watch on iPhone…

It’s 5,088km – and it took me 18.53 seconds to find that out, including the time it took me to type the query.

Maybe something more philosophical? Why is it wrong to steal? In 0.31 seconds Google offers me 43m results.

So I’m inclined to agree with my pal on the forum. Ignorance is a choice. But sadly from a business point of view, it’s a choice that a lot of us make. The mass of men not only live lives of quiet desperation: all too often they live lives of quiet complacency as well. And if you’re running a business in this rapidly changing world, that’s dangerous.

Let me ask you two questions:

  • When did you last challenge yourself intellectually?
  • When did you last feel out of your depth in a discussion, at a conference or in a meeting?

It’s human nature: we all like to feel comfortable: we all like to feel in control – but very often we’re only learning when we’re slightly out of our depth.

One of the best business tips I’ve read recently is to take yourself off to a conference or a meeting that’s well outside your comfort zone. Maybe it’s programming or SEO or mobile apps: you’ll be surprised at a) how much of it is relevant to your business and b) how much you learn.

I find as I get older that I like learning more and more: it’s one of the bonuses I never expected from TAB. I know far more about management techniques, different leadership styles and – above all – different ways of coping with the trials, tribulations and joys that running your own business brings.

One thing we can be sure of: the world will not stand still and the pace of technological change will continue to increase. If you don’t carry on learning you’re going to be left behind. Ignorance is a choice and unfortunately it’s going to be a choice that will put your business at risk.

One of the great strengths of TAB is that it allows you to go into areas where you’re not comfortable; where you don’t know everything. I’m constantly amazed at the collective wisdom round a Board table and I’m constantly gratified by the discussions: it’s fantastic to hear successful people say, ‘All I know about this is that I don’t know. Can someone help me?’

It’s a characteristic of good leaders that they’re always willing to learn: rest assured that if you’re going to run a successful business over the next ten years a willingness to learn and to go on learning will be absolutely crucial.

To paraphrase the famous Robert Kennedy quote, successful leaders won’t be the people that see things as they are and ask ‘why?’ They’ll be the ones who see things as they could be and ask ‘why not?’

Giving It All Away

Virtually everyone reading this blog will have heard the term ‘content marketing.’ Put simply, it’s attracting and retaining customers or clients by creating and/or curating valuable and useful content.

It’s giving your customers something of value – letting them know that you care and that you’re thinking of them. You can do this through your website, your blog and/or any amount of social media channels – from the sober and serious LinkedIn to 140 characters on Twitter.

Content marketing is the way the world is moving: it’s effective, it’s efficient and best of all, it’s very often free. Unless you take your time into account that is…

This blog is a form of content marketing – and yes, it’s time consuming. But I like to think that it’s useful and I am absolutely certain that over the nearly-four years I’ve been writing, the blog has both attracted new clients and developed and strengthened my relationship with existing ones.

As with any form of content marketing, the blog gives away a lot of information. I can’t think of a subject relevant to business that I haven’t covered in the four years and in total there are well over 100,000 words – plus all the insights and extra information from your comments…

All that has been for free. But this is Yorkshire. Should I have given away that much information? After all: if ivver tha does owt fer nowt, allus do it fer thissen.

Sadly, in the age of Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and Gmail the old Yorkshire adage no longer applies…

I am more convinced than ever that creating, curating and distributing free content is one of the fundamental building blocks of a business and of good relationships with your clients and potential clients. Here are just a few reasons:

  • Free content attracts your target audience. Anyone creating content should have a picture in their mind of the exact target audience they’re aiming for. I won’t embarrass them, but when I write this blog there are a dozen TAB members – and now one potential member – that I keep in mind.
  • Free content gets your ideas and views shared. That’s what you want. If people share your content, re-tweet it, send the link to their friends, that’s exactly what you want. The more people who see what you’ve written the better – and that will happen with good content. As I said last week, you never know who’s there, you never who’s listening – and you never know who’s reading either.
  • Free content establishes your authority. I’ve constantly been astonished by the number of people who’ve said, ‘Oh yes, I read your blog.’ This is one of those instances where you have to rely on the anecdotal evidence, not the analytical. You can’t measure authority, but you do know when you’ve established it.
  • Consistent content proves that you can deliver. For me, this is one of the huge advantages of blogging on a regular basis. If someone says, ‘I’ve read your blog every week for two years’ I don’t need to convince them that I’ll deliver consistently. They’ve already seen the proof.
  • They also know (hopefully!) that I’m a nice guy. That’s another advantage of content – you can use it to establish your personality. You can also use it to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

So back to the earlier question. Do I give away too much content? Is that something you should worry about if you’re currently creating content, or planning to start?

No, it isn’t.

People appreciate free content. But they will always pay for the content and information that is specific to them – that answers the questions they want answering. Free content will establish your authority, help you connect with an audience and prove you’d be a good person to deal with – but don’t worry, you’ll still get paid for the nitty-gritty.

To hark back to blog no. 99, Make Good Art – use free content to show people what it is that only you do best: and then they’ll pay you for doing it.

The Road Less Grizzled

Like a lot of you, I like business quotes. They’re inspirational, helpful, supportive and, just occasionally, there to remind you that however busy you are there are still more important things in life.

But by the time you get to my age – and thirty is not that far away now – you’ve heard them all before.

So this article was a breath of fresh air. Some really pertinent, worthwhile comments that I hadn’t come across before – still inspirational, helpful etc. etc. – but not the same old grizzled faces that pop up all the time.

You’ll all have your favourites – let me pick just four.

I’ll begin with this one, from Jason Cohen, the founder at WPEngine. You spend 99.9% of your working life on the path and 0.1% experiencing the euphoria of an exit or the disappointment of a final failure. If you’re not fulfilled by the journey, you’re wasting your life.

That for me goes right to the heart of TAB in general and TAB York in particular. 99.9% might be a slight exaggeration, but we’re all going to spend the vast majority of our working lives ‘on the journey.’ If you don’t enjoy the journey – if it doesn’t fire you with enthusiasm – then sooner or later one or more wheels will fall off the business.

But the journey can’t rule your life and that is hopefully where TAB comes in – making sure you’re successful without being consumed by your business: helping you keep your work and your life balanced.

On to number two, from Fred Perrotta at Tortuga Backpacks. You can’t figure out everything beforehand by reading about it. Just do it and make your own mistakes. Get back up, dust yourself off and do better next time.

Again, this is exactly what modern business is about. As I’ve said many times in this blog, Ready, Fire, Aim. For many businesses these days the price of starting – and the price of failure – is low. Don’t spend months (or years!) analysing the market and writing endless business plans: the best information is the information your customers give you. Get out there, give them a product, listen to what they say, revise your product and go again.

Next up, Francine Hardaway, founder of Stealthmode Partners. And this is very much a back-to-basics reminder, but a basic none of us running a business can ever ignore. Watch your cash. Running out of money can happen when your business is at its most successful.

Of all the KPIs you monitor, the ones dealing with cash flow are the ones which need watching the most closely – and as Francine says, running out of cash isn’t necessarily a sign that your business is failing. Running out of cash is just that: running out of cash. It’s easy to put off doing the cash flow forecast and chasing up the bills, but it simply has to be done – and it has to be done consistently.

I’ve saved my favourite for the end. It’s from Scott Meyer of 9 Clouds. Show up and give your best effort every time. You never know who’s listening.

Absolutely right. You never know who’s listening, who’s in the audience, who you’re going to meet. But show up and give it 100%, whether you’re delivering a once-in-a-lifetime speech or whether you’re at yet-another-networking-breakfast. I am prepared to wager that every person reading this blog owes one of their major clients or one of their biggest opportunities (or maybe even their wife!) to a time when they very nearly didn’t go – but finally decided to make the effort.

Let me leave the rest of the quotations and advice from the article with you. You’re bound to disagree with my choices and you’re bound to have your own old and new favourites. As always I’d be delighted if you’d share them.

Have a great weekend and I’ll be back next week. That’s April – the first quarter of 2014 gone already. But I’m absolutely confident you’re all on target for a great year…

The Customer is Always Right. Unless He’s Wrong

If you’re not familiar with the work of Tom Fishburne, you’re missing out. He describes himself as a ‘marketoonist’ – he’s insightful and he’s funny, and I really like this one on the thorny old question of customers.

That’s what I want to talk about this week – customers, clients, the lifeblood of our businesses.

When I was taking my first tentative steps into sales and marketing, the maxim was simple. ‘The customer is always right’ – a phrase coined by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the eponymous founder of the department store.

Gradually the world has moved away from that view. The accepted wisdom now seems to be that your staff are far more important than your customers. Gordon Bethune puts the points succinctly in his book, From Worst to First, the story of how he turned Continental Airlines around.

We run more than three million people through our books every month. One or two of those people are going to be unreasonable, demanding jerks. When it’s a choice between supporting your employees who work with you every day, or some irate jerk who demands a free ticket to Paris because you ran out of peanuts, who are you going to support? If [your employees] think you won’t support them when a customer is out of line, even the smallest problem can cause resentment.

I’m not sure that I’d go so far as encouraging you to describe your customers as ‘jerks’ – but the people that are helping you build your business are your staff. And you’ve the chance to create a virtuous circle here: make sure that your employees are happy and motivated and almost by definition your customers will be happier too.

By contrast if your employees don’t feel valued – if they see you always siding with the customer – then the opposite is going to happen. They’re going to feel less valued, and gradually customer service is going to slip and the downward spiral will set in.

In fact, if a customer is particularly difficult to deal with – and is too much for your team to deal with – why not go ahead and fire them? I’ve only seen this happen once, but the impact on office morale was little short of sensational.

But let’s assume that you haven’t fired all your customers. How do you categorise the ones that are left? Assuming you categorise them at all…

We had an interesting discussion round a Board table this week and the conclusion was clear – size isn’t the only thing that matters. There were four other ‘metrics’ that the Board members used to define and grade their customers:

• The amount of work they generate
• The amount of profit they generate
• Their ability to grow – and consequently to help grow your business
• And lastly, enjoyment.

The first two are self-explanatory – and it’s important to note that they’re emphatically not the same. We’ll all have bigger and smaller customers – but the biggest by volume won’t necessarily be the most profitable when you’ve factored your time into the equation.

The most important one to me is number three – their ability, and potential, to grow. I remember an IFA talking to me about his biggest client: “I started dealing with Jim when there was him and six lads in a railway arch. Now there’s him and 120 lads and 15 outlets.” One of the most effective things you will ever do to grow your business is to work with other growing businesses.

And enjoyment. A key ‘measurement’ that is all too easily forgotten. If you don’t enjoy dealing with a customer, if their name flashing up on your mobile makes you groan then stop dealing with them. It’s as simple as that. Life is too short and profit isn’t the only thing in the world.

Talking of enjoyment, I’m off for a week. Dav and I are taking the boys skiing – the first time we’ve been as a family. I’m not sure there’ll be an internet connection in the mountains, so there’ll be no blog next week. I’ll be back – hopefully tanned and quite probably aching – on Friday 28th.

The Holidays Are Coming. Are We Pleased?

I’d like to say I was chatting to a friend of mine the other day. But I wasn’t. I was on the receiving end of a Rant. And yes, it was a Rant with a capital ‘R.’

The holidays are coming tra-la-la-la-la. Well as far as I’m concerned, Ed, they’re not coming until I’ve waded through six more weeks of &*%! in the NHS. Damn Christmas adverts before I’ve even picked up all the fireworks in the garden and the kids being driven ballistic and all this ‘how many sleeps until he comes’ nonsense well I can tell you if I ever come across anyone who wants to see a Christmas advert in November or even thinks about Christmas in November I’ve a good mind to…

At this point, I confessed it was my round and beat a hasty retreat to the bar. Because I was that person. In my previous life it was my job to think about Christmas in March and April.

As most of you know, I spent a lot of time with Diageo and Nestle – booze and chocolates, two items which are fairly high on the shopping list come December. At both companies sales in December were crucial: I won’t say they determined the success or failure of the whole year, but they weren’t far off. So we did a lot of planning and we started that planning early. I was thinking about one Christmas almost as soon as the last one had finished.

As a result, I’m almost expecting to see Christmas ads in November. Show them in September and I might mutter ‘bah, humbug’ – but early November is perfectly fine with me. Besides, I’ve two boys who do manage to drop the occasional hint that Christmas is on its way…

But I realise that I’m in an ever-decreasing minority. I realise that there’s a general feeling that the Christmas ads are appearing on our screens long before we want to see them.

…And the business coach in me wonders, ‘Are the Christmas ads now counter-productive?’ Are the companies that are really winning the Christmas war the ones that are simply carrying on as normal in November?

I just had a look at the Amazon site – which is, after all, where a great many of us will do our Christmas shopping. There’s a discreet message in the top right hand corner: Early Bird Christmas Offers. That’s it; the site is definitely not dripping in tinsel and fairy lights.

More pertinently, does all this have a marketing lesson for our businesses? Do we risk alienating our clients and customers by telling them what they already know?

Does [insert name of your preferred supermarket] really need to spend millions showing me yet another happy couple whose festive season – and possibly marriage – has only been saved by rushing out for some prawn vol-au-vents?

Does my local solicitor need to remind me that I’ll die and therefore need to make a will? Does my accountant need to spend money to tell people that they’ll pay tax?

I’m beginning to wonder if this type of advertising does boost sales – or whether it actually turns people off your brand? As the trend moves from traditional forms of ‘outbound’ marketing to engagement and ‘inbound’ marketing, should we risk telling people what they already know – but don’t want to be reminded of?

My answer is simple: I don’t know. More than ever, I’d be really interested to know what you think – because I’m beginning to wonder if my friend’s rant was indicative of a trend that has marketing implications for all of us…

Six Reasons Why I Like You

I make no apology this week for returning to a subject that I’ve written about before – the reasons why I like you so much.

And no, I haven’t come over all sentimental in my old age. I still have my business head on, but in an age where we’re increasingly ‘meeting’ each other virtually before we meet in person, first impressions – for me – are coming to count more and more.

Whether it’s your website, your blog or some other form of social media that introduces us, the question I want answering is simple. Would I like you? Would doing business with you be a good experience?

So what creates a good first impression with me? There are six boxes you can tick – but first of all, two that you can’t. Number one, don’t tell me how qualified you are. People are increasingly taking qualifications for granted. If you’re the senior partner of KPMG I’ll take it on trust that once upon a time you passed an accountancy exam. And don’t tell me how good you are: let other people do that – then let me form my own opinion.

So what are the six boxes? Here goes…

Hey, that’s a nice photo I have a good friend and client with a simple philosophy. ‘If I look too nice in my photo people will think I’m a soft touch.’ You won’t be surprised to hear that I disagree. I’ve just had my own photos re-done (and I’ll stick with them for the next twenty years, thanks) as I wanted to look more friendly and more approachable. I think the day of the man-in-suit head and shoulders photo is over: let me see you smile. Or let me see you working with your clients.

Your football team makes you suffer What I really mean by this one is that I want to see you have a sense of humour. So ‘proud supporter of the mighty Manchester United’ doesn’t work for me. ‘Proud supporter of the mighty York City’ does work for me. (You all know who I support. ‘Pain’ is an understatement.) Of course, it doesn’t have to be football, but show me somewhere that you’ll be good fun to deal with; that you have a life outside the office.

You’re self-deprecating As I get older I find I like my heroes in books and films to have flaws. Give me a character like Wallander every time. So I’m not worried if I read ‘plays golf, mainly from the rough’ or ‘devoted father, currently struggling with Year 9 Maths.’ What I’m looking for here is insight and humility: there’s nothing quite as off-putting as perfection.

You love your children Or your wife. Or both. My family is hugely important to me: it’s the rock on which my whole life is based. Am I going to be put off if something on your ‘About’ page suggests that you might ask to re-arrange an appointment as it clashes with the nativity play? Exactly the reverse. You’ll have a thousand business meetings in your life and half a dozen nativity plays. I want to deal with someone who really knows the meaning of a priority.

You care Not just about your family, but about the wider world as well. I find I’m increasingly giving a mental tick to companies where the website reflects a commitment to a charity. So out with ‘we’re committed to helping our community’ and in with ‘on July 6th and 7th three of our directors are cycling from coast to coast to raise funds for our local hospice.’

You talk like a human being In many ways this is a summary of the previous five points. I want to deal with someone I’ll like – so make sure your website/social media is well written and easy to read. According to my writer friends the best tip is to write it and then read it out loud. And if it doesn’t sound right then it isn’t right.

With that, have a great weekend and I’ll be back next week. And the best of luck to those of you that embraced Movember this morning. Put it on your website – another reason to like you…