22 Feb 2007

Blink! and you might miss me

Quickie before I go. Last night I finished reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell - also author of The Tipping Point. He's a very, very clever chap and all round good egg it seems - for me anyone who can make a non-fiction book readable has to be!

Blink! is about 'thin-slicing' - the reactions, judgements and decisions we make about the world around us in a fraction of a second. Contrary to the belief of many, we shouldn't dismiss these intuitive reactions - because more often than not, they're right - thanks to the super-computer-like qualities of our own subconscious.

Being prone to over analysis, I like this idea. Moreover it 'feels' like its an important truth. Years ago I had a friend who spend a year living his life by the rules of The Dice Man (another great book - about a guy who gave himself six options for every decision he had to take and threw a dice to determine the choice). Obviously my friend was crazy - and ended up being fairly close to down-and-out on the strength of this and other equally bizarre activites. But I wonder if you could live your life by the rules of Blink? Trust your first thought in any given situation and see where it takes you??

Watch this space.

The Good The Bad and The Ugly

What a week! Having finally signed myself out of full time employment yesterday, it seems that not working doesn't involve sitting at home watching end to end Kilroy and Trisha. It hasn't involved much blogging either - so my site stats have taken a terrible tumble!

Here's what I have been doing.

The Good. . .catching up with friends who have been short changed over the past 5 years as I turned into an uninspiring and stressed out 'corporate' cipher. (I have a firm belief that money is the Matrix - creating an illusion of 'real' life devoid of any real emotion or feeling. So along that theme I also went shopping to replace a host of black - female undertaker type - suits, with some cool casual stuff. I'm on the other side now - thought I should look the part!) More good stuff came in the form of a hook up with SmallBizPod - a really neat site giving quality audio content to help small businesses and start-ups. From next month I'll be doing a marketing blog on there too - which I'm very excited about. And the guy behind it - Alex Bellinger - seems to really know his stuff. In fact there's a bit of footage on his front page that is really worth a look - it says more about the way the web is going in a couple of minutes, than most could do in a couple of hundred pages! And to finish the 'good' on a high, I also signed up my first piece of business yesterday - just for me! Which strikes me as poetic on the day that I sign myself out of my contract. It's a fabulous little beauty business here in Yorkshire, with big aspirations. But what's really great about it is the two people who are running it are brilliant at what they do - making people look and feel wonderful - but they're also happy to admit that they're not good at marketing. Brilliant! So often baby businesses obsess so heavily on controlling costs (and controlling just about everything else) that their marketing becomes a DIY disaster waiting to happen. Anyway more on these lovelies as and when there's something to show, but no links for now.

The Bad. Despite a couple of attempts at being a 'lady what lunches', I'm struggling with the psychology of working/not working. Up one minute, down the next. I know that I can afford a reasonably long 'break' (or maybe I should be like an actor and 'rest'). But working is like smoking. A tough habit to break. My head is still full of it. I'm dreaming about it. Yuc Yuc Yuc. And as you can see from 'The Good' stuff, I've already got a couple of irons in the fire - so I sense that the vacuum created by stopping one job, will be filled with other stuff before I know it. This doesn't worry me over much - I keep repeating the new and only rule I'll be living by over the next few months. . . If it makes you smile, do it. If it doesn't, don't.
Unfortunately you can't get patches or hypnotherapy to ween you off working. So I'm going for some ultraviolet therapy - a bit of sunshine for the next 10 days.

Now for the Ugly. Grrrr. I ignored my own rule and did something that was never likely to make me smile. And unsurprisingly it didn't! A friend of mine has won himself some office space in Leeds - it's all European funded and seems like a really great set up for baby entrepreneurs looking for their first footing in business. Anyway, said friend, being very persuasive thought it would be great if I pitched for some space too - working shoulder to shoulder - ready made lunch buddy and all of that. And I'm thinking - ok, city centre office space could be really handy - seeing as I live on a hillside in the middle of no-where. So I put in an application and this monday I was invited to 'pitch'. But as you're probably sensing from this blog - I'm pretty clued up about all things marketing and I've done practically every job a good agency has to offer - so I'm potentially a marketing one-stop-shop. But what I'm not right now, is overly ambitious or looking to put my pants back on over my undertaker suit trousers as a captain of industry. I'm in the 'down-shifters R us' club.

Anyway to get back to the point - I walked into the 'pitch' room. To be presented with a row of 4 respectable looking gentlemen and one 'cool dude' sat behind a bank of desks. The room was in darkness, projector screen lit up. Otherwise it was empty - if you discount the fact that there was a full film crew in there from our local TV news!!! Worse to come - it seems my panel of judges were avid viewers of Dragon's Den. Actually, the 4 respectable gentlemen, were exactly that - gentle. But the 'cool dude' on the end - OHMIGOD. He was sat down, but I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, this guy was no taller than 5ft 2" and obviously laboring under the largest chip on his shoulder. . . Enough said I think. Definitely Ugly. Needless to say I won't be taking office space there any time soon - the whole set up represented so many things I dislike about UK business. Egos, politics, expected cap doffing to authority, and above all little blokes throwing their insubstantial weight around!! Grrrrr. Lesson's learned - don't be persuaded to do anything that doesn't feel 100% right for you. Don't enter into something half-heartedly and expect a good result. Don't ever unwittingly let yourself be featured on local news!!!

Fortunately the good stuff has far outweighed the bad and the ugly this week. And with any luck spring will have made its official debut in blighty by the time I return from my sunshine break. I've purchased myself a couple of books to read in between snoozes - 'Made to Stick' by Chip and Dan Heath and - wait for it - 'The No Asshole Rule - building a civilised workplace and surviving one that isn't' by Robert Sutton. I think the second book may be a case of closing the stable door after the horse has run the derby - but I was highly entertained to discover that Waterstones were displaying this on the shelves face down for fear of offending customers. How VERY English.

13 Feb 2007

Broadband Britain

For the last month I've been happily researching the digital revolution in the UK. Read a few articles and you'd think we're a pretty advanced bunch - quick on the uptake, leaders rather than followers.

Then today, finally embarking on a solo career, I have to perform the simple tasks of ordering myself a mobile phone and getting a residential broadband connection to take over from my business line - so that I can continue with my blogging escapades over the next few weeks and months.

First, the infinite choice of mobile packages flummoxed me. Am I a racoon, a budgie or a fish?? Do I want thousands of free texts? Do I talk at the weekends? Do I have any family or friends?? Do I call land lines. Urrm. Yes to all of the above. Urrm have I got the first clue about what I need? No no no says mrs racoon. .

To help me I signed up for some advice from an 'on-line trainer' who must have been a retard. Waited a couple of minutes and I hadn't been offered a single piece of help and advice - so I'm still untrained and phone free. (Apparently I could get my broadband free if I ever manage to close the deal - but I'm not holding my breath. Or holding a shiny new FREE handset for that matter).

So I parked that one and started with the broadband. Some pleasant chap sent me a mail just this morning. I thought his sales pitch was good. . .

"Our connections give you a dedicated speed, i.e. if you buy a 2mb you will get 2mb, not 2mb at 3am for half an hour and then speeds slower than a modem the rest of the time."

He continues. . .

“Your Call is in a queue….blah, blah, blah, sorry all our operators are busy….. blah, blah, blah. Sound familiar? Of course it does. But you will never hear it at XXXX. One of the critical factors behind our success, is our absolute commitment to customer service. Nothing flashy, just a simple promise. We guarantee to answer all calls within 15 seconds, and then you can talk to a knowledgeable technician who will solve your problem. It’s as simple as that."

So I got in touch. And true to his word - he was quick to respond. Apparently I don't qualify for decent service, now I'm just a residential user. So it looks like I'll be spending most of tomorrow in a call queue, blah blah, lucky if I get my call answered in fifteen minutes by someone who has only this week become familiar with the term 'broadband'.

Next week I'll be making like my dad, stumbling in circles round my lounge, scratching my arse whilst a bloke called Sid systematically destroys my home network and my sanity in an attempt to get me on line.

Viva la Revolution!

9 Feb 2007

Blogging is good for business

As well as getting their websites in order. Businesses are also increasingly going to realise that a well written blog or two can help. Just read a really good article from The Engagement Principles that sums this up well. And this clever chap, in turn refers back to The Copywriter's Crucible which is also packed full of good stuff.

Both these guys give me confidence that jumping on the blogging bandwaggon just about now is a good thing to do. Very addictive and contagious too. I've already infected a couple of friends and I have a two or three a day habit.

The Future's Bright

This is a bit of a milestone week for me. I'm jacking in my job of six years. Leaving a fairly respectable northern agency - and taking a 'career break' for no other reason than 'cos I can'.

When you've been a wage slave for a long while, the idea of just not having to get up in a morning seems divine. But I know it'll only be a couple of weeks before I'm in a blind panic, twiddling my thumbs, desperately DIYing the house and wondering what the troops are up to in the office. (But lets face it even your best work-mates aren't going to thank you for getting in touch and regularly reminding them that you're free and they're not, so emailing ex-colleagues is a bit of a no no).

Soooo, I've pre-empted myself and had a bit of a think about what I can do to wile away the hours and earn a few coppers to pay the mortgage and the new Orange mobile phone bill. (Company paid moby is a gift from god, despite being a taxable benefit and mine is going back - Boo!).

Hence the reason for me limbering up my fingers with the blog - as I'm half thinking of returning to me creative roots and picking up a freelance writing career that I foolishly threw away to become part of the Propaganda Machine.

Anyway - it seems the future's bright. The call for quality writing is on the up, given that even the oldstars are getting into the web these days. An article from the Copywriter's Crucible confirmed something I'd witnessed first hand earlier this week. On a visit to see my Pa, I found him pacing in small circles in his lounge, alternately scratching his head and his arse (apparently become unaware that you're doing stuff that's probably socially unacceptable, once you're retired, so I'll have to look out for myself doing similar scratching). While Dad paced, his mate fiddled with wires out the back of an ancient looking pc, conveniently placed just inside the front door, swearing quietly under his breath. Dad is one of the millions of British, currently engaged in a battle of wits with the British Broadband providers in an attempt to get on the superhighway.

So it seems my last few weeks, spent researching what makes good web-based copy are going to come in mighty handy. Good old Gerry McGovern and countless articles on SEO may stand me in good stead to peddle my services. Now all I need is to put myself about a bit.

8 Feb 2007

Hip vs Cool

A couple of years back I remember being sat in a pub with my brother (pictured right) - discussing the difference between people who are hip, and those who are cool. As far as I can remember, the conversation went along these lines. . .

Being hip is intentional, try-hard and slavishly fashionable. Being cool is not. Cool is an elusive quality that some people just have. It's effortless. Cool is cool. Hip is only very occasionally cool - and only really by accident. Hip people aspire to cool. Cool people couldn't give a sh*t about being hip.

Numerous beers later, we congratulated each other on being the coolest people we knew and stumbled home. I think we may have repeated the conversation in a groundhog day stylie on many occasions since.

However, in one of my daily cruises around t'Interweb, I stumbled on a number of articles with a similar kind of theme. They revolved around the difference between being genuine and being authentic. There's a well developed Vince and Jen reference in there - so it seems three weeks in I'm genuinely proving myself to be a reader of Heat (cool status totally blown).

Anyway, this interested me for a couple of reasons. Being authentic is very similar to being cool - its hard to find, captivating when you do. Authentic people are the ones we want to be around, authentic brands are the ones we love to be associated with. Genuine just doesn't cut it anymore. It's a bit worthy and it's certainly not cool. We like the edginess that comes with authenticity - the possibility of surprise.

The concept of authenticity , in a marketing context, totally blows the whistle on bad branding. All around us we experience examples of brands that fall short on delivering what they promise. We don't fall for fancy advertising messages peddling half truths. We love authentic brands because they give us reassurance at every turn - they do what they say, people (rather than ads) tell us how good they are, they make us feel cool, because we know we're not getting hoodwinked. Authentic brands deliver value - regardless of how they are priced. They're just right.

For me, authenticity is going to be every brand's biggest challenge as they embrace our digital age. If your product's not great, no amount of papering over the cracks with smooth talking brand strategy is going to secure success long term. Savvy consumers already know this by instinct. Brand owners, many of whom have forgotten to trust their own instincts, in favour of slavish research and analysis, are in for a rude awakening.

(Paul - you are still the most authentic/cool/gummi guy I know - cheers!)

6 Feb 2007

Bruised and battered

Oh boy. Yesterday I slipped down a rabbit hole as I went investigating some of the top UK planning blogs. I got so lost, I'm sadly lacking accurate links here - but I found some great stuff, so I'll list it in no particular order at the end.

But I came away very disheartened for a number of reasons. One - without apparent exception this is a male dominated arena. Two - thanks to the amount of oxygen these uber brains are consuming doing their deep thinking, the air is very thin in the plannersphere. It made me dizzy. Three - all the hype about blogging being the democratization of media as we know it is a complete myth. Can't believe it's taken me this long to figure out that wherever there's a community, there's also the potential for a clique.

What has led me to this conclusion? I was reading one of these brainiac's tips for baby bloggers like me (sorry no link - my subconscious is blanking the whole experience). Apparently bloggers should remember there's A List, B List, C List Bloggers. OK OK, I'd gathered this already. Some people are regularly churning brilliant content. Others are mere pretenders to the throne. I guess that makes me a groupie. And two weeks in, I don't think I'm even old enough to legally drink. So I'm an adolescent groupie (worst sort), trying to rub shoulders with celebs who have varying degrees of fame.

Worst comment was still to come. I shouldn't hope to have any real success in my blogging until I'd earned my stripes over FIVE YEARS?? And I'll know that I have 'arrived' because I'll be getting all of my work by contacts made and developed in the blogging community. What's all that about!!?

Five years of blogging at this kind of frequency?? Jeez - it'd have to be delivering some serious returns way before then, to keep my interest. I think of myself as a tenacious lass, but that's ludicrous.

Worse of all, having really put myself about yesterday, I appear to have caught the clap off one of the sites I visited. (Under age and unprotected blog sex, mother would go mental). My Mac is now making spacey wailing noises that remind me of a subliminal re-enforcement tape I got from a hypno-therapist who helped me stop smoking a few years ago. I'm not sure what messages have been laid into the whale music - but it's sending me mental. For sure.

Maybe I should leave planning for the brainiacs and start a new blog exclusively for maniacs?

But before I do, I'll remember my manners - here's some of the great stuff I discovered yesterday: How to Change the World, BuzzMachine, gapingvoid, furtherandfaster, brandtarot. Apologies to any I missed - you probably wouldn't want links from me. I have the wailing clap.

2 Feb 2007

This week I got ENGAGED!

For anyone who knows me - you'll have immediately figured that this is just a ruse. Sid and Nancy (my cats) can also testify that my spinster status is still in tact! But to get to the point, I've spent my week trying to get a handle on where developments in multi-channel Britain are likely to take agencies like mine.

Having wrestled with stats, grappled with yet more predictions and started to build a picture of what constitutes a must-have in any agency's digital offer, I happened on a white paper that made absolute sense to me.

I'd heard colleagues bandying about the phrase 'permission marketing' and I know that a particularly good friend of mine has been doing some stunning work for the Blah! Party. (Love or hate the concept it's really getting some good interaction). But pah! permission marketing (it seems) is old hat. What's much more in vogue is Engagement Marketing. Apparently, 'interruption' is dying a death and engagement is the way to build value into relationships with your customers. If you want an incredibly well written (and quick to read) low down on The Engagement Principles.

The idea of connecting with customers on an emotional level is nothing new - but the argument for authenticity and its implicit call for marketing delivered with integrity AND ingenuity has to be worth celebrating.

Obviously, you're all invited to the reception. Drinks round mine at 7pm?

1 Feb 2007

SEO Bingo

Reflecting on my previous post - Are UK Agencies Too Slow To Embrace Digital Marketing? I wondered if I had been too fast to judge. So bearing in mind that SEO is hailed as one of the key drivers of the Revolution - I applied the following logic. . .

If UK agencies are on the ball with developments in integrated digital comms, then (maybe) it follows that they will have their SEO house in order too. Anyway to cut a long story short - my brief interlude of SEO bingo suggested that my initial hunch hadn't been too far wrong.

Bang Digital Branding or Digital Agency into Google and none of the big, well known UK agencies appear - with the notable exception of Interbrand (those boys appear to be good at, well, just about everything). What you get instead is a crop of really fresh digital 'boutiques' of varying sizes - who's own virtual shop windows combine a mix of gorgeous eyecandy with some really smart thinking and lovely intuitive navigation. There are a couple who take the moral highground - and use the content argument, in order to excuse their lack of design.

Here are a couple of my favorites. . Rubber Republic, appeals to the kid in me and seem to have a family of services each of which does what it says on the tin. Then there's Agency Republic. These guys just blew me away - go and visit their client sites, particularly the Mercedes site, or for foodies the Hellman's sandwich bar. Just lovely work - captivating, to different audiences and for different reasons.

My view is that traditional agencies who are clued up will be frantically forging partnerships with smaller digital agencies - and white labeling bought in digital capabilities as their own. That, or they'll be busily boosting the freelance books in order to be prepared as and when the client briefs drop. In the meantime, it's ker-ching! for the digital boutiques as they cash in on their top spot on the digital leaderboard.