The world’s most under-used marketing asset

Established companies often talk about marketing in very tactical terms. It’s the things we do, and the communications we have. It’s the branding and the visuals and the campaigns. While startups are becoming more aware of the importance of a strategic marketing vision from the very birth of their company, there is one tool in the marketing toolbox that not only gets forgotten – it often gets completely overlooked when it comes to marketing strategy.

And weirdly, it’s one of the first things we write in stone when we start a business: The company name.

One of the most common issues with company names I hear these days is: “All the good names are already taken”. This is of course complete rubbish – and I will explain why.

The traditional approach

Some of the most successful company names in history were chosen with a very specific purpose. Often these iconic names are rooted in…

Names of individuals involved in starting the business:

  • Toyota (based on a simplified version of the family name “Toyoda”)
  • Adidas (from founder Adi Dassler)
  • Walmart (from founder Sam Walton)

Names of locations where the business was founded:

  • Halifax (founded in Halifax)
  • Cisco (founded in San Francisco)
  • IKEA (based on founder Ingvar Kamprad’s initials and his origin, Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd, Sweden)

The actual service or product offered:

  • General Electric (formed as a merger of Edison General Electric Company and Thomson-Houston Electric Company)
  • Microsoft (a combination of the words microcomputer and software)
  • Staples (selling basic office supplies, a.k.a. “staples” – including actual staples)

The non-traditional approach

There are of course many examples of businesses going beyond these traditional routes, choosing names that are more creative and conjuring up various images and subtexts. It can be done very subtly, as with Nike, taking its name from the Greek goddess of victory; a particular connotation only obvious to people who know a few things about ancient mythology.

Other businesses have chosen to make a brand statement out of wanting to be different from the crowd. Apple Computer, for example, got its name from Steve Jobs being inspired by spending time in an apple orchard. It was designed to stand in stark contrast to its industry competitors at the time, and survived as a powerful brand despite being sued over trademark violations by Apple Records in 1989.

Focus on the connection

Once we start researching potential business names online, it’s easy to feel as if the pool of great company names has been filled a long time ago. It can make us feel despondent, and perhaps even a bit desperate. This is when we start coming up with names that make little or no sense at all.

Sometimes, the “fun factor” works – especially for consumer-focused businesses such as Schpock, Boomf and Hulu. But you may want to consider the fact that you will want to live with this company name for a long time. Avoid a trendy name that may have you fighting an uphill battle to be taken seriously.

Now – let me make one thing clear. It is true that it’s becoming more difficult to choose a company name that stands out and is memorable. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that it’s not necessary.

These are the qualities that the company itself should have. You should ensure that the business stands out from its competition and is memorable for its quality, service levels, price – or whatever the key selling point is. If the company is performing excellently, the name will be associated with that excellence and will be recognised for it. All the name needs to do is to be somehow anchored in the heart of the business. If it does not, you’re looking at a huge, missed opportunity.

The further away a company name is from a genuine, logical connection to the founder/s, the business activity or the vision, the less it can be relied upon as a marketing asset.

So – while you work hard on making the business successful, make sure that you have a company name that works just as hard to enforce your marketing efforts!

Content Marketing in a HyperNormal world

Did you see the recent BBC documentary HyperNormalisation? In it, Adam Curtis explores how we as a community are facing a world that is becoming increasingly difficult to understand, explain and predict – all the while there is a “fake reality” happening around us.

As Sci-Fi-esque as it may sound, it is a disturbing story of how the world is allowing itself to be manipulated by various forces in sometimes subtle, unconscious ways. It makes us seem quite far from the enlightened, advanced society that we like to believe we are.

But aren’t we in fact all doing this ourselves, to our own reality, albeit on a micro scale?

If you’re reading this, you are most likely a “social animal” – you engage with other people and with various groups, brands and businesses on social media. But did you know that by absorbing information on social media you are in fact orchestrating the very information you see? The various algorithms at play in your Facebook or LinkedIn feed are far from straight-forward. There is a highly intelligent system which carefully selects content based on your demographics, your interests, affiliations, background, browsing history and much more.

You are in fact creating your own reality.

This selective reality is of course designed to help us. It’s meant to make our lives easier and more enjoyable as we see more of the kind of things we like and less of the things we don’t like.

So, what’s the problem with that?

  • True or not, it’s true
    One major issue is that many people are still under the impression that what they are seeing in social media is balanced and regulated. Juicy news stories often gain traction regardless of whether or not they are true – and by the time the story is validated or denied, it’s too late. Opinions are already formed. And what’s more, the original story often keeps making its rounds across the world.
  • Restricted voice for brands
    Another problem is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for people and businesses to reach anyone outside of their existing tribe of supporters. It’s no longer enough to be writing and sharing content while boosting it and advertising – because the intelligence behind the recipients’ newsfeed will automatically “censor” you if you’re not considered to be interesting enough to the reader.
  • A skewed reality
    Not only is this development making it difficult for brands to get their voice heard, it also means that the social audience is receiving a highly skewed version of perceived reality. In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg said about Facebook: “Our goal is to build the perfect personalised newspaper for every person in the world”. Out of thousands of news stories, only a small fraction makes it into our line of sight. And those stories will typically support beliefs and opinions we already have.

So how can we, as brands, outsmart this ever changing content selection process?
Short answer: We can’t.

We can, however, reduce our reliance on social media traction. We should still invest in the social platforms, but we need to become increasingly aware of the importance of our own media agenda. Websites, email lists, own forums and communications platforms – these will all need to play a much more crucial part of our strategy if we are to wriggle loose from the restrictive media display of the social channels.

The next challenge is of course to get traffic on these alternative channels, which may take time and patience.

But here, unlike in the distorted reality of Adam Curtis’s vision, you will actually be in control.

How to “un-lop” lopsided marketing

Do you know what the biggest threat to an organisation’s content marketing success is? It’s not the lack of budget or resources. It’s not corporate culture. It’s not even legacy systems.

It’s a little thing called afterthought.

The two faces of marketing

Content marketing is a double sided machine. One side will never reach its full potential without the other to complement it. It is impossible to realise a true return on investment on either one without managing the two in tandem.

Yet, surprisingly many organisations will spend the majority of their budgets developing and refining one of the sides – to the point where its counterpart becomes an expensive afterthought.

So what are these two aspects?

blog_twosidesThe content marketing process is based on a perfect balance between strategy and execution; between engine and fuel; between content and tactics. One is simply not effective without the other.

However, it’s easy to become blinded by the investment into either of these areas. A business that has poured thousands of pounds into a sparkling new website and accompanying CRM system may struggle to justify spending an equal amount on professional content creation to generate customer engagement.

Likewise, another business may have built an impressive library of strategically aligned content – without establishing the necessary systems and platforms for putting that content into the hands of their prospects.

In either scenario, some of the actual investment is wasted.

Merging the two

Regardless of the scale of the marketing plan, addressing this afterthought issue is simple. Incredibly simple. In fact, it’s all about simplicity.

Let’s face it: You don’t want anything to sit between your business objectives and your actual marketing results. So the important thing is to make the connection between the two as clear as possible. And the best way to do this is to build a simple mini workflow of content and execution that starts adding value to the business, as you gradually continue to develop both sides of your machinery.

By starting small you will be able to see the direct correlation between the two – and you won’t need to face the dreaded afterthought!

How to run a smooth marketing machine

Whether you work with a full service agency or manage your activities in-house, it’s critical to take control of this marketing see-saw. Resist the urge to be so dazzled by automation systems that you neglect to also create the messaging which will successfully use those systems to engage with your audience!

Ensure that your contracted agencies can supply the content specialism that your business needs and deserves.

If they can’t, get it elsewhere.
Like here, for example.

How to beat marketing confusion – with content

Feeling confused when it comes to digital marketing? That’s completely understandable. The world of social marketing and online content has developed in such an explosive way in recent years that it’s hard for even seasoned marketing professionals to keep up!

Every month, we hear about new marketing platforms and software that are all designed to transform how we reach our audiences online. The speed of this progress can feel intimidating when you’re starting your marketing journey, but there is one very important thing you should remember.

However good these various new tools and systems are, they will always be just that: tools and systems. They will always sit on the surface of what you do, and that surface will continue to ripple and change.

Don’t even try to learn it all
Even the most successful online marketers out there today don’t claim to know it all. In fact, they are more likely to NOT know it all. Instead of trying to run their business as well as keep a close eye on the world of marketing technology, they hire people to find and implement the best solutions for them. Instead of running themselves into the ground trying to identify the best marketing tactics, they focus on their core business. They design their offering and develop their brand. They create the ocean of content that lives below the tactics.

Get the content right
It’s been said before, but I’ll happily say it again: Your marketing campaigns are only ever as good as your content. You can spend thousands on the latest automation tools, you can have all the clever targeting schemes and the premium memberships on every social platform – but if you don’t have a relevant message, you will be wasting your money.

… and don’t compromise on quality
I often speak to businesses that have a quantity-driven approach to their content marketing strategy. They are focused on publishing as many blogs, social posts, videos, images and informational documents as possible. It becomes a numbers game for them, where they argue that if they push out as much content as they possibly can, they will maximise the number of leads they can get from that content. There is of course some truth to this; it is indeed vital to be present on a number of different channels. However – there is no excuse for compromising on content quality just to populate all your communications platforms.

So how do you create the quality content that your marketing programmes deserve?

  • Check what your audience wants to read/watch
    Spend an hour in the digital shoes of your ideal customer. What content is trending in their field of interest? What articles and papers are being shared the most and what videos are getting the most views? This will give you an indication to the topics and formats that resonate the most with the people you want to reach.
  • Always aim to educate
    You may feel that an infographic or a webinar that doesn’t spell out the specific benefits of your solution is too “weak”. You may be tempted to zoom in your unique selling points and explain how great you are. However, your readers will most likely tune out. They don’t want to hear a sales message until they ask for it!The purpose of your content should be to awaken curiosity, and to provide useful information and guidance to the reader. This is what makes marketing campaigns “sticky”. If you prove yourself useful to your audience, they are more likely to stick around and listen to what you will say next. They will sign up for newsletters, tune into your podcasts and share your content with their peers.
  • Keep a finger on the pulse
    Always aim to stay relevant. If a major breakthrough has occurred in your industry or region, make sure you share your views and comments on it. If you have an analytical paper from a year ago that is no longer up to date with current events, don’t keep distributing it. You may wish to re-issue it with added information, but don’t risk being labelled as not keeping up with the times. (For blogs and news posts, you may even consider “news-jacking” relevant stories from the mainstream media if you have an interesting spin on it.)
  • Sweat the small stuff
    For the educated reader, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to make sense of a sentence laden with grammatical or spelling errors. Not to mention broken hyperlinks or missing references. At best, your reader will piece the content together and continue reading with slightly dampened enthusiasm. At worst, they will close the page and go absorb content somewhere else.
    If you have created a great piece of content, don’t allow the details to let it down. Get it proofed, get it checked and analysed – to make it the brilliant version of itself it deserves to be.

By focusing on getting your content right, you will have already won 90% of the marketing battle. Determining the right platforms and marketing tools to get the content noticed, read and shared is secondary.

So shake off the overwhelm, put on a smile and start creating some awesome content!

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“So what? It’s just a typo.”

I once applied for a job as Marketing Manager for an up-and-coming software provider. In the interview, I was really put through my paces. In military style, every aspect of my capabilities were scrutinised, questioned and battered. I came out of the room feeling slightly downcast, knowing that I had not convinced the manager that I was a good fit.

Two days later, I was offered a more senior role working for a different vendor. As expected, the other job went to someone else. However, in the application process I had signed up as a newsletter subscriber of the first company, which meant that I started receiving email updates from them a couple of months down the line. I took some interest in reading them, as I knew they would have been written – or at least approved – by the role I had applied for.

In the same vein as looking up an old school mate on Facebook, I suppose I wanted to check out how good they were and compare myself to them.

The first spelling error was in the subject line. A little bit unfortunate, but not catastrophic. It did, however, make me scan the rest of the text a bit more closely to see if there were any more mistakes. Shockingly, I found another two errors in the same newsletter, one of them being a misspelling of their own product. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit amused by this discovery!

I read the next monthly newsletter with the expectation that any quality issues would surely have been rectified by now. But embarrassingly, this issue too was riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes. As was the next, and the next. It got to the point where error-spotting became a bit of a game for me. How many mistakes will there be this time – and how quickly can I find them?

Almost a year after applying for the job, I happened to be having lunch in the same restaurant as the gentleman who conducted the interview. We had a brief chat, in which I mentioned I still received their newsletters. I hesitated at first, but then asked if he was aware that not a single one had been fault-free in the last year. At this, his face went very pale. He wasn’t aware. (He obviously didn’t read them himself). As amusing as it was to me at the time, particularly as it brought me some level of vengeful pleasure, this became a vivid reminder of how important spelling and grammar can be in communications.

It only took one mistake for me to start subconsciously scanning for more mistakes, and every one of those mistakes would impact the credibility of the brand.

Rather than focusing on the content, I was spotting spelling mistakes. And rather than building a trusted brand, they were turning into a joke – while senior management were none the wiser.

I recently ran a poll in a group of entrepreneurs in my network, and 81% agreed with the statement that “Spelling and grammar mistakes cause a brand or author to lose some credibility”. 38% also stated that they felt “frustrated or annoyed” with the lack of quality that errors like these denote, while 19% of them even expressed that mistakes in written communications “could cause them to choose an alternative brand in the future”.

When it comes to social media updates, users tend to be a little bit more lenient as these are often done on the fly and without proper spell check support. But marketing emails, website copy, adverts and printed materials are the vehicles that carry your brand – which should be flawless.

My guess is that your business doesn’t quite fancy the idea of sending 19% of your prospects to your competitors. So how about investing some time in copy editing and proof reading for your next campaign?

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Why content marketing is like a baked potato in a sushi restaurant

Content marketing is an extremely powerful approach to lead generation, brand building and advocacy. So why aren’t more businesses successful at doing it? The simple answer is – in many cases – because their marketing agency isn’t providing what they need.

In a previous life, when I was working as a Marketing Manager in the tech industry, I would often take a transactional approach to buying marketing services. There would be a defined need, most commonly a lead target, and a limited timeframe in which it had to be met. And more importantly, the agency would look to me to provide the materials required, around which to build the campaigns.

This is a very common scenario across the B2B market; the agency simply becomes the delivery point for leads and opportunities.

What if we were to compare this to dining in a restaurant?
A hungry guest (the client) sits down at the table of a restaurant (the agency). The guest is now required to choose from the items specified on the menu. If sitting in a sushi restaurant, they will get a wide range of options for sushi – but they probably won’t be able to add a baked potato. (I’ve tried that one. It’s seriously frowned upon.) The options have been defined by the restaurant, to suit the majority of their customers. If the guest wants something else, they have to bring their own food in a Tupperware dish. (I know, most restaurants wouldn’t allow this. But just bear with the analogy here, OK?)

Now, imagine this. What if the waiter instead would take the guest by the hand, and lead them into the kitchen? What if the customer was allowed to speak with the chef, choosing their own favourite ingredients, seasonings, style and composition, for an epic seven course meal? My guess is that the dinner itself would be a much more satisfying experience – not to mention value for money.

We’ve found a winning recipe for content marketing by helping agencies provide more than the “set menu”. If a customer comes along with lead requirements but not much in terms of quality content, the agency has a choice. They can either build campaigns from the few bits of information available, or they can work with the client to create new content that will support their lead generation for years to come – and become a strategic partner in the process.

What will your agency choose?


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How many Russian brides are on your website?

There was a story in the Swedish news recently about an ice hockey supporter who found, in his view, a “highly inappropriate” advert on his local hockey team’s website. Outraged, he took to Twitter to lash out to the team’s web administrators, complete with screenshot of the ad – featuring a pouting, scantily clad young lady advertising an online chat service. The team’s Twitter officials promptly explained that the advert was in fact a targeted message, entirely based on the user’s own previous browser search history. This of course tickled the entire social media world and was re-tweeted far and wide as an epic fail.

While this is quite an entertaining story, it does raise a few issues around dynamic content and ad optimisation online. Dynamic adverts can be an attractive option for sites wishing to earn money from referral traffic. After all, the user is much more likely to click on an advert for something they have already expressed an interest in, so the click-throughs generate more cash for the website. However, as demonstrated in the aforementioned example, the website itself does run a risk of becoming associated with the ad content displayed. In some cases, this ad content could have been detrimental to the message of the website itself.

What if the website had been an anorexia awareness community? Or a sex addiction support page?

Often brands spend a great deal of time considering how their messaging and imagery can be interpreted by their target audience. Their affiliations and context, however, may get less attention. The brand could be displayed within directories, on syndication websites, in sponsored newsletters and much more – sometimes next to brands or names of a questionable reputation. If you are involved in managing your brand presence online (or offline too, for that matter), this should never be allowed to be a surprise. Demand clarification from your various advertising and sponsorship partners on where your brand will be displayed and how it will come across to the user.

Another interesting example of branding association gone wrong was the 2012 viral photo of what appeared to be a Mongolian dog fighting event sponsored by Heineken. The beer brand quickly denounced the photo, explaining how the event organisers had failed to take down the banners following a promotional event that had taken place the night before. Despite Heineken’s condemnation, the photo is still in circulation by users clamouring for a brand boycott.

As for dynamic advertising, you may want to think twice about whether or not to take the risk of being accidentally associated with something you don’t support. At least on your website, which is pretty much the only place where you can fully control this. (Your social media presence will always be at the mercy of surrounding adverts – but in general, the user public is fully aware that these adverts have nothing to do with you as a business.)

When in doubt, you may consider appointing a “brand detective” to map your brand impression across various channels and report back to you on a regular basis.


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Where’s your hundred dollar doughnut?

donutOK – I must admit, at first I was pretty disgusted by the story of the world’s most expensive doughnut.

Baker Björn Delacruz at the Manila Social Club Restaurant in Williamsburg clearly thought he’d struck gold when he realised there is a market for pretty much anything, as long as you label it “luxury” – even if it does entail making a doughnut filled with Cristal jelly and purple Ube mousse, covered in opulent 24 karat gold flakes.

At $100 a pop, these doughnuts are not the typical treats you’d pass round the office on a Friday afternoon. They are, however – apparently – popular with a certain clientele at the Manila Social Club and demand has been on a steady up since the story surfaced in First We Feast.

Once I’d got my head accustomed to the fact that this is a real product, bought by real people, it dawned on me just how genius this marketing stab actually is. Not only has Mr Delacruz invented something truly unique (I mean, who would ever think to combine the world’s most working class snack with precious metals and a Hollywood-elite beverage?) but he has also instantly positioned himself as someone who truly cares about the people who are prepared to pay a hundred bucks for a piece of pastry. That niche is now his.

He will now not only be overrun by wealthy gourmands, but attract the curious attention of those who perhaps want a sniff of that good life for a few moments. And the great thing is that even when the novelty of the golden doughnut withers, he will always be remembered as the guy who created it.

When we build our own products and solutions, we sometimes overlook the fact that there could be an opportunity to address a different market – or in some cases, create a different market – by simply going for luxury. A typical service or product offering will have basic, standard and premium levels, catering for different audiences. But how often do we actually aim to provide a luxury experience? How often do we go out of our way to create a service or product so uniquely bespoke and lavish, that we suddenly open the door to a whole new audience, namely an audience with thick wallets?

It may not be for you. It may not be aligned with your brand. But isn’t it worth experimenting with the thought of being well positioned against a wealthy market? After all, they may be the ones who actually spend money when nobody else does.


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Don’t fear the Marmite

Love and hate - credit to Baro24If you’re anything like me, you have an inner drive to be accepted, listened to and loved, especially by the people who really matter in your life. When it comes to business, the same applies. We want our customers – the people who really matter to our business – to accept us, listen to us and love our brand. But does that sometimes mean that we play a bit safe, become a bit bland – or even boring?

A fellow marketer at a creative agency told me about a recent direct mail campaign he had carried out, targeting prospects within the pharmaceutical industry. The letter itself was laid out in the form of a doctor’s prescription sheet, ordering the “patient” to take a hefty dose of the agency’s services. So far, all is well and good. Clever, but nothing too controversial.

However, for the envelopes, he chose to use a red ink stamp with the official-looking statement “Important medical documents inside”. This, as it turned out, stirred up a few emotions! The phone started ringing. Some were congratulating him on a cool, eye-catching and fun campaign, but others had a few bones to pick. Some felt it was unethical and deceptive – and one person even explained how she had hand-delivered the mailer to her colleague who was at home on sick leave, thinking it was crucial that she received it.

Now, regardless of whether the recipient loved or hated the campaign, it’s likely that they will remember it.

Some may place the agency on their wish list for future creative work; some may blacklist them for the foreseeable future. So – does this mean the campaign was successful or unsuccessful?

Some would argue that this is “natural selection” in the marketing world and that the unhappy targets weren’t a good match for the agency in the first place. Others might say that a campaign that aggravates part of your audience is inherently flawed.

In my personal opinion, I think the campaign was risky – but that was also what made it great! Some of the greatest artists, creators and leaders of our time have been both loved and hated, because they refuse to play it safe. So why can’t businesses do the same? You may face some tough commentary, but you may also gain some superbly dedicated advocates along the way.

Allow your brand to ruffle a few feathers!

(Image credit to BaRo24:

How to manage creativity

We’re all operating in a world driven by innovation. Product life cycles are shorter than ever before, business start and expand overnight, the cloud computing revolution enables the instant turn-on and shutdown of resources at the click of a button… Entire industry landscapes change and evolve at a higher rate than many of us can keep up with.

As businesses, we try to make as much sense of this as we can. We often find ourselves on the sidelines, watching the game to see which side is winning before joining them on the pitch to help score a few goals.

The most successful companies don’t do that. They’re busy re-writing the rule book and sacking the referee.

Creativity and innovation go hand in hand and are essential to not only entrepreneurship but to the sustained success of established businesses. Unfortunately, many managers don’t know how to manage creativity. It is considered an elusive concept and less direct in its result generation compared to streamlining efficiencies or improving processes.

The first instinct of a manager is to refuse to consider ideas that are challenging and “impossible” (i.e. never been done before) – killing ground-breaking concepts.

“Revolutionary ideas come about when we doubt our existing view of the world,” says Alan Iny, co-author with Luc de Brabandere of Thinking in New Boxes: A New Paradigm for Business Creativity. “In this respect, true leaders must develop the capacity for radical originality: they must re-imagine and reinvent the world in totally unexpected ways. By doing that, they can create a culture that is open to creative risk-taking and an environment where failure is accepted as part of the creative process.”

Failure makes a great teacher but a lousy friend. A successful creative culture will nurture the process of generating enough ideas and hypotheses to counteract any setbacks from failures – but there will be no focus on failure as a word, which is negatively charged. Instead, it’s all about building resilience where the learnings are part of the creative journey and help form the backdrop for new innovation.

As for encouraging and maintaining the creative streak in our organisations; that’s going to be the next big challenge.
A recent Harvard Business School colloquium on creativity landed in the viewpoint that “One doesn’t manage creativity. One manages for creativity.”

I like the sound of that.