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!

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.

“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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What the Proms taught me about leadership

I was watching the Last Night of the Proms on Saturday, enjoying the essence of this wonderfully British tradition in all its glory. Old and new, sophisticated and playful – all blended wonderfully into a rich representation of modern classical music. And although I expected a beautiful performance, what I didn’t expect was to get a lesson in business management.

promsThe stage was bursting with talented musicians and soloists. However, my eyes were inevitably drawn to the conductor, Marin Alsop. With magnetic, mesmerising strokes through the air, she enticed the most amazingly complex music from the orchestra and its chorus. Her eyes, hands, baton – all were completely focussed on the musicians in front of her as she was watching, listening, feeling her way through the notes.

A friend and I got talking about how this is a fantastic visual of how business leadership works – or at least how it should work. The conductor, much like the manager of a business, does not get involved in the detail of any individual instrument during a concert. Even though she is most likely able to perform one or several instruments very well, she doesn’t do it. She allows each person to be the expert, and concentrates on getting the best out of each performer – despite the fact that they may play their instrument slightly differently to how she herself would play it. As long as she gets the sound she wants from the entire orchestra – together – she is satisfied.

A leader’s job is to ensure that harmony is created through collaboration. A good leader communicates clearly, while also listening intently to their team. And just as in the orchestra everyone is included and gets heard, everyone should be made to feel like an important part of the business team. The conductor doesn’t hide behind anyone, but gives credit where it’s due. She allows her musicians to shine.

But as we all know, a successful performance is the result of months and months of hard work, rehearsals and preparation. Just as a good conductor will recognise when the orchestra is ready for the task ahead and wouldn’t place anyone on stage who doesn’t have the skills required, a good leader knows how to pick a team that will excel in delivering the chosen product or service, under attentive and determined guidance from the front.

Let’s all face the music and help each other become better leaders and collaborators!

(Did you miss the performance? Check it out HERE).

Image credit: BBC 2015

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.