Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

QR Codes Don’t Connect Offline to Online


2-D codes are far more important than you may think

QR Codes don’t connect offline media to online media. They are far bigger than that. 2-D codes, QR codes, Microsoft Tag, Nokia Point & Find are talked about in articles I read and articles I write in a very tactical way.

Where can you use them?‘, ‘How can you use them?‘, ‘What do they do?‘. These are all valid questions which people ask now while people become aware of them in the world excluding Japan, which has been using the technology for a while.

But something has always been missing when I think about how I could use them in the business I work in to generate revenue. By their nature, 2-D codes are simple to set up and pretty much free to use. The value our business would get from them is in developing mobile web sites for clients, of course. But, my business is a digital agency. We don’t do print.

But this morning, I had a meeting with a local creative agency I know through a business networking group. I was asking them for some quotes and feedback on some projects I am working on, when I started talking to them about 2-D codes. They had never heard of them. I explained what they were and that’s when it hit me.

The bigger picture for 2-D codes is the opportunity they represent to connect partners together to develop solutions for our clients. Not only do they connect offline media to online media. They connect service providers together too in new ways to provide new solutions and approaches to clients and their customers.

When you look at 2-D codes this way, you have the opportunity to expand beyond the limitations of your own business by working with other service providers. Suddenly, a potentially sceptical creative print company to our digital agency becomes a partner.

Of course, there is still some way to go before 2-D Codes become commonplace here in the UK, but working like this with them will make the technology more tangible for clients who increasingly want to reach their customers in ways which suit them and not ways which suit the company.


A Rural Oasis that Feels Right

How does your business feel?

How does your business feel?

A few businesses appear as though they are instant winners. Some take a while to build themselves up to success. Some start with a great idea but burn out quickly as the idea does not translate itself into a commercially viable product or service (I remember meeting someone in a pub in the late ’90’s who was setting up dotcom company which was delivering a clean shirt, pants, socks, a razor and toothbrush to a customer’s office after a night on the town).

I spent some time with a business this evening which had got the ingredients right on its product. One of the keys for this business to get right was how it felt when you walked in through the front door. It felt right. It felt relaxed, welcoming, warm but not hot. It smelt right and you felt as though you were completely welcome. The business is a spa, The Grange Spa, in Lincolnshire.

It is an oasis in this very rural county. The nearest competition is about an hour away. The couple that own it, Matt & Emma Craven, are warm and welcoming. Behind their friendly exteriors are sharp marketing minds that know exactly who they are aiming at as ideal customers. Matt told me precise socio-demographic characteristics of each segment of the population they are targeting.

They started in April 2009 and “footfall” is starting to increase through their doors, finally. It’s tough but it is starting to work. Clients were walking in as we spoke having treatments, using the gym and swimming in their gorgeous pool. Matt uses Twitter and Facebook to help him reach out to potential clients.

But, these social media tools are not necessarily being used by some of their ideal customers. Nevertheless, many of their prospective customers network socially albeit not through the internet but at book clubs. Women with children in their mid to late thirties.

So, Matt and I got chatting about the possibility of combining their spa with women’s book clubs. The spa has beautiful furniture and private areas where a women’s book club could meet to talk about this month’s book, chat and then spend an hour using the spa. We then talked about the joy of using Google Chrome which is when Emma seemed to switch off for some reason.

But more, importantly, take a look at The Grange Spa’s web site and see for yourself at what this oasis offers and how it feels. If you get a chance, swing by and say hello to Matt, Emma or any of their friendly staff to sense for yourself just how good their business feels. If you have your own business, then ask yourself how it feels. Does it feel right? If not, make some changes. It’s important for your customers.

Bumbling Along In Business

Bumbling along is actually a strategy for making changes

Bumbling along is actually a strategy for making changes

If you ever caught yourself that you were just bumbling along in your business, unsure of quite how you made your job or your business successful, then stop that thinking right away. You may start each day with a plan. But, when you look reflect  on the day, you are highly likely to see that, despite achieving a lot, it was not quite what you set out to do that day. Your time might have been spent fixing problems, making decisions, helping team members and coming up with ideas.

According to Professor Tony Watson of the Nottingham University Business School, whom I listened to today on the East Midlands Development Agency’s ‘High Growth Masterclass’ course today, this is not just bumbling along in business. It is actually part of a natural strategy for implementing change in your business task by task each day and which is called ‘logical incremental-ism‘.

We often think that we have to make huge changes in a business to make a difference. Often, we do have to make big changes, such as identifying your company’s points of differentiation in the market and promoting them. But more often, we make changes little by little, moment by moment for the better to achieve change and success in the business.

So, we can now relax in the knowledge that we are making changes everyday in our lives, improving our proposition and products to meet the demands of our clients. It might feel as though we are just getting through each day but it is much more than that. We are unconsciously implementing a strategy of change without noticing it.

Selling to your Boss

Show your boss the evidence and make it real

Show your boss the evidence and make it real

I realised that I first learned how to sell a few years after I first did it. I was a young British Army Officer and one of my jobs in the Mess was to have all of our dining room chairs restored. The chairs were getting battered by many functions and daily use by thirty blokes and their occasional guests. I took one chair as a sample to a local furniture restorer to be restored and took it back into the Mess to gain the approval of the senior officers before having all of them restored.

But I didn’t just show them the restored chair. Firstly, I showed them a chair which had not been restored and which was probably the worst one of our set. The unrestored chair was rickety and had had much of the varnish chipped off. I showed the group of senior officers how bad things were but how good that they could be by investing in having the chairs restored. Having the chairs restored was a whole lot cheaper than buying a complete new set. Approval was gained.

One of the biggest challenges that some employees or even business directors face is having to convince their boss or fellow directors that they need to invest money into their project. Most people fear the rejection or fail to persuade their boss or bosses on why the investment is an investment and not a gamble.

I met someone recently who is facing this challenge. Their business is a web based news site which focuses on a science and technology. It has grown its unique visitors to the site from 6,500 per month to nearly 15,000 in the last year. It has benefited in the economic downturn, it would seem, as people seek more knowledge and information.

On the outside, it appears that this is a good news story. But, the underlying trends on the site show that people are spending less time on the site. The site is very much a ‘broadcast’ site meaning that it does not have capabilities for viewers to interact with the site by way of leaving comments, sharing articles with friends or colleagues, or even posting other content onto the site such as photographs.

Its competitors are large. One of their competitors has fifty times the number of unique visitors per month to their site. The competitors’ site is more advanced by way of tools which allow visitors to subscribe to the web site through RSS feeds, to read blogs, or to download and listen to podcasts, for example. Not only are their competitors larger, they are competing more effectively for the visitors by providing reasons for them to keep them coming back.

Herein lies the problem with the smaller news site. They have an infrastructure to their site which is bespoke and they are finding it nearly impossible to change. Furthermore, the owners of the web site do not see the problem. They see rising visitor numbers and they have achieved their original aim of setting up a successful web site providing the specialist news. “Why should we change the infrastructure?”

The infrastructure they have is bespoke and there very few people who can develop their system to customise it and add new features. They are stuck with a single supplier who charges them a lot of money to maintain but not develop and expand the capabilities of the site.

The owners are not seeing that their web site will become soon see the number of visitors declining because they receive better services and news elsewhere. The people in charge of marketing and running the site don’t have the support of the owners to make changes because the owners don’t think there is a problem. So, the status quo prevails and when the number of visitors and subscribers decline, they won’t be able to react. This is a classic case of people not worrying about what a rising tide covers up until the tide turns.

How do you deal with this inertia? How do you show that something is wrong when all seems to be rosy when your boss doesn’t believe it? Think back to the chairs earlier. Everyone in the mess was uses to the chairs being a bit battered or wobbly. Nobody was really complaining about them. But, by showing them how good they could be and how much more presentable and professional our Mess would appear, the senior officers approved the investment. They did not care how the chairs were restored as long as they were done professionally.

This is similar to the situation with the contact I met who was struggling with their bosses to see that their web site was not competitive. You have to show them evidence and keep showing them and not just accept the status quo and the inevitable pain they would go through again if they did not change their infrastructure. You need to show them what their competitors are doing. You need to show them what real people want and then how that will help their business survive. It’s tough but evidence and outcomes are very persuasive. You need to be bold, strong and persistent.

Learn the lessons of Normandy

Let's not rush to change until we know what we want

Let's not rush to change until we know what we want


In June 1944, the Allies had landed on the beaches at Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword and were advancing inland fighting against mainly battle hardened German troops who had fought on the Eastern Front. On the east flank of the allied invasion, Montgomery’s objective was to capture and liberate the city of Caen within the first 24 hours. This objective was not achieved. It took far longer to achieve. Part of this was due to the fact that the British and Canadian troops were facing the near fanatical ‘SS Panzer “Hitlerjugend”‘ division who fought hard (and committed atrocities against the Canadian troops). Montgomery bombarded the Germans in Caen, encircled the city and, eventually, the Germans capitulated or withdrew. 

Caen was flattened. By flattening the city, Montgomery not only made it harder for his troops to move into Caen, he made it easier for the Germans to defend. But, the main losers in this battle were the civilians. Thousands of civilians died and the German Army withdrew to continue its bloody defence all the way to Berlin.

While we remember the heroism and atrocities of that campaign, and while we have lived with the benefits that came from the defeat of Nazism, we are now in a time a huge turmoil and opportunity. A small minority of greedy people have smashed the world’s economy to pieces, the wave of which we were happily riding the decade before. The British political system has had six weeks of revelations from which the ‘Freedom of Information Act’ has highlighted the irresponsibility of a small group of our society’s leaders who lost sight of the meaning of serving their people. 

However, like Montgomery bombing Caen to pieces, the Press needs to balance their power of information with the need to  think rationally about what we would like to replace what is now being destroyed. We run the risk of throwing out a group of individuals and replacing them with individuals and policies which are based upon a wave of emotional anger and not rational thought and reason. 

Sure, let’s have an election, but not until we have got this mess sorted out. Sure, let’s get rid of those shysters who have defrauded the system. But let’s not rush into anything before we know what we want and replace the current system with a bunch of inexperienced nitwits who sail in on a single issue but who have no depth to their capabilities. 

So, when we remember the heroics of Major John Howard and his men who landed in gliders 47 metres away from their target and swept away the old system at Pegasus Bridge, let us not forget that Howard and his men had trained for months for that moment. And we must do the same in this tumultuous time. Let’s sweep away the old ways but let’s not rush into it and pave the way for greater difficulties later on through a rushed and bungled reaction.

Publishers need to think like Games Developers

Publish to several formats

Exclusively everywhere

The publishing world is going mad. Digital technology is disrupting everything that they used to hold dear. Newspaper publishers are seeing their printed paper circulations dropping,  along with the advertising revenues that went with them. At the same time, having given away their online versions for free and keeping them subsidised by the online advertising, the online revenues are not keeping pace with the decline of the offline versions. This is not news and it is well documented in the well written article about the demise of the newspaper as we know it by Clay Shirky

There is a lot of talk in the publishing world about what the industry does not want to be. It does not want to be like the music industry which is trying to keep up with its customers who want to download music. The publishing industry does not want to lose control of its content. It does not want to see authors going direct to consumers and negating the need for their editorial, production and marketing skills. Nor does it want to be in the situation of the newspaper publishers. 

The publishing industry is in a position where devices are starting to become good enough for people to buy eBooks in significant numbers now and publishers are becoming increasingly anxious to adapt to the changing scene amongst their consumers. Their concerns over which format to use and which device will be the ‘killer device’ are growing. Unlike the music industry, publishers have never needed to think about which device to publish their books for. The device was the paper and print. If you publish regluar novels which just has text and no illustrations there is one format for you. If you publish cookbooks, for example, then you need a format which can handle the more complex text and images.

Amazon looks like it will introduce its Kindle 2 device into the UK soon for which publishers will have to provide their eBooks in various formats for Amazon to add in its own digital rights management. Waterstones favours the Sony Reader device and they require eBooks delivered in a format which only really suits novels which contain plain text. There are numerous eBook reading devices on the market and several different formats into which a book can be turned into an eBook. 

Publishers are now having to adapt their skills in print to digital skills to ensure that they are prepared for when their sales of digital books move from being a noticeable item on their top line to a significant part of their bottom line. And, instead of thinking about what they don’t want to be, they should start to think about what they want to be. And there is a model which they should consider.

Computer games developers and publishers have always needed a device to be purchased on which their games can be played. In the early days, it was a computer. Then specialised devices came along and the manufacturers of the devices started to battle it out for domination and Sony was the early winner with the Playstation. Microsoft brought out the Xbox and Nintendo discovered a new market with the Wii. 

But the games publishers and developers learnt fairly early on that the platform did not affect their development and publishing of games. The games developers (the equivalent of authors) created ever more immersive and graphically stunning games to make the most of the power of the games consoles which could be played on either an Xbox or a Playstation. They just developed ‘compiler’ programmes and ‘architectures’ through which their games adapted to the platform for which they had been purchased. Games publishers want to be able to distribute their games onto as many platforms as they can.

The good thing about books unlike a newspaper is that they are likely to be read again. Not read as many times, perhaps, as often as a track is played on a MP3 player, but an eBook has a longer life than a newspaper article, nevertheless. A game is likely to be played several times before it swapped or exchanged. Of course, most games come on a disc. But, increasingly, games are being played online and soon they will be downloaded to consoles when broadband speeds increase. So, in that sense, publishers will be ahead of games developers. 

A game can be rented from Blockbuster for a few nights, or purchased from the store or online. eBooks will need to be adaptable enough to allow different forms of ownership and payment such as borrowing from a library, renting from an online store, as well a perpetual licence when bought outright. 

Book publishers should think like this too. They just need to carry on finding good authors, and marketing the books well and let the device manufacturers fight it out amongst themselves on which device will be the most popular. In the meantime, they need to grow their digital capability to be able to deliver eBooks in several different formats and study how companies like EA Games work to get some ideas.

How to Win – Focus and Speed

Focus your resources and create panic  

Focus your resources and create panic

When you are in the thick of your business, especially if it is a small business, finding time to step back and take stock of where your business is going is very difficult. You are working in the business, packing boxes or trying to find new customers, or doing the books in the evening that by the time you get time to look to the future and evaluate your strategy, it is midnight and you are shattered. Even the large businesses I have worked in, that had more resources at hand to help them build their sales and profits than I care think about, had trouble taking the time to understand what was going to make them successful in the future. 

In one large business I was in, I recall an internal meeting where a new Sales Director had been appointed to lead our sales strategy for the division. In one open meeting with the sales and marketing teams, he was asking for our feedback about how to grow the business. That was good, but it soon became obvious that the new sales director had no idea about his sales strategy. Phrases he made like “I can see we need broad focus to be successful” filled me with a sense of foreboding that this guy was not going to last long in his position. Surely, ‘broad focus’ means no focus or ‘wide angle’ at the very best. ‘Broad focus’ conjures up images of trench warfare, stalemate and no forwardprogress. 

The word ‘strategy’ sounds so grand that it does not seem appropriate to a small business. In a large business, people often make strategy a far more complicated activity than it needs to be, or they think strategy is just for Generals. Simply put, strategy is how you are going to meet your objectives. Tactics are about what you are going to do to make the strategy or strategies work. 

But everyone needs to be clear about their objectives, their strategy and the subsequent tactics to help them win and few know where to start in my experience. A very good place to start in learning from the past. For instance, a great wartime leader was Erwin Rommel. His brilliance enabled his smaller force to drive the ‘British Expeditionary Force’ out of France at Dunkirk which he did by being very clear about his strategy.  Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar used a very similar strategy to Rommel decades earlier at the Battle of Trafalgar. 

Both of these leaders overcame their larger enemies by focusing their resources in a small number of locations and driving hard and fast through those critical points. Rommel surged through the Ardennes with fast, mobile forces, encircling the British. Nelson split his fleet into two and charged through the French and Spanish fleets at two points, and both of them created panic and chaos within their opposition. 

So, their strategies were clear. Speed, mobility and concentration of resources into a small number of highly critical locations. No broad focus. Always narrow focus with as many resources as you can spare behind them. This is the same in business.  A small business does not have the resources to ‘create awareness’ in a potential market. A large business equally needs to make sure it specialises in what it does best and uses it resources wisely to support its strategies. 

But strategy is all very well without having a thoroughly good knowledge about your market, otherwise known as ‘intelligence.’ Although we live in a more competitive world than our ancestors in business, we have far better intelligence available to us to understand our markets than they ever did. It never ceases to amaze me just how much you can find out about your competitors, customers and prospects to help you plan your strategy. 

But the point is that the key to winning is focus. Focus your strategy on a small number of key areas and ensure you dominate them before looking to win in other areas. If you try to do a bit of everything in your market, then you will be easily beaten. And if you still don’t feel confident about developing your strategy, then read sometime wartime biographies and learn from the masters.