Marketing in Norwich

The Importance Of Robust Business Modelling – A Lesson From Retailers

Since the New Year it has been very disappointing to hear of several well known and long established retailers in Norwich going out of business.  Clearly the trading environment both before and after January 1st has been very difficult.  Before January the market was very competitive, highly price sensitive, and demand for good deals was high because customers knew of VAT rate increases to come. Small independent retailers were often faced with trying to compete with nationwide or sometimes global chains with demonstrably greater purchasing power.

After 1st January things really seems to change as customers felt the full force of higher fuel and energy prices, higher VAT, high food prices on commodity items, and sadly often some job insecurity within the home.  In the background inflation continued to rise at a faster rate than salaries or wages, and many home owners know in the back of their minds that their mortgages will only cost more in the future.

It seems to me that all of this makes it a very difficult trading environment.  I am very sure it is much easier to say than to do this, but it does seem to me to only reinforce the importance of understanding ones business model, sticking to it robustly, and adjusting critical resources accordingly.  Small businesses and independent retailers clearly don’t have the buying power of national chains or internet retailers, but they are very flexible.  They can change the levels of resources they have and the customers they choose to target to meet the climate they trade in.

It is easy to ignore the challenges the environment puts to businesses and to customers, but it at the peril of the business to do so.    In difficult trading times it is more important than ever to rigorously understand the business model, understand the constraints it places on the business, and most importantly translate that into tangible practical action that protects the business.  Not easy, but essential none the less!

Learning from other Brands

I have recently been trying to absorb a lot of information about different business models and how they affect the outcome of businesses.

Two books I have enjoyed reading are “The Story of Green and Black’s” and “Innocent, Our Story & Some Things We’ve Learned”.

Innocent SmoothiesBoth books are an interesting read but I think the Green and Black’s book is perhaps less aimed at selling more of their own product or more about the story for the sake of the story.  What is most striking is that neither of these businesses (or many others it seems), concern themselves with the manufacturing or logistics / warehousing aspects of their business.  These are outsourced.  Both businesses put great emphasis on maintaining control of the supply chain by purchasing raw materials directly from source, particularly if there is a marketing or brand story attached to this.

Green And Blacks ChocolateThey then focus on the routes market, trade marketing, sales, and brand building amongst end consumers.  This model offers perhaps greater flexibility and certainly less overheads and things to think about when building the business.  The only counter to that is that the business itself doesn’t actually make anything! Whilst this can be seen as a benefit, and some people would argue it is creating value in the brand, it does also expose the business or brand to a much greater risk of acquisition (because the value of the business is lower) and the threat of direct copy-cat products made by someone else.  Nobody has to ask the question “This looks quite difficult to make, how do they do this?”  This does not appear to have happened with either of the two brands I have mentioned but I still think it is an important consideration.   Businesses with a manufacturing technical competitive advantage as well as a strong brand must hold more value than those that don’t.

Other useful things in the books:-

–          Use PR.  Launching a brand is a story in itself

–          Do competitions.  Winning awards is great for your brand if you shout about it

–          Sample your product.  People need to know how good it is

–          Don’t compromise of what makes your brand unique.  Celebrate it and push it to the limits

–          If you can’t afford a big advertising campaign, unfortunately you will still need to advertise, so find innovative ways of doing it cheaply.

–          Target listings in stores that have high credibility and work hard to make them work

–          Always keep a good handle on your costs both fixed and variable

–          If you are small and competitors are big, think more quickly and execute more quickly than they can, but do so to the same quality standard

–          If things don’t work it doesn’t matter as long as a) you both realise it and know why b) you have some else to try next

–          Your packaging is your most important sales advertisement – get it right and don’t compromise on anything

–          For every £10 of extra cash for marketing that your competitor has, you must have £20 worth of passion and commitment

–          Build links with likeminded people, businesses and brands in different categories.  Make a club and share insights and ideas

–          Never be afraid to ask for help

–          Always always negotiate to get the best deal.

–          Find a good marketing consultant!!!

Just how much does it cost to build a business?

I have just started working with a new client.  They have a great idea for a new food product and quite a lot of background knowledge to support their thinking.  They have some good contacts within the food industry and in other associated areas such as sales and marketing.  The one thing they don’t have is a lot of investment or cash reserves to support the business in its infancy.

Many businesses that launch now seem to do so with some kind of investment package to see them through the initial pre launch and launch phases of the business.  But is this really a prerequisite to building a successful business? If you cannot secure £250,000 – that’s the amount of investment Innocent secured before they launched properly in the UK – can a business grow by simply selling a small number of units and reinvesting those returns into more produced units, which in term builds a bigger sales base?

marketing plan for growthI can see the attraction and security that a large pot of upfront capital can provide.  The ability to hire staff with the confidence that you can pay their salary, the ability to go to a customer with a properly costed marketing support programme which is granted in exchange for a listing, are just two examples.  However, surely there is a benefit of growing incrementally and at a slower pace.  The business is perhaps likely to be more in tune with its customers, listening and learning from every single one.  The business is perhaps much better at negotiating hard for the best price on materials.  Of even more value is the fact that the business will in time have a longer track record of business and custom which means it cannot be treated as a ‘fashion’ or ‘fad’ brand.  Finally businesses that start from scratch are more incentivised to have robust profitable business models and per pound spent perhaps a better asset value to costs incurred ratio.

Clearly there are benefits to working with either model.  I am looking forward to getting stuck in with this new team and this new business.  It won’t be easy starting from scratch, and we will often wish we had a little more cash, of that I am sure.  But on the other hand, if we are creative in how we do things and think innovatively about how to execute our ideas, I think we could have a great story on our hands!!  So Watch This Space!!!

Good To Great

I have just read the Jim Collins big seller – Good To Great. A few people in marketing , Norwich business people and MBA colleagues, have mentioned the book to me.

I was surprised when I finished reading the book that there is actually quite a lot of criticism about the book. It is true that some of the conclusions such as the benefits of level five leadership are not spelt out in great detail. What exactly is a level 5 leader? Then there is the fact that many of the companies cited as “Great”…….. are no longer even “good” or even in existence in some cases!

But I actually really really rate the book. It is easy to read and easy to understand, and personally I intuitively understood even the conclusions with less clarity such as the Level 5 Leader. The most compelling outtake from the book to me, is the importance of getting the right people to buy into your vision. Jim Collins uses the analogy of a bus…… get the right people on the bus, then let them work out where they should sit, then you can work out where you can go! It may sound strange, or perhaps obvious, but that conclusion helped me to crystallise my thoughts on a number of projects I have worked on in the past and am currently engaged in.

Good To GreatBelow I have summarised the books conclusions:-

Level 5 Leadership: Leaders who are humble, but driven to do what’s best for the company.

First Who, Then What: Get the right people on the bus, then figure out where to go. Finding the right people and trying them out in different positions.

Confront the Brutal Facts: Confront the brutal truth of the situation, yet at the same time, never give up hope.

Hedgehog Concept: Three overlapping circles: What makes you money? What could you be best in the world at? and What lights your fire?

Culture of Discipline: Being able to stay entirely focused in a changing, challenging environment

Technology Accelerators: Using technology to accelerate growth, within the three circles of the hedgehog concept.

The Flywheel: The additive effect of many small initiatives; they act on each other like compound interest.

As a marketing consultant in Norwich I get involved in some of these areas more than others, but I do think they are a robust set of principles to at least influence business management.

Predictably Irrational

I have just finished reading Predicatably Irrational – The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. I enjoyed the book although personally I think in places it is rather predictable and that some of the findings seem fairly rational to me!

The format of the book also can become a little repetitive. Every chapter is basically, I thought this or questioned that, so I did an experiment with some MBA students, and here is the result that you were not expecting (or sometimes expecting in my case!).


The areas I found most interesting were around people’s perception of price and how this can be dramatically altered by creating a different environment or a different set of benchmarks for what the price should be. The exploration of why things hold more value once we own them, and why price is different to cost were also interesting. Less interesting were some of the chapters around human behaviour, which to me were fairly obvious conclusions – we are animals and therefore sometimes we don’t behave to a mathematical pattern which is entirely predictable. The observations about honest and human behaviour are also interesting but again in my view perhaps not so radical. More interesting was the research around our decision making and how peer groups can affect that. Overall some useful stuff, (from the perspective of a Norwich marketing consultant) particularly when considering how to stimulate sales or build a new proposition for potential customers, but not as exciting as Freakonomics!

So, you open your fridge and someone has left some Coke and some cash.  If you are thirsty maybe you will take the Coke, but if you need some cash, you still don’t pinch what’s in the fridge.  Predicatably Irrational…… you tell me?!!


Is it ethical to charge for CMS when it is driven by WordPress?

Over the last couple of years I have learnt a lot about building web-sites and seo techniques to raise the profile of a web-site once you have it. One of the most important factors is content and keeping that content fresh. With this in mind I can see why people would want a web-site that has its own content management system so that they can regularly update information, add news, and fresh content as and when they have it. This all seems sensible to me.

I personally love using WordPress. It is very flexible in terms of layout, what you can add, how you can adjust images, the look and feel of posts, and then on the more technical side how you can optimise posts for seo purposes and for easy navigation within your site. It’s also very easy to use and requires no technical knowledge. Another thing that is great about WordPress is that it is FREE, or open source and people call it. You can host a blog on the WordPress web-site in which case the domain name will be yourdomain.wordpress, or you can download the software and install it on your server. Once you have done that you can even receive updates without having to do any technical stuff at all.

The reason why I mention this is that recently I have noticed several software developers offering low cost web-sites which have a full content management system. When I look at these, I realise that actually what they are offering, is a slightly customised front end to WordPress (which is free). Now if a company says “we take free / open source software called WordPress – design a front end for you – and there you have a web-site” and charges a price accordingly I think this is fair and transparent. But what about if a company uses WordPress, changes its name to something different, and then charges you a price, is that fair or transparent?

Open source software is often cutting edge and able to give as good a solution as expensive software. The people who write the software and develop it are not motivated by cash, but by having the credibility of saying “I wrote this, and look how many people are using it”. I do think that the people who have created this kind of software, perhaps without earning a salary for doing so, deserve a fair deal and recognition for their work. So, if your content management system looks like this, then it is almost certainly WordPress.


If everyone knows this, then I think you are probably using a great product, but if you haven’t been told this, perhaps you should ask your web-developer why not? And if you are buying a new web-site, don’t be afraid to ask, what am I paying for, who has done this, where does it come from, and why?

Norwich City Of Culture Bid

norwich1What a shame Norwich didn’t win the City of Culture bid. Following the impact in Liverpool, who won the European Capital of Culture in 2008, clearly it would have given the city a great boost at a difficult time. The competition was tough, Birmingham, Sheffield and Londonderry are all great cities. I haven’t been to Londonderry, but I have visited Birmingham and Sheffield many many times and they are terrific places full of culture. That said – so is Norwich. We are smaller, perhaps a little more remote, and at times perhaps a little slow off the mark. On the other hand, we are independently minded, original, entrepreneurial, friendly and welcoming, imaginative, creative, successful, skilled, and knowledgeable. We have a great heritage of buildings, of places, of events and celebrations. We have some great musicians, artists, writers, photographers and actors. We also love coming together and have a history of producing great food and drink in all manner of different ways. Norwich has two amazing Cathedrals, two beautiful rivers, a historic market, a castle, a superb and technically advanced university, and one of the most respected Art Colleges outside of London. We also spent considerably less money on putting our bid together than the other cities did.

Although we didn’t win the honour, I think the process reminded a lot of people just what a special place Norwich is, it got a lot of the arts community in Norwich talking and working together, perhaps marketing Norwich properly for the first time, and it laid the foundations to make Norwich a city of culture not for one year but on an ongoing basis.


Build A Brand In 30 Days

build-a-brandI have just started reading Simon Middleton’s book – Build A Brand In 30 Days. I met Simon a few weeks ago when he gave a presentation to my Common Purpose team in Norwich. By coincidence I met him on the train the following morning, and again in the evening at his book launch in Waterstones. Simon is a great communicator and is able to really inject enthusiasm and passion into his discussions and presentations about branding. That ability to really capture the attention and imagination of an audience is such a great gift to have.

I have only read the first three chapters of the book, but I like the easy to read style and language, and the relevant examples that make it easy to translate his ideas into story’s people know and can relate to.

Personally I am not sure that you can build a brand in 30 days – even if they are spread over a longer time period. That is because I don’t think one person can build a brand. I think brands are built by consumers, consumers who pester customers to buy on their behalf – even if that is just another part of their own conscience, and customers who demand more from their brands. Perhaps more products, features and benefits, perhaps better packaging design, perhaps better language or tone of voice which suits them, or perhaps a simple demand that the brand pulls itself together! The greater the enthusiasm with which consumers and customer do this, the more powerful your brand is. I have been privileged enough to manage some great brands – but I never thought I owned them or built them. I did some stuff to keep them in good shape, to keep them engaging with their audiences, and to keep them relevant. Perhaps I did help in some small way to build them, but I was only a small part of an architectural team, the people who did the building were the guys how bought the products, who emailed me when my products weren’t quite good enough, who mentioned the irritations in something that wasn’t quite right, who said when they did or didn’t like our advertising, and who pointed out when a competitor was better than us.

I like Simon’s book and thoroughly recommend it, and I shall be writing more about it from a different perspective in a couple of weeks, but if you don’t own a brand (apart from you own – watch out, this is going to be Simon’s next book!) you can still help to build one. Choose the product you love – enthuse about it to your friends, find out more about it and how you can help it to grow…. what do you get in return? A small emotional stakeholding in something that as it grows and you see it appearing in more places you will be proud of!

A News Room In Norwich

breaking-newsOn the last but one day of my Common Purpose course I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to visit a news desk for a local TV broadcaster. It was a great opportunity to get behind the scenes of how a story can become news and news can become a television broadcast. The first things I noticed were 1) the energy of the team, their enthusiasm and excitement, and 2) the audience’s natural scepticism and negative perception towards the media.

The process of making news is interesting. Information comes into a news room from all kinds of sources, about all kinds of things (business, politics, economics, marketing, Norwich, Norfolk, the UK, celebrations, people, history, etc etc), sometimes by investigation, sometimes by a third party, and sometimes just through observation. News can come from twitter, from a press release, from a phone call or email, or from a spokesperson. Every potential piece needs to be assessed and this is where the editing and production team have such an important role. They must consider if the piece is newsworthy to the audience, have they got the relevant facts and figures, the different perspectives of the story, and where does it fit into the programme format. Above all the editing team and producers must seek to protect the integrity of their programme and reporting, perhaps even their brand.

In any business this would be challenging. In most of the businesses I work with information typically comes from the same familiar sources in the same format – the source and format of information received by a news reporting organisation is rarely the same. If this doesn’t make the challenge big enough, you often have only a few hours to pull your entire product or presentation together. Again, in the typical businesses I work with, a presentation would take some weeks to build and the information that underpins it would have been analysed for several months.

Whatever you may think of the media in the UK, I think we should at least acknowledge the great accomplishment that is a news at six, or a news at ten, every day, every week. It’s never late – it’s never not half an hour, and there is usually something of interest in there somewhere!!!!

Rebrand or Reposition?

lucozadePerhaps it is just one of those coincidences, but recently I have heard a lot of people talking about Rebranding. “We’re about to rebrand”, “We’ve just rebranded”, “We’re going through a rebrand” or my favourite “We rebranded a year ago, but it was a disaster so now are going to do it again”!!

I am always very worried when I hear the phrase rebrand because I think it is nearly always misused and should be considered very very seriously before any business undertakes such a thing. To be really clear, I am not even sure that you can rebrand. I think you can redesign the expression of your brand, and I think you can reposition your brand, and you may do either of these things for perfectly valid reasons, but you cannot rebrand. You can throw your existing brand away and start again – but I am not sure the agencies that seem to be recommending a rebrand would recommend that with such enthusiasm and confidence.

So if you are getting feedback that your brand is becoming out of date, or tired, or slow to react, or boring, or out of touch, what should you do? A rebrand? NO! Listen to your customers and consumers, and ask what is wrong. If it is the product, work hard to update it. If it is the tone of voice of your brand, refine it and perhaps modernise it (do this only based on your customers feedback), if it is the look and feel of your packaging, consider updating the design. My point here is do not rebrand – the values of your brand should still hold true, but do consider improvements to the relevant areas of expression of your brand to keep it relevant and engaging to your audience. This is not a rebrand, or even a reposition – it is at best a refresh to the shell!

Alternatively you may be losing sales, your market may be shrinking, and even worse your share of market may be shrinking at the same time. Should we rebrand? NO! It will do absolutely nothing to improve the position you are in. I don’t want to look at all the possible scenarios which could be driving this unfortunate position in this post, but one may well be that your market is reaching the end of its natural life. A rebrand will not change that – a reposition may do though. A reposition is not about throwing your brand away, it is about making it relevant in a different context. Just as you dress differently when you go to work, when you go to see friends, or when you go to a wedding. People are always rebranding, by changing the style of language they use, the way they dress, the things they talk about. My favourite example of a reposition is Lucozade. When my grandparents were in their 70’s Lucozade was a drink for them, it gave them the extra energy they needed as they were getting older. Today I drink Lucozade, it gives me the energy I need when I go running or swimming. Lucozade has always been about giving energy, inspiring people to perform above their expected performance, but when older people realised they got more benefits from retiring early and playing in a park with their grand children than they did from drinking Lucozade, and as younger people appreciated the benefits of exercise and started to buy gym memberships, a reposition was needed – not the dreaded rebrand!