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Posts from the ‘Marketing’ Category

Bean bags and office dogs.

May 12th, 2017


I’m getting really bored of media coverage of start ups that focuses more on the bean bags, ping pong tables, coffee machines and obligatory office dog than it does on the business. Why is it such a big deal?

Is it because the people doing the reporting are jealous (“wish I worked somewhere like this”)? Or is because they can’t get their heads around what these businesses do, so it’s easier to focus on what they look like?

The workspaces we create for ourselves reflect the way we want to work and the hierarchies that exist within the workplace. Think back to the times of wood panelled offices for the bosses, while the clerical staff sat outside at rows of identical desks. Or the vast floors of cubicles, with plush corner offices with windows for the execs.

Today, businesses are trying to operate in collaborative, loosely organised teams with minimal hierarchy. They want work to be somewhere where people can also be playful, where creativity is encouraged and where the individual is valued. Those wacky spaces with big tables, glass walled meeting rooms, places to socialise and relax are simply a reflection of this new approach. Stop getting excited about the slide and start understanding the work that’s happening.

More on co-working

August 10th, 2014


There have been some exciting developments on the co-working scene in Sheffield since my last post.

Union St. has opened and is attracting an interesting variety of tenants. I visited the space before it opened but need to go back and see how things are shaping up. Visit the Union St website here.

Meanwhile, The RoCo on Glossop Road is going to be “Sheffield’s first dedicated co-operative development built exclusively for the next wave of creators, artists, designers and makers”. They are transforming 7 Grade II listed buildings into a 17,000 sqft site including art and design retail spaces, studios and co-working, galleries, a make house and maker shed, a cafe bar and deli and a range of meeting and event spaces. They have already secured over £650k of investment and have now launched a community share offer to raise the final slice of funding. The website is being updated and should be live again on 18th August.


Lessons learned from Internet Icons

March 3rd, 2014


Last week, I went along to the Internet Icons event at Electric Works. It featured Sheffield’s own Andy Mayer from Yoomee, followed up by a panel of digital entrepreneurs live streamed from the British Library in London.

Let’s start with Andy – he had four lovely tips for people starting up their own digital businesses:

  1. Make sure what you do is what you love. Would you do it without pay? It’s this passion that will keep you going through the hard times and Andy believes you can turn any passion into a business.
  2. You need to be transparent to succeed in the digital world. Share your plans and what makes you tick – this attracts like minded people. And beware of vanity metrics – what’s important is people who care.
  3. Give it lots of time. To break the rules you must first master them. Stick at what you’re doing for at least six years.
  4. Make space to be creative. Work doesn’t happen at work. You need to give your mind time to quiet down and be playful and give yourself room to make decisions.

Then it was time to listen to the panel, which was made up of Nick Robertson of ASOS, Kathryn Parsons of Decoded and Nick Jenkins from

All three were interesting and entertaining speakers. I won’t try and summarise their talks but here are a few key points that I took away:

From Nick Robertson:

  • Keep it tight, be focused. And stay flexible.
  • Be prepared to kiss a few frogs and don’t sell out too soon – grow it and build it instead.
  • You are your business – you are the one who motivates people.

From Kathryn Parsons:

  • If you’re not sure what your passion is, have a look at your bookshelf. And don’t get put off – it can be fun to do the impossible.

From Nick Jenkins:

  • Make sure you understand the value of your customers versus the cost of customer acquisition.
  • Watch what your competitors are doing – they can show you the way.
  • Be decisive – hire good people and then let them get on with it.
  • Look after your people – money shouldn’t be the reason for them to stay or go.

And finally, a theme that ran throughout the event was around marketing and what to do when you don’t have a large budget for executing marketing tactics. All three panelists talked about how their customers do their marketing for them – something which doesn’t just apply to online businesses.

It was also interesting to watch the tweeting during the event. Have a look at #BLicons – the stream captured lots of other highlights as well as questions from the audience in London and at live stream venues around the country.

Get out of your head!

March 13th, 2013


So, let me begin by saying I’m not advocating that we all “Tune in, turn on and drop out”*. It’s just that I’ve had a number of conversations recently that have all boiled down to the same basic principle:

If you want to make your marketing / communication successful, you need to get out of your own head and into the heads of your customers / audience.

Whether you’re trying to put together a basic flyer to take to an event, or thinking about how to structure a website, or planning a presentation, or wanting to develop new product or service offerings – the same principle applies.

Now, I’m the first to admit that this is often easier said than done. It’s natural for your perspective to be focused on your business when you’re working in it every day. But making the effort to change that perspective often provides powerful insight.

For example, you may discover that what you thought you were selling is actually not what your customers think they are buying from you (yes, really!). Or you may realise that the level of information you are providing is out of sync with the problems or needs that your customers have, so it doesn’t encourage them to buy. Or you may trigger a line of thinking that opens up a new market for your services. I could go on . . .

. . . but in the meantime, why not give it a try? And if you’d like some help, well, you know where I am.


PS – if you don’t get the “Tune in, turn on, drop out” reference, it’s me showing my age: it’s a phrase popularised by uber-hippy Timothy Leary back in the 60s. And I hasten to add that I wasn’t there!


Untargeted in a targeted world

February 1st, 2013


Today I received a piece of direct mail that left me in a state of disbelief (I shan’t name the guilty party). It was addressed to the Managing Director of TigerNash Ltd at our address in Electric Works.

  • It was addressed to Dear Sirs
  • It was offering information about a large amount of office space somewhere else in Sheffield.
  • It was from a large, well established, company.

What did this tell me about this company? Well, it told me they can’t be bothered to do even the tiniest bit of research apart from trawling through websites for company names. It told me they hadn’t even looked at the TigerNash website to find out if my company would find their offer of interest. It told me that they didn’t even care about me enough as a potential customer to find out my name (which is easy to find). It told me that they are an untargeted company in a targeted world.

Now, how do you think I feel about their brand and their company? Do you think I’m likely to want to do business with them?

How to find the perfect creative partner

January 30th, 2013


This blog was originally posted as part of our Christmas countdown, but we thought it was worth a repeat as it’s something we get asked about quite a lot.

Whether it’s for a website, advertising, graphic design, printed materials or even video, selecting an agency to work with your business is a big investment and you want to make sure you get the best return. We hear a lot of horror stories about agencies not performing and quite often, it’s because they just weren’t the right people for the job. Don’t leave it to chance, or to “the boss’ partner’s friend” – try our Top Tips.

Take some time to really think about what you want to achieve. Can you explain your objectives clearly? What will success look like? How will you measure it? Are you being realistic about the timescales?

Know what you can afford. If you leave it to the agencies to suggest a budget, you run the risk of getting proposals that are either wildly out of line with your resources or full of unrealistic ideas. Be prepared to talk budget upfront – a good agency will take that on board and come back with a proposal of how to use that to maximum effect.

Do your research. Don’t just pick the first companies that pop up in a web search. If you want to work with someone local, ask around for recommendations. If you’ve seen some work you admire, find out who did it. If you’ve got some very specific requirements, be clear about the skills and experience an agency will need in order to meet them.

Write a brief. Trust us – time spent getting this right will save you time, energy and pain later. We’ll be posting some detail on how to do this soon but, in the meantime, set out your objectives, your requirements as you see them, your timescales and your budget. Make sure you include information about who to contact with questions.

Be open to questions. In my experience, a good agency always gets in touch for a chat or to ask some questions before preparing a response to a brief. Are they asking good questions? Do they sound genuinely interested in your business?

Spread the net wide and then shortlist. Set criteria for shortlisting so that you can be objective – it’s easy to get swayed by fancy pictures. But make it a short shortlist: 3 is good, 5 is the max. Beyond that, you’re holding a beauty parade and wasting your valuable time.

Meet your shortlisted agencies. By all means ask for a presentation, but don’t expect them to do lots of free work. Ask about what they’ve achieved for other clients, why they’re interested in working with you. Make it a conversation.

Lastly, look for chemistry – you’re inviting these people to become an extension of your team and to do important work for your business. You need to be able to trust and respect them. Start the relationship off as you mean to go on.

Branding and “Place Making”

November 29th, 2012


I went along to the Sheffield Community Network “LunchPlus” event today at the Showroom. The topic was “What’s in a Name? – Building Brands” and we heard presentations from Brendan Moffett (Director of Marketing Sheffield) and Sarah McNulty from the Tramlines Festival. Both were very good, but I want to focus on a few interesting points that Brendan made.

Brendan talked us through the process of establishing a brand for Sheffield – a process which has evolved over the past six years or so and which is continuing. These are the points that stuck in my mind:

  • When you are building a brand for a place, you need to understand that a place is always evolving and the brand must too. (Which made me wonder if the Peak District brand is evolving or if it’s got a bit stuck?)
  • Branding a place must reflect the values and aspirations of stakeholders, including the people who live and work there. This was a difficult process for Sheffield – in the end, two key qualities came to the fore: authenticity and individuality. (I think these are a good summary of what makes Sheffield special – of course, it doesn’t cover everything but it does sum up “Sheffield-ness” for me.)
  • Place making shouldn’t look backwards all the time. Heritage is important, but so is the future. When I talk to clients about how branding applies to their business, I advise them to “tell the story about the company you aspire to be, not just the company you are now”. Brendan talked about how the brand story for Sheffield needs to translate the city’s industrial past into something exciting for the future – stay tuned for news about 2013, the 100th anniversary of the invention of stainless steel.

Lastly, and this is just something I was pleased to learn, the font that forms part of the Sheffield brand imagery was designed specially. It’s called Sheffield (I think) and only certain organisations are licensed to use it. I really like it – does anyone know who designed it?

Cost, price and value

October 29th, 2012


I spent an enjoyable couple of hours at the University of Huddersfield last week, presenting a session on Market Research to students involved in the University’s Enterprise programme. The brief was to give an introduction to why you need to do research and how to do it, in an hour (!). So, it was a bit of whirlwind tour, and I’m grateful to the students for sticking with me and putting a lot of thought and effort into the interactive parts of the workshop.

What I found interesting was the question that came up the most. It revolved around pricing and I think what people were trying to get to was “How do you work out what to charge?”, by way of “How do you find out what people are prepared to pay?”. We didn’t have time to get into the nuts and bolts of how you structure survey questions to uncover what people really think, but I wonder now if we should really have been having a discussion about value rather than price.

Perhaps one of the hardest things when you’re starting up in business is to work out what to charge. If you’ve got experience of your sector, then you have a starting point, but there is always the temptation to charge less because you’re a new business. That’s why I think it’s important to focus on the value you can deliver to your customers and resist the inclination to win business simply by being cheaper. It takes some bravery, but it pays off in the long run.



Hi customer, how are you?

October 3rd, 2012


In my post Why you should learn to love research, I mentioned that you should ‘ask your customers’. I think this is a vital and often overlooked way of gaining real insight into a target market.

Somewhere in your customer base, there is a friend. Recognise that they are an expert source of market intelligence and don’t be afraid to ask for their feedback or for an ‘off-the-record’ chat. What is the market like for them right now? How are your competitors coping? What do we need to do more of to better support you?

Getting the real customer view will not only help you get rid of your assumptions but will also help bring that customer even closer. People love to be asked their opinion, especially if you then act on it – there in an element of enhancing brand loyalty naturally built in to this method.

So, next time you speak to your favourite customer, either face to face or on the phone, why not ask them what’s happening in their world? Test your hunch, make better decisions, improve your service, encourage two-way communication and build a better business. What’s not to like?

Why you should learn to love research

August 29th, 2012


Many (many) years ago, as I embarked on my career in communications, I was taught a magic formula: RACE. It’s a very simple mnemonic for planning any kind of campaign: Research, Analysis, Communication, Evaluation. I’m sure that there are many others like it, in marketing and other industries.

Note where it starts: Research. The boring bit, the hard work bit, the “don’t even know where to start with this” bit. But, also, the crucial bit.

For smaller businesses, finding the time and resources to do your market research can be a challenge in itself. But it’s still important to avoid the temptation to market on a hunch. Business owners are close to their business, close to their products and services. They have to be. So it’s easy to fall into the trap of “just knowing” what your customers are thinking, or what the opportunities are for your new product or service idea.

I’m afraid that when someone tells me “marketing doesn’t work” or “it’s a waste of money” or “it’s not right for my business”, I can usually be pretty sure that they haven’t done their research before splurging precious budget on a bunch of new brochures or a high volume email campaign.

The good news is, market research doesn’t have to be a chore and it doesn’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of interesting, creative ways to gather vital intelligence about the ecosystem your business is operating in. And, in my opinion, any information that you can pull together that helps you to test your hunch and make better decisions before you start your marketing activity is worth the time and effort.

Here’s a few TigerNash Top Tips on how to inject some enthusiasm into your market research:

  1. Draw pictures – thinking about your business in a visual way can give you a whole new perspective. Try mind-mapping the environment you operate in, or the problems that your customers have.
  2. Get online – the internet opens doors to places it was hard to go before. Have a good look at your competitors, especially the ones you think are really good. (And, believe me, every business has competitors – if you think you don’t, ask yourself “what else do my customers spend money on?”)
  3. Recognition – who’s winning awards in your field? How and what for?
  4. Stay fresh – involve everyone in the business (even if there’s only two of you). You never know where insight or a fresh approach to gathering information might come from.
  5. Ask your customers – after all, you want more people like them, right? (More on this in my next post.)


When putting this post together, we did some digging into the “Steve Jobs didn’t believe in market research” myth.  It turns out that it’s not that he didn’t believe in market research, it’s that he just didn’t do it. Why? Because he didn’t need to. Apple’s team consists of the world’s best designers, developers, marketers and more, all with a passion for the product. The steps they follow to innovation ensure as near product perfection as possible. And you can be absolutely sure they know their market. For more on this, read this fascinating article by Alain Breillatt.