Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Writing for the web

Before you ever get a chance to impress customers with your service and your expertise, many prospects will decide whether to do business with you based on the quality of your written communications. Therefore, when prospects find you on the web, the words that you write are your best and possibly your only chance to create a good and lasting impression.

But how can you make this positive impression?

1. Be correct: Errors tell prospects that you do not care enough to check what message you are projecting. Double-check everything before publishing it online. If you cannot proof read it yourself, get a colleague to help.

2. Be clear: Don't try to dazzle prospects with jargon and big words. Being clear and unambiguous will dazzle prospects with much greater effect.

3. Be economical: Say what needs to be said in as little space as possible. Readers will switch off if they have to plough through screeds of text to find what they are looking for and will go elsewhere. Respect their precious time.

4. Be yourself: Don't be too formal. Use words and phrases you would use in everyday speech. Also use words like 'you', 'us', 'we' and 'our' to personalise the message. You want everyone who reads the text to feel as if it is directed specifically at them.

Even more importantly however, think about who your customers are. Targeting your message effectively is the single most valuable part of your writing. Being correct, unambiguous, economical and showing the company's personality are all essential. However, it won't matter if you are writing to the wrong audience, because nobody will be listening anyway.

So, research before you write and take time when writing your text. Your readers will thank you for it, hopefully with the business they bring to you.


Friday, November 24, 2006

The ban has landed

So, Ofcom have finally made their decision on advertising junk food to children. You might remember we were discussing earlier this month the problem of childhood obesity and the proposed changes in advertising such foods to children being considered by the regulator. At that time it was believed that Ofcom would bring in a ban for junk food to be advertised to the under-fives and would place timing restrictions on all food high in fat, salt and sugar. Announcing their recommendations last Friday, November 17th, Ofcom went even further.

Not only is the advertising of junk food within dedicated children’s programming being banned, but also advertising on any show with a high proportion of under-16s in their audience. Ofcom did however reject calls from health food lobbies to put a 9pm watershed in place. It is estimated that £39 million per year of ad revenues will be lost, and even then, many believe this figure to be very conservative.

Apart from dedicated children’s programmes, shows that may be affected by the ban include TV favourites such as the X Factor, Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, family movies, The Simpsons, Hollyoaks, Friends, early showings of Big Brother, Pop World, Make me a Supermodel and Pimp my Ride, to name a few. And, on Sky One, Domino’s have already had to pull out of their sponsorship of The Simpsons on the channel.

The new rules come into place in January, although dedicated children’s television channels will be given until the end of 2008 to phase in the restrictions. In some cases, the ban could wipe out up to 10% of some children’s channels revenue and there is a worry that the long-term future of UK-produced children’s programming outside of the BBC could suffer badly as a result. There is also concern that advertising will simply move to different media, such as children’s magazines, outdoor media and the Internet. In fact, it is estimated that £10-15 million of the revenue lost to TV could go online.

The big bad admen have therefore been defeated and children will no longer be brainwashed into buying all the junk food on the market. Hmmm…

Will the ban really tackle childhood obesity significantly? This is ultimately the most important question. It could be the case that all it does is take money away from programming and we will continue to see child obesity rates rise. Then who will parents have to blame?


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A case of East meets West

Hi, I’m Cindy Shao. I am a marketing graduate and have been working on placement with AME Marketing for the past month. I decided to get in on the blogging act and write about an advert that caught my attention recently - VO5’s “Extreme Style - Chinese School”.

Nowadays many companies are using foreign themes for local advertising campaigns and this advert does indeed bring a slice of Chinese culture to the UK market. Set in a strict Chinese School all the young men and women are dressed alike and even have the same hairstyle. To break free of the conformity, one young man encourages a young woman to use VO5 gel, to liven up their style and break away from their strict rules.

Using the gel to shape their hair extremely differently from the others, the two now appear unique, standing out from their peers. Their style is against the school rules however, so their teacher orders them from the classroom. They gleefully leave and hold hands together (also against the rules) to run out of the school with happiness and freedom. As they run through the streets everyone stares at the two teenagers, aghast at their extremely ‘mad’ hairstyles and unacceptable behaviour.

For anyone who understands Chinese history in 1960s, it is a fantastic advert. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the mid 1960s, which was used as a backdrop to the advert, everyone dressed alike and had similar hairstyles not only at school, but also throughout the whole country. As in the advert, couples were not even able to hold hands in the public. The content of the advert manages to reflect this to great effect.

My only criticism of the advert would be that even teenagers in China may not understand or know about the cultural revolution, therefore VO5 should not assume that foreigners are familiar with China’s history. In today’s western society, the hairstyle and behaviour of the teenagers is the norm and completely acceptable. But, under the background of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the whole content of the advert converts to be unique and beyond the frame of the rule. In China it is likely that the ad could achieve great success, but in the UK, where there is not a firm understanding of Chinese history, it may be less effective.

What do you think?


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Why you need a marketing plan - NOW!

With the end of the year fast approaching, now is the perfect time to begin putting a marketing plan together to help start the New Year in the right direction.

A strong plan can help you create, guide and coordinate your marketing efforts. It will compel you to think about your business goals and how your marketing strategy will facilitate the realisation of these. Furthermore, preparing the document itself will allow you to examine and appraise the current state of your business and the industry it operates within. Therefore, before you sit down to actually write your marketing plan, research and make sure you have a clear idea of the following.

1. What are your products and/or services, their benefits and features?
2. Who is your target market and what are their buying habits?
3. Who are your competitors and what is their offering in comparison to yours?
4. What is the problem, need or desire your product or service solves?

Although some companies build marketing plans that are more strategic in nature, it is likely your plan will simply set out the course of one year. The document should contain information about your company, its resources, influences, products and/or services; short and long-term objectives; your marketing strategy and activities you will conduct to help achieve your objectives; your expected outputs; contingency plans and a timetable. It should also document the costs of any marketing activities as well as how you plan to measure the success of such activities.

Once the plan has been written, it will need updated each year. Take note of any changes in your market throughout the year and if you need to, alter your activities - the tactics that proved successful one year may not work so well if conditions have altered significantly. So, plan to review your marketing plan frequently and use your contingency plans if need be. Reviewing every quarter is ideal; however if that is not feasible, do so at least once each year.

These are just a few tips on where to start when putting your plan together. The task may seem overwhelming and is indeed time-consuming, but it is entirely worthwhile. If you don't already have a plan in place, now is the perfect time to do so. A well-written, comprehensive plan can be the focal point of all your ventures since it describes how you will attract and retain customers -- the most crucial aspect of a business.

Yet, should the task seem a little too daunting, don't despair. We have the answer. The 'Plan Your Course' Marketing Training programme, which is delivered by AME Marketing, offers a series of five workshops as well as five days consultancy time to assist you to research, prepare and formulate your plan.

The course empowers you with valuable marketing skills and knowledge, ranging from how to carry out a marketing audit of your business to setting budgets and allocating resources. By the end of the course, you'll not only know how to structure your plan, you'll know how to carry out each of the activities contained within its pages.

Utilising support from the À La Carte Marketing Programme, the course is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). This means that the costs to businesses like yours are kept as low as possible. So, a course that should cost you £2,850 only costs you £600.

With only a month and a half left until ERDF runs out, the time to book your place on 'Plan Your Course' is NOW! Follow the link to our main website, which you will find to the left of the page, or give us a call on 01292 678920 for more information.

Can you really afford not to plan ahead next year?

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Consistency, consistency, consistency

Does your logo appear on everything you send out? Do you have a house font that you use religiously? Is your core message present in every communication? If not, your marketing materials are not working to their full potential.

It takes prospects between five and nine times to move from reading your message to actually getting in touch. Even then, the reader will not be paying attention all of the time. Prospects might consciously or subconsciously read the message only once out of three exposures. That means the number can then jump from nine exposures to firmly get your message across, to twenty-seven.

Does that mean that you have to bombard prospects with twenty-seven ads or twenty-seven pieces of direct mail? Well, not exactly. If you can provide a consistent message throughout every contact you have with prospects, this number can be cut considerably – meaning you won't have to wait months for your product / service to start selling.

Got a logo? Use it in every ad that you produce, every letter you send out, every page of your website, on your brochure, on your business card, basically any interaction you have with potential customers. If you don't have a house font, choose one. This will also allow prospects to recognise that the message they are receiving comes from your company. As will attaching your core message to every piece of promotion you use.

Familiarity breeds liking. People tend to rate familiar things more positively than the unfamiliar. Psychological studies have shown that even when people are exposed to things in time-spans below the perceptual threshold, they later prefer these things to others they were not exposed to. In relation to your company's offering, this indicates that the more they are exposed to your brand and message, the more familiar it will become to them and therefore the more positively they will view you.

Of course, this does not take into account any rational or emotional reasons for liking or disliking your brand. People may be happy to use familiarity to inform unimportant decisions, or decisions where the choices are all fairly equal. When more is at stake, however, familiarity might be relegated further down the list of influencing factors. Yet this does not mean that you should discount its power.

The more your prospects see your message in a consistent way, in a variety of mediums, the more the message will penetrate. Prospects do need to be in the market for your type of product to pay your message any attention and they will need to view your company positively to buy from you. But a consistent, clear message, reinforced a number of times will help significantly.

So, does your logo appear on everything you send out? Do you have a house font that you use religiously? Is your core message present in every communication? If not, your marketing materials are not working to their full potential. Make sure they do.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Childhood obesity: Can an advertising ban solve the problem?

A report from the Department of Health in October revealed that the UK is now the fattest country in Europe. The latest government warnings have warned that 12 million people in the UK will be obese by 2010 and, of that number, 1 million are expected to be children. This could lead to tens of thousands of children being affected by Type 2 diabetes that, until recently, was only seen in adults. The concern then is that we will see a generation suffering from a drop in life expectancy as they develop the serious complications of the disease. And this is just one problem that such children could face.

Due to this growing problem, the government has been taking steps to tackle the issue and have been busy putting together an anti-obesity marketing campaign which was scheduled to launch in the autumn. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the health risks of obesity while providing information and support for living healthier lifestyles in relation to diet and physical activity. However, the campaign has now been put back several months and will not be launched to the public until January 2007.

Still, the government are up against stiff competition from junk food companies who have millions of pounds worth of marketing budgets. These companies are seen by many to exploit vulnerable groups such as children and adolescents. This has led to a call for a reduction in marketing pressure, particularly to children, from the World Health Organisation. In the lead up to their next conference in Turkey later this month, European health ministers have been asked to sign up to an anti-obesity charter stating that children should not be exploited by food companies. It is expected the charter will be adopted at the event.

Professor Phil James from the International Association for the Study of Obesity has also added to the argument, expressing concern that parents' attempts to limit their children's intake of junk foods is "sabotaged" by clever marketing. The professor exerted that it was well recognised that such companies used child psychologists to "manipulate" the desires of children beyond the influence of their parents and commercially, it has been very successful. He has therefore joined this growing number of protestors calling for a ban on advertising junk food to children and a complete ban of unhealthy foods before the 9pm watershed.

Elsewhere in Europe, there has already been statutory bans placed on advertising (Norway and Sweden), guidelines put in place (Finland and Ireland) and self-regulation by the advertising and media industries (Netherlands, Portugal and Spain). And, in France, all adverts for processed foods or products with added fat, sweeteners or salt have to carry a health warning, or the advertiser must help fund health campaigns. So, why is progress in Britain still so sluggish?

The broadcasting regulator Ofcom recently commissioned Opinion Leader Research to investigate views on television advertising to children for food and drink products. Comprising a series of workshops with adults, adolescents aged 12-15 and children between 8 and 11, the research found that the public did not support a total ban on advertising junk food to children, but thought that there should be some restrictions. Respondents did support a ban on adverts aimed at children under five and the introduction of a timing restriction on foods high in fat, salt and sugar. But, this was not seen as a complete solution since adverts would still be able to run at peak viewing times for children. The research also highlighted that parents felt that celebrities, cartoon characters and promotional offers should not be featured in advertisements targeted at young children, at any time. Ofcom will now have to make a decision on what restrictions they would recommend.

But what should be done? Although I would agree that limiting junk food marketing has a large part to play in tackling the problem, as the research supports, this will only go so far to fight the crisis. Perhaps, as other research into consumer attitudes to diet and health from Nunwood suggests, manufacturers should realise the role they play and act more responsibly. A tax on junk food similar to that placed on cigarettes may also help to curb their consumption.

I do not doubt that it is a problem that must be tackled from a variety of angles and hopefully as we enter into 2007 progress will begin to be made. Ultimately, it is down to consumers to take action to improve their own diets, but with help from the government and manufacturers, this change can be made a lot easier. Here's to a healthier New Year when it comes.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Will Wizzard soon have their wish?

Halloween is now over for another year, so it must be time for Christmas, right?

No sooner have the kids collected all their party bags than the television, press, marketers and retailers are bombarding us with Christmas messages. Actually, that’s wrong, we’ve been subjected to Christmas since around September time and it appears to be getting earlier and earlier each year. Christmas used to come but once a year, now it comes every nine months, starting in the shops in September - even in August if you are in Harrods – and lasting until 1st January.

A survey conducted by GMIPoll found that almost half of those surveyed felt that the promoting of Christmas merchandise in the autumn was too soon. And, despite this early promotion, 2% still left their shopping until Christmas Eve (albeit the majority of these respondents were males or younger shoppers).

Certainly from November onwards, it is impossible to avoid the Christmas message. But, what is this message? Interestingly, it seems that more people believe in Santa Clause than Jesus. It appears that commercialism has hijacked the holiday to pass it off as another reason to spend all our money on gifts.

Some might argue that the stores add to the anticipation of the festive season. Some may even enjoy having the Christmas feeling around for longer and appreciate the extra planning time. And, surely Harrods, along with the other retailers would not waste their shelf space in August / September on Christmas products if they did not sell. So is it us, as consumers that are to blame for this early promotion of our favourite holiday?

In Ireland the minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Coughlan, has been trying to persuade businesses to impose a voluntary ban on early Christmas adverts because young families are being put under too much financial pressure in the months leading up to Christmas. So far, she’s had no success.

Looks like our 3 / 4 month Christmas is here to stay.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

What's in a name? That which we call a blog...

Hopefully you are enjoying reading our blog here at AME Marketing, but many of you might still be unsure about what a blog actually is. In this post we aim to clear up the mystery surrounding what it is and what it is intended for.

Blog is short for ‘Web log’ and is basically ‘a website where entries are made in journal style and displayed in a reverse chronological order’ (Wikipedia, 2006). They can provide commentary or news on a particular subject, or simply act as an online diary. Usually they will combine text, images, links to other blogs, web pages and other media related to the site’s topic.

Modern day blogs evolved from online diaries and some of the earliest blogs started around 1994. Writers began by keeping a successive, online account of their lives. This slowly evolved into what we recognise today.

So, now the history lesson is over, you might wonder why blogs are relevant to your business. Many blogs are non-commercial. Yet as blogging has become more popular and mainstream, many companies, like ourselves, having been getting in on the act. Blogs are yet another way to keep in touch with customers and they allow writers and readers alike to comment on any developments or issues in a particular field. They show customers that you keep up-to-date with any changes in your market and show that you understand the impact of these developments. Not only that, they humanize your company and help to build your business and brand by connecting with your customers.

Unlike direct marketing which can be sent to past, current or potential customers, a blog can be read by anyone on the World Wide Web. Because there is no set number of messages sent there is no limit to the number of people who are exposed to the message, practically no time limit on the content and no direct cost for each person seeing it. Your blog and its contents will drive traffic from search engines, from terms relevant to the content on that page. Yet another benefit is that they empower people to express their knowledge and opinions to anyone who cares to listen, and because customers can control part of this conversation, they can provide great feedback. When used strategically, not only can they generate revenue, they can be an effective way to communicate and offer a call to action.

Even if you don’t want to start a blog yourself, there are other ways that your company can benefit from this medium. Reading other company’s blogs can allow you to gather market intelligence, monitor public opinion and keep an eye on your competitors. You can also engage bloggers by commenting on business topics in other blogs or advertise on them to reach influential customers, target niche audiences or extend your media spend’s reach.

Similar to any communications strategy, you should consider what you actually want to achieve from engaging with your customers. Blogs create opportunities for your business, but can also throw up a number of challenges. Use them to listen to and involve customers. Use them to research your market. Most importantly, use them.