First Great Western and VoloTV: surely the writing is on the wall?

Forcing people to sit in Coach D is nothing short of an admission that VoloTV isn’t working

I just went online to book a return trip from Plymouth to Paddington via the First Great Western website. As usual, I selected ‘Quiet Carriage’. And once again, I arrived at the point of purchase only to notice that FGW had given me a reservation in my chosen ‘Quiet Carriage’ (coach A) on my way up to London and given me a reservation in the VoloTV coach, coach D, on my way back home on Thursday night. Quite a few times before I’ve been caught out like this, ending up with a reservation in the VoloTV ‘entertainment’ coach on the way home.

Tonight, I stopped short of buying and canceled, closing my browser and starting again. I wanted to prove what I already suspected: that there are seats in the Quiet Coach on Thursday night but First Great Western has another agenda. I went back into the First Great Western website and bought two singles, one after another – each time selecting the Quiet Coach. Presto! Two singles, Quiet Coach both ways. In order to get what I (the customer) want, I am forced to pick up two sets of tickets in different locations. Thanks, First Great Western.

No matter how enthusiastic, committed and sociable the managing director of VoloTV proved to be in response to my initial feedback, I haven’t changed my view of VoloTV since the moment I first encountered it. A pay-to-view seat-back TV set (airline style) was, as far as I could tell, always going to be a losing proposition given the proliferation of personal media players (from MacBooks, to Androids, to iPhones etc) and the fact that they certainly weren’t going away. Put simply, VoloTV was always an imposition – a business idea pushed on the consumer, rather than a business idea that responded to consumer demand. And the fact that First Great Western is trying to force people into Coach D against their wishes (and has been doing this for at least a year) suggests I was right in my initial assessment.

I think it was a bad business decision, First Great Western. If you’re reading this, please amend your booking system so that I can choose the Quiet Carriage that I prefer when spending my money on your service.

Remember, I’m the customer, not VoloTV.

Good blogging tips – #1: moderate your comments!

The fastest way to ruin the good work you put into your business blog is to not moderate comments

Many people start blogs with the idea that they must join the blogging revolution in order to build a social media presence and create online rapport with their customers and prospects. Well, it’s a great, low cost way of doing this. A blog (whether self-hosted or provided by WordPress.com, Blogger.com or similar) is a user-friendly way of generating interest in your business. It offers you an inexpensive way to explore and learn about ‘search engine optimisation’ yourself – without paying expensive consultants.

Blogging can be quick, easy and remarkably powerful for a newcomer. It can also be a minefield for the unwary. Blogging will put your content into Google and sometimes right up there in the search engine results, no problem. But if you put the wrong stuff out there, you’re stuck with it – and before long, that’s what everyone will find when they go looking for your name, your products or your business. Some people seem to lose sight of this fact, choosing to rant and rave on their blog with views that come back to haunt them later on as prospects start doing their ‘due diligence’.

There are many ways to shoot yourself in the foot when you rush to join the social media revolution and get your business blogging. One of the most painful is let your blog fill up with comment spam. These are comments that pretend to be about your content but which, in reality, are just attempts to link from your site to their viagra / porn / fake watches site.

Typical comment spam looks like a vague attempt to massage the writer’s ego:

“Great blog, man. You really got to the heart of this issue in a way that few people do. I’m going to bookmark your site and recommend it to my friends” is a typical comment – designed to stroke your ego without actually saying anything about the post – because, of course, they’ve not actually read it.

More damaging, perhaps, than letting the occasional bit of spam through is the tendency of many new business bloggers to completely miss the ‘moderate comments before publishing’ option in their blog settings. When this is unchecked, the piles of porn / medication spam will build up on your site, and pretty soon it will look like the urine-soaked, rubbish strewn doorway of a shop in the high street that’s gone out of business. You get the picture.

There’s nothing that says “jumped on the social media bandwagon to broadcast my stuff but can’t actually be bothered to engage with it” better than missing that single, tiny check-box. Don’t make that mistake – set comment moderation ON from the start.

Rule #1 for retaining your credibility in business…

At least be good at what you’re supposed to be good at! :-)

I’ve lost count of the number of ‘web design / internet marketing’ agency sites I’ve visited only to be astonished to find that they seem to have overlooked the absolute basics of search engine optimisation.

Let’s get something clear here: we’re not talking about clever, complicated nerdy stuff.  We’re talking about the absolute basics you need to be doing if you’re to stand even the slightest chance of being found in Google by your prospects.

How can you tell a when a web design company won’t give you that?  Well, you don’t have to be an expert. It’s easy to spot when you know what you’re looking for and it’s a fun, if slightly depressing, game you can play right here and right now from the comfort of your own browser.

Here are the rules:

  1. Go find a web design / internet marketing company online
  2. Look at the page titles that appear at the top of your browser window when you click on different parts of their site.  Do they have the same title on every page? What are the keywords? Does it look like they will help their services get found by their prospects using Google? (Hint: things like “MyCompanyName: Our portfolio” are practically useless)

You’ll be amazed – and eventually bloody annoyed.  I only wish more people played this game before they went ahead and contracted someone to develop their website.  All too often people end up playing this game after – when it’s too late.

Here’s one I found today.  Click on the thumbnail (above right) to zoom in.

“We design online strategy and build software” says the title on every page.  Absolutely useless as far as Google is concerned – except in the highly unlikely (frankly bizarre) eventuality that someone out there types the exact words “we design online strategy and build software” into Google in the hope of finding a web designer in their area.

Rather depressingly, this company has also broken Rule # 2 which is if you’re going to showcase something, at least showcase someting YOU’VE made, not someone else – doh!?!)

If you’ve already paid for a website that Google can’t find because the page titles are all something like “We design online strategy and build software” or “Pickled Onion Designs: My portfolio” then all I can say is I hope you won’t make that mistake again.  Basic SEO is an elementary part of a basic site – not some exotic luxury!

If on the other hand, you’re still looking around for a company to make your site I hope you’ll play this little game before you hand over your hard-earned money.

BBC news iphone app: complete dud

UPDATE: Turns out it WASN’T the BBC’s app after all.  So how come somebody could misuse the BBC name?

ORIGINAL POST:

The BBC’s news app for iPhone has been broken for over 6 months

What a Big Marketing Mistake!

How hard can it be to make an app that will serve news summaries?

[UPDATE: 14th November 2009 - the new version of the App seems to be working (finally).  Well done BBC.  Now I can dump the ITN one.  I want my news serious and deep, know what I mean?]

[DOUBLE UPDATE: December 2009 - ended up dumping it finally because it still doesn't work]

I’m blogging this purely to give a little shout out to the BBC that their inability to a) create a working app or b) take the reams of feedback at the app store seriously sends a very strong message to the world: we are crap.

Big Marketing Mistake!

I wanted a BBC reader on my phone but it didn’t work. So now I have an ITN one instead. I’d far rather a BBC one. Geddit?

Spam: the quickest way to create a bad impression

Got a ‘special offers’ spam email from a Plymouth hotel yesterday.

As it happens, I wasn’t interested in their offers but more importantly I don’t like being sent marketing emails that I haven’t specifically opted to receive.

How did this hotel chain get my email address? What made them assume it was ok to spam me? The fact that I’d given my business card to one of their people at a networking event.

A common assumption that many small business owners make is that exchanging business cards constitutes an ‘opt in’ to each others’ mailing lists. It doesn’t.

If small businesses can be forgiven that misunderstanding (after all, the law regarding spam is a bit cloudy) what’s unforgivable is when they make the process of opting-out difficult or uncomfortable.  Failing to put an ‘unsubscribe’ link in marketing emails means people have no choice but to contact the business directly to ask to be removed from a list they never wanted to be on in the first place.  Not great.

If that isn’t bad enough, there is a final way to really make sure they piss off a prospect completely.  How?  By taking offense when the prospect asks to be unsubscribed.

A few weeks ago I asked someone to remove me from their list.  Their reply? “I’m disappointed you don’t remember giving me permission…”  I didn’t.  Notice how they imply that their spam was my fault?  That line was enough to make sure I never recommend them to anyone else.

Despite it being toothless when it comes to enforcement, the law on spam is fairly simple and I summarise it here (in case you need to be reminded).

If you can’t get your head around that then remember, with spam you’re just three moves away from reputation self-destruct.

1) Send me something I didn’t ask for.  2) Force me to go out of my way to stop receiving it and 3) Get annoyed when I asked you to stop.

Big Marketing Mistake No.5: Compete on price

Competing on price is a slippery slope to the sweatshop

competingonprice

Conventional wisdom has it that if you’re entering a competitive marketplace with an offering, you’re going to need to match or beat your competitors on price.  Too many small businesses seriously undervalue their offerings from the start – and when the going gets tough, make the mistake of lowering prices to gain more business.

You need to remember that price is only one part of the picture.  Instead of trying to undercut the competition, perhaps a better strategy would be beat them on features and service.

What makes a price ‘right’ is a combination of factors: the quality of the offering; the added value it brings; the strength of its features; the back-up and after sales support; the quality of the materials and the precision of the construction to name but a few.

If you can make your offering win out on quality, features and downright desirability (think iPhone!) then the ‘right price’ could quite easily be higher than your competitors’.

Competing on price is a destructive process where the logical outcome is outsourced products and services and ultimately sweat-shop exploitation.  Competing on quality, features and benefits on the other hand, makes for a much healthier business environment for all.

Spotify Premium – I told you so

Too few people signing up to Spotify’s Premium service.  Why am I not surprised?

I hate to say ‘I told you so’ but I did.

Latest news is that Spotify are going down the ‘pay for download’ route.  Why?  Because they’ve discovered that their proposition doesn’t do it for the market.  That’s ‘mu:kaumedia Big Marketing Mistake No. 3 in action.

Instead of heralding the end of music ownership, Spotify now looks like it’s going to head off down an evolutionary dead-end to slug it out in some dank cave with it’s hairy rivals.

Pity.  What really interests me is how Spotify’s belief in the benefits of its premium proposition went unchallenged for so long.  And why it’s easier to change the entire monetisation model rather than create benefits that would appeal to the 2 million of us already enjoying the Spotify experience.

I like the Spotify interface and will continue to use the free service.  If Spotify can add £9.99 per month’s worth of irresistible benefit, I’ll buy.  It’s that simple.  Over to you, Spotify.

Big Marketing Mistakes: No. 4

Big Marketing Mistake No.4: be unable to say what you do in a single sentence

If someone asks you to say what the movie ‘Castaway’ was about (assuming you’ve seen it) you’d be able to do it…right?  What if they asked you to do it in one sentence?  Ok, I’ll give it a go. ‘Castaway’.  It’s about a guy who’s never got time for anything except work until a plane crash dumps him on a desert island for so long that his girlfriend gives him up for dead and marries someone else. Phew.

Easy? Actually it isn’t.  Try doing it with your favourite film.

If you found that hard, now try doing it for your business.  It suddenly gets even harder.  But there’s no getting away from it – you’ve got to be able to sum up what it is you do and quickly.  In a single sentence.  A text maybe.  A Tweet even.  What they call in business the ‘elevator pitch’.

Why do people find it so hard to say what they do?  Are they just unable to focus? Is it because they’re afraid of choosing one thing?  Or do they simply lack the confidence to put it into words?  The answer is probably all of the above and a lot more besides.  One thing’s for sure, you’re never going to learn how to do it if you don’t try.

One of the best ways to practice (and to discover if you don’t actually know what it is you do) is to get out there and do some business networking – especially the ‘breakfast’ kind.  You’ll get about a minute to tell the other people what is you do or make an arse of yourself trying.

Of course, you don’t have to practice saying exactly what it is you do – but don’t expect the work to flood in if you don’t.  I’ve learned the hard way that no matter how much they like you people can’t buy from you if they can’t work out what you’re selling.

Big Marketing Mistake No.3

Big Marketing Mistake No.3: Develop something you like but your market doesn’t

Too often, people come up with ideas for things that they think other people think they need.

Think ‘Life Coaching’.

Life Coaches love life coaching. They passionately believe in the benefits they’ve got from it. Naturally, they believe everyone else would too.

The Big Mistake.

There’s nothing wrong with Life Coaching – other than that most people don’t think they need it or want it.  You simply can’t make people believe in what you believe in.  Ask Clive Sinclair.

One place I’ve seen this happen a lot is any number of new online business networking sites that have sprung up over the last few years. Each one lists its ‘member benefits’. They assume I share their belief in their benefits. Most of the time I don’t.

Which brings me to the second part of this Big Mistake: ignoring any evidence that says I don’t share your ideas about what you think I want or need.

What does this evidence look like? No-one buying your products or services, for starters. And people taking the time to give you feedback. Which reminds me: a third part of this Big Mistake is to argue with that feedback. Stupid as it sounds, most people do it.

It’s quite a challenge to make an electric 3-wheeler.  It’s even more of a challenge to make one that the public wants to buy.

Big Marketing Mistake No.2: do lots of things badly

Being a jack of all trades can be a big marketing mistake

It’s tempting when you’re starting out in business and struggling to find clients to try to do too many things.  It’s a natural reaction but it’s not going to do you any good.

For a start, ‘diversifying’ in panic is a sure-fire recipe for burnout because you become less effective every time you leap in a new direction.  You end up trying to work harder with each new idea but in reality, you just get progressively less productive – and further from whatever it was you thought you were good at when you created the business in the first place.

There’s also nothing to be gained from being seen as the ‘Jack of All Trades’ in your business community either.  In fact, the opposite is true because people will read your chameleon-like ability to re-invent yourself not as a strength but as a lack of focus, credibility or staying power. After all, why would you keep changing if you knew what you were doing and were any good at it?

From a marketing perspective, this is a big mistake.  Far from impress prospects, your tireless activity will just confuse the hell out of ‘em and erode their confidence in you.

If you’ve not long started your business and you find yourself in that scary place of being short of clients, you may feel a rising pressure to invent new products and services and take any work that comes your way whether it suits your business profile or not.

My advice?  Don’t. Better to put your business on hold and take a job so that when you next work on your business you’re not coming at it from a place of desperation.  You and your future clients will benefit in the long run.