Tag Archives | marketing

What we can learn from the 2014 supermarket price war

Brand match

I’ll try not to spend it all at once.

Mid-range supermarkets are struggling. Today, Sainsbury’s reported their worst half-year performance in over 10 years.

So what are they doing about it? They’ve announced a £150m investment in price cuts*.

Read the LBC article.

You probably know how the UK supermarket brands are positioned:

  • M&S and Waitrose (top end)
  • Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco (big four)
  • Aldi and Lidl (discounters)

Cash-strapped shoppers are rushing to the discount stores. The companies are performing well, and the middle brands are in a race to join them.

As a consumer, you might have noticed that:

  • Tesco issues a £5 voucher to use when you next spend £40
  • Sainsbury’s used to price match the other ‘big three’ but now only Asda (see picture)
  • Morrison’s card matches Aldi and Lidl
  • Asda guarantees to pay the difference if they are not 10% cheaper (online claim system)

But a price war might not be the answer.

If you are trying to make a profit in your own business so you can pay your bills, trying to undercut your competitors is not a wise move. No-one wins. Some go out of business altogether (remember Sir Freddie Laker’s airline?) and prices return to their original level.

Top tip: Instead of racing to the bottom, reach for the top. Provide better service, higher quality, more perceived value, and classier packaging. Then you can charge more – and keep putting food on the table.

* Investment in cuts – does that sound weird to you?


QR codes: Are they any good?

paddle QR codes* are not often used with much imagination.

Some businesses print a QR code on the back of their business card. When scanned, it merely takes people to the home page of their website.

Better to design a special landing page, and give people a reason to scan the code in the first place. For example, a special offer on the label of a bottle of wine.

One place I saw QR codes used creatively was on the Natchez paddle steamer on the Mississippi River in New Orleans. As you walk around the decks, you can scan strategically placed QR codes to hear an interesting commentary about each part of the boat.

Another is the customer satisfaction survey card in Zizzi restaurants.

And I blogged about my favourite example here.

How have you seen QR codes used? Please comment.

* QR stands for Quick Response.  To make them work, you need to download a free QR reader to your smartphone.


The problem with my chocolate shoe

chocolate shoeUsually, companies run competitions in order to generate goodwill in the brand, and ultimately, to grow sales. Otherwise, it’s just giving stuff away for nothing.

I was happy to win a chocolate shoe in a competition in my local paper.

Presumably, the paper was looking to increase engagement and loyalty from its readers, while the company who donated the prize would benefit from increased exposure.

In this case, the newspaper took ages to advise me that I’d won. Not unnaturally, they handed fulfilment of the prize over to Cadbury. However, Cadbury lost the first email I sent to tell them my postal address. After waiting a couple more weeks, I sent a reminder. But then, when the shoe finally arrived, it was broken into three bits (see picture). Admittedly, the disappointment was mitigated by the enclosure of some unexpected bonus chocolate bars.

However, while I was waiting, I felt worse about both companies than I would if I’d not won at all. I feel a bit of a heel* by complaining, but the experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth*.

Top tip: If you run competitions, be sure of your sole* objective, and make sure the process is seamless* for competition entrants and winners. That way, you’ll enjoy a sweeter* result.



“Who do you work for?”

passportThat’s a question I was asked when I worked for…erm…not sure.

It was when I was in the corporate world, as part of a training session about branding. We were asked to write our reply on a Post-It note and stick it on the wall.

When we compared notes (ha ha!), some people had answered with their boss’s name. Some gave the name of the department. Some wrote the name of the company. Others put the name of the parent company.

The trainers were amazed. They’d never experienced such an identity crisis within an organisation before*.

What do you write when you fill in a form and are asked the country where you live?

Continue Reading →


Why your social media is like Harry Potter

Platform 9 and 3 quartersHow did Harry Potter get to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry? He walked straight through the wall at Kings Cross station to reach platform nine and three-quarters, where he caught the Hogwarts Express.

That’s not just a useful answer in a pub quiz. It’s a bit of marketing advice.

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again – all marketing is about objectives (otherwise, you might just as well sit there twiddling your wand and drinking Butterbeer).

What do you want your friends, fans and followers to do when they see your updates on your social media platforms? Usually, it’s to drive traffic to your website or blog.

If that’s the case for you, then remember to include your links from time to time, mixed in with your ‘social’ updates of course.

That way, your friends, fans and followers can click straight through from your updates to your landing page – because that’s where the magic happens.

photo credit: Jim Linwood via photopin cc


How to annoy people completing your online form

TaxIt’s February – and a few days since I submitted my VAT return online. It’s a tortuous process. Here’s what you have to do:

  1. Visit http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/vat/index.htm (not very catchy or memorable as a URL)
  2. Click Submit your VAT return (once you can find the link)
  3. Type your username (which is a 12-digit number)
  4. Type your password
  5. Login (fair enough so far)
  6. Click Next
  7. Click Services you can use (why?)
  8. Click Submit a VAT return (OK)
  9. Click Submit a return (yes, it repeats what you’ve already clicked to do)
  10. Click Next
  11. Click the Period for the return you want to submit e.g. 12/13
  12. Enter the Figures for your sales and purchases (that’s understandable, fine and dandy, but the auto-complete calculations are not as clear as they could be)
  13. Click Next
  14. Click Submit
  15. Enter your username again
  16. Enter your password again
  17. Wait
  18. Click Submit again (why?)
  19. Logout

And then you have to pay it – which is equally painful but for different reasons!

Why does it have to be a 19-step process to do one simple thing? And everyone is forced to do this. Every quarter. You don’t have the choice to submit VAT returns on paper anymore. I understand why, but paper returns were surprisingly simple by comparison.

Years ago, I worked on a project with Siegel and Gale – the team who simplified the paper tax return.

Dear Government. You need an information designer to simplify the online process. I know a couple who are excellent. Just ask me and I’ll give you their contact details and make millions of tax-payers happy. Thank you.

Why am I telling you this?

Because, if you ask customers to complete a form on your site, it needs to be simple. For example, when you want to capture contact details for your newsletter/tipsheet, ask only for first name and email address and you’ll get more signups. The more fields you make people fill in, the less likely they are to do it and the worse they are likely to feel about you.

Continue Reading →


Just how DID I win that design competition when I was young?


‘Normal’ glove design

When I was a student, I worked on Saturdays and holidays in various departments at Allders of Croydon (now sadly defunct).

For much of the time I was in the accessories department. (On one memorable occasion, I tried to persuade a customer to buy a grey jacquard scarf “because it went with her hair”. How her friend laughed! The customer didn’t. She did buy the scarf though.)

My manager invited me to enter a competition to design a pair of leather gloves – I think it was run by Gants.

I analysed all the gloves in stock. Many had a pattern on the back with three lines that started together at the wrist and diverged towards the fingers. So I reversed it in my design. The elegant pattern I created ran along the back of the middle finger and split into three divergent lines that ended at the wrist.

I won the competition.

Years later, my team at Freemans catalogue was tasked with designing a new-look cover for our sales brochure. I sent the designer out to analyse all the magazine covers at the newsagent and assess what elements were standard – and then create our own version.

Marketing speaker Geoff Ramm recommends you don’t look at competitor sites when designing your website. Instead, gain inspiration from other things your target customer might buy to make them feel comfortable buying your services from you. For example, decide what type of car they might drive, and adapt elements from those websites.

Top tip: When others zig, you need to zag. But first you have to know where they are zigging – so do your analysis!


Faces, faces everywhere


Found on Facebook

Scuba diving on a coral reef in the Red Sea, I hovered over a clownfish (think Nemo) guarding its anemone. It kept darting towards my mask, clearly saying: “Keep away from my house”, ” I told you, keep away from my house”, “If you don’t keep away from my house, I will bite you”.

Butterfly fish

Butterfly fish

There was no way the little fish could hurt me – it was too small – but it did make me wonder how the fish knew to communicate with my eyes rather than any other part of my body.

Butterfly fish have a stripe through their eye and a dot on their tail. This is to confuse predators in the hope they will bite the wrong end of their prey and so do less damage.

You might have noticed that you can sometimes ‘see’ a face in the grain of a wooden door, the shape of a cloud, or the bark of a tree.


Exhibit A: Ikea clocks

Even babies respond to a circle drawn with two dots as if its a face with eyes.

We are programmed to recognise faces.

When selling clocks, the hands are traditionally set at a particular time. Clocks have faces too, and ten to two makes it look as though they are smiling. The theory is that people are more likely to buy them that way.

Top tip: If you want to sell more, smile :-)

fish photo credit: laszlo-photo via photopin cc


Bottoms Up!

Top-down communication is when the company talks to the people. “HELLOOO. We are the company. We sell this, this and this. We want you to buy some. Here’s our phone number. BUY SOMETHING NOOOW!!!”

Bottom-up communication is when the people talk to the company. “Hello, company. I’d like to buy something. Please will you show me where it is, tell me how much it costs, and reassure me that I’m making the right decision. Thank you.”

The people have the money in their pockets that you want. But, today, the people have the power. There’s a trend called social proof and another one called citizen journalism.

Social proof means people believe what other people say about a company more than anything the company says itself. Witness reviews on Amazon and Trip Advisor, and recommendations on LinkedIn, for example.

Citizen journalism means the people are making the news. They can take a photo and send a tweet about a breaking event on a smartphone before any BBC journalist can fly out there and do a ‘professional’ report.

As a company, you have to provide the people with what they want. (Marketing 101.)

Note that what people are searching for is e-commerce (when they know what they want and just need a reason to buy it from you), information (so they can make up their own mind about what to buy) and entertainment (just for fun).

First, you must make it easy for people to find you when they’re searching. When they have found you, provide them with clear, accurate and helpful information backed up with external endorsements such as reviews, testimonials and case studies. And then give a clear option for them to buy when they’re ready.

Just one example of how people power affects web design was given by Shelle Rose Charvet when she spoke at the Professional Speaking Association convention in London in 2012. Instead of giving site visitors a top-down direction such as “Read more”, it’s better to acknowledge the people power and change the text to “Continue reading”. It’s bottom-up, not top-down communication.

This may seem like a small thing, but anything you can do to get into the mind of your public gives you a better chance of inciting them to take the action you want them to take, whether that is to sign up to something, get in touch with you, or simply click to “Buy now”.

I wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking