Friday, September 22, 2017

A new hope or the same old euro bureaucracy?

It is more than a year now since the British electorate voted to quit the much loathed European Union. And yet not only are we still full members and a major financial contributor, the reality of actually getting back our independence to govern ourselves still seems a dim and distant  hope. Today Prime Minister May chose Florence, Italy of all places to offer the EU unspecified billions of pounds for a half hearted departure by 2021, or sometime never.

One strange result of the referendum was that the governing  political class who generally campaigned to remain, suddenly had the task of implementing the instructions of their electorate to make it happen. Instead of sending in Britain's resignation together with an Invoice for the money owed by the EU to Britain the day after the vote, our politicians have procrastinated with talk of the process taking several years to complete as today's events demonstrate.

In many ways the British economy is doing well. A builder I spoke to today is fully booked with work until July 2018. He is not alone. Local businesses seem to be prospering. And in our base in the Canary Islands the expatriate community seems equally positive about leaving the EU. In short the doom and gloom the 'remainers' or 'remoaners' as they have been tagged just didn't happen.

A major film this summer - Dunkirk - turned the clock back to 1940 where the British Expeditionary Force was in retreat along with the French forces. Interestingly the film script such as there was, explained that the British and French were in retreat from the 'Enemy'. Curious that the role of the Germans was somehow not thought important to mention. Although it has been claimed the EU  has been the reason that since the end of WW2 there has been peace in Europe, if we ignore the smaller wars and terrorism, it was not the EU  but NATO that should be credited for this. In 1940 it was the British who challenged the  German mission to subjugate Europe and for a few critical years stood entirely alone in standing up for the right of Britain and all the other countries of continental Europe to govern themselves. Strange how the film makers opted to remake the Dunkirk fiasco rather than a British victory - and there were many. Once again we face a Germany dominating Europe. Many of the 28 countries ganging up against us fell victims to German aggression and wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for Britain's solitary stand. This time around, the Germans have not needed to use armed force to boss the show. Europe, or 'the 'Project' as it is described in the inner circles of the unelected Brussels based rulers is already close  to creating the Fourth Reich.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Social media - talking demographics

Has social media become mainstream? Is there still a role for traditional media, or has that had its day?

Twitter has become a source for breaking news stories, monitored by news organisations, while President Trump appears to even use the microblogging site as an alternative to calling a press conference. Facebook has, or is in my personal experience, becoming colonised by retired people, but that's probably just my generation. Meanwhile, the young audience, the first movers, have moved to websites that are more convenient to post dubious photos, or 'selfies' of themselves and out of sight and displeasure of granny. One way or another, the person posting their latest adventure casts themselves as the 'hero' of the story. Well, I  guess that's OK as a social comment using the platform to keep in touch with friends and relations. For some it has become perhaps the most important channel for keeping in touch.

For business it is a different story. Keeping in touch with clients  and 'warming up' prospects is generally a more serious matter than inviting someone to 'like' you. Certainly for selling to a professional audience. A  question posed several times before asks how does the profile of engineers for example, stack up to the demographics of social media? Pinterest, one of the fastest growing social media sites seems to be more popular with women than men, both in numbers signed up and adding content with food and drink being most popular. Google+ suggests younger users - about 70% under 34 - with about 30% contributing content.  Facebook has a wider age demographic and more evenly spread between men and women with over 30 million people signed up in the UK. LinkedIn, from the start used the social media type platform to build a network of business users. The profile is older with nearly 80% over 21 and males in a majority. So back to Twitter where over two thirds of the 15 million UK signed up contacts are under 34 and big users of smart phones. So still something of a dispersed audience, so it is worth figuring out where your you target audience is hanging out.

The engineering profession still has a large male demographic and one that is probably older than the typical consumer of social media. The 40 to 60 age group anecdotally still seem well represented at exhibitions and trade shows. So which social media platform do they use and why? And above all, how much of your resource should be spent on this channel?

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Talking about Big Data

It seems that data is now becoming BIG DATA.

Wow. So what's this all about then? According to Wikipedia "Big data is a term for data sets that are so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate to deal with them." It seems so much data is acquired, particularly from Internet transactions, that the sheer volume of stuff makes it difficult to deal with. Big Data offers the promise of gaining a competitive edge for companies that can analyse the data, turn this into information and then tactically apply this insight.

PrintWeek meantime in a story headlined "Deceased mail rates on the rise" cites  a report that "The number of pieces of direct mail sent to deceased people annually is set to cross the 200 million mark for  the first time in 2017." So 200 million mail items predicted to be sent this year to dead people.

During many years working with clients, I don't recall any really having their databases in good condition. Generally what had happened is that address details had been collected, not necessarily to the same parameters or content and had not been regularly maintained. Often someone had bought some expensive  sales management software which was not understood by people that were required to use it, or had received training in its use. Typically databases had grown to tens of thousands a huge amount of which was out of date. Not just dead people, bad as that is, but a mass of irrelevant contacts too.

So it is little surprise the deceased receive such a deluge of mailings - pretty big data itself. Perhaps, before embracing Big Data, businesses would do well to get their customer and prospect databases up to scratch first.Good luck with big data!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

News is in the News

Fake news is making the news.

Perhaps the rise of fake news sites owes much to the gullible nature of followers of significant areas of the Internet. People who count their 'friends' by the hundred and followers by the 'thousands' might well be susceptible to the lures of fake news simply due to lack of exposure to more genuine content. It seems too that Donald Trump is a serial tweeter and there are suggestions that the US presidential election was helped in part by sites peddling fake news. Facebook and Google are reported to be concerned for the advertising that fake news seem to be able to carry.

At times it seems social media  is beginning to become a significant in influencing events, decisions, elections and fund raising. Many businesses noting this have moved into the swamp of social media which some might argue by inviting people to 'like' their brand has generally lowered the quality of content. What's more without editorial oversight it has opened the doors to anyone having access to write whatever they like - including fake news.

Are those who questioned the value of social media as being unsuited media for serious b-2-b marketing now being vindicated? If the medium looses credibility, then why would you want your product associated with it any way? Maybe time to focus marketing resources through professional and credible publication channels and leave the social media to deal with the gossip and dross.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Goodbye yellow brick road

Today we pay tribute to the sad and sudden death of Graham Taylor, former manager of Watford Football Club.

Graham Taylor's arrival at Watford's Vicarage Road ground in 1977 was the beginning of a golden era in the history of the club. Hired by Elton John following GT's early management success with Lincoln City, it heralded an incredibly successful partnership between the music super star and the football manager. 

Back then the English Football League was divide into four divisions, simply labelled as First Division through to Fourth Division. At the time of GT's appointment, Watford FC had been relegated to the fourth division and finished 8th in the 1974/75 season with Taylor's Lincoln City gaining top spot and promotion. Five years later following successive promotions Watford finished as runners up of the First Division, just behind Liverpool - a club at the pinnacle of their success. European football followed. By any standard this was an amazing achievement and tribute to the planning, attention to detail and motivation which was the hall mark of GT.  While he went on to manage England 'Elton John's Taylor made Army'  dropped back to the third tier of English football then once again GT and Elton returned and worked the magic getting Watford back to the top flight and what was by now the Premier League.

In November 2010 I was to meet Graham Taylor during the course of my work, interviewing him on video for one of our clients. Once the camera was switched off I  chatted to Graham Taylor about his family, home life and media work and admitted to being a Watford fan since a young boy. I  told GT  what an inspiration he had shown us. That we could all dream the impossible dream. And to my amazement his response was to thank me for being a Watford supporter.

Today the upgraded Watford stadium has stands named after Graham Taylor and Sir Elton John complete with lyrics from Elton's songs.  Sadly there can now be no third time reprise for the Elton John, Graham Taylor partnership.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Home and away

How trading has changed. The phrase that 'trade follows the flag' summed up the British attitude to exports in the days of the  Empire. With the world's largest navy and control of the oceans, the union flag was planted at all corners of the earth for merchants and commerce to follow. Trading posts established and in due course along came the salesmen. Britain generally preferred to stay out of Europe apart from supporting a balance of power via changing alliances. As an island nation, the sea beckoned the British who were content to leave European governments occupied by problems on the continent and the expense of large armies while there was less likelihood of interference with British maritime trade.

It seemed to me that many large companies arranged their sales organisations to first of all address the UK, usually referred to as the 'home' market, which was well supported by a network of salesmen. Back in the 1950s and onwards a sales position was seen as a well rewarded job. At my father's firm moving from a clerical role to a salesman was seen as a great step forward and known as 'going on the road'. It seemed he was frequently reporting news of yet another example of a colleague who had 'gone on the road' during the course of our evening meal. Before the War (WW2) a great uncle of mine held a sales role for a Dundee based manufacturer of post cards. His role was selling to key accounts, particularly the major stores in London. As part of his renumeration he enjoyed the benefits of a chauffeur-driven car to make his sales calls. Other references to chauffeurs for important salesmen suggest this was not unusual. Post war, with more people trained to drive, the salesman became his own chauffeur and had full use of his own Austin motor car. A salesman was still a good job when I  started work, until the government started taxing the use of a car and petrol. Fleet cars were operated by many firms and with the Ford Cortina becoming a stereo-type of the salesman..

The export market was treated very differently. Although it might not have been expressly stated, the home market was the core on which the business depended. Export effectively was a bit of a bonus. The management rationale was explained by a simple graphic model. The usual graph shows cost on the y axis and production volume on the x axis. A straight line covers all fixed costs and from this a rising line shows variable costs for producing more product. Export sales tended to fit into this marginal or opportunity costs which in turn effectively lowered unit costs for all production. Export salesmen were quite different to the home salesmen and some made occasional sales trips to the territories they were assigned, mainly to visit subsidiaries and dealers.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Trade in the era of steam and sealing wax.

Only a small portion of the UK  work force will have had direct experience of trade and commerce before  we joined the EU over 40 years ago. Those with that experience will now be retired or approaching retirement.

It is reported that staying with the status quo of EU  membership was a factor for many voters expressing a preference to remain, rather than face the risks of the unknown future in the world beyond the borders of the trading bloc.

Trade and commerce has evolved over the centuries from the caravan routes of the 'Silk Road,' to the maritime ferrying of goods between countries from the Romans and Phoenicians - bringing prosperity, knowledge, education and long periods of peace, such as Pax Romana, were enjoyed.

Ultimately the British Empire, an Empire that at its peak accounted for 23% of the world's land mass and 24% of the world population, provided a vast market. Manufactured goods from Britain were sold to all corners of the world - the British world that is - in exchange for agricultural products and commodities. The infra structure of many countries benefitted from the building of railways, ports, roads and modern cities, with legal systems, education and healthier conditions. It was the 'greatest empire the world had ever seen' and ushered in a period of Pax Britannica. The British Empire trading model was still largely operational during the working lives of people of my parent's generation. In the days of steam power before rapid communications by telephone, Internet and jet travel became possible, businesses traded throughout the world. So why the sense of foreboding now that the UK is returning to trade with the world?

 Maps of the world placed the British Isles top centre and the Empire countries were coloured pink. It was a simple graphic symbolism of the British Empire.  Communications with offices scattered across the Empire, or pink bits, were by mail or cable. Letters were written with great formality, ensuring the correct form of address and salutation were applied, the sign off too with the name, title and position of the writer, even the date was quaintly referred to as the '12th instant'. The stationery, letterhead and quality of paper were all prepared with extreme care. The business letter spoke for the brand. It was a world away from the universal 'Hi' that is commonly used for email greetings.

My parents both worked for the same company which had its head quarters in the City of London, a manufacturing facility in Hertfordshire  and offices in countries like South Africa, India, Australia,  New Zealand, Canada and more. My grandfather had worked there too, but that's another story. Not surprisingly stories from work often cropped up as we sat around the kitchen table eating a modest evening meal, which had probably stretched the post war ration coupons to provide. A favourite of mine was the 'mail train' story. For some reason, one that didn't matter to me at the time, the company sent out letters or documents to the offices of Empire which began their journey with the evening 'Boat' train which left Waterloo Station at 6pm promptly. Junior office staff generally delivered the company's mail around the City, but the the evening mail train was handled differently because the letters and packages were not ready until quite late in the day. It is approximately one and a quarter miles from the City office, across Blackfriars Bridge to Waterloo and to speed up the delivery process from office to train, a team of young clerks was assembled to run a relay race - not against other teams, but against the clock, coping with the evening rush hour traffic, the tardiness of the letter writers and the immovable timetable of the Southern Railway Company. Waiting anxiously for the packets to be sealed and secured with sealing wax, by a clerk apparently oblivious of any urgency, the seals of the business house were carefully applied and scrutinized  before being handed to the first runner. Dashing through traffic and crowds the precious package was passed to the last runner to deliver. One particular evening the package was later than usual and my father was running the last leg. As he entered Waterloo Station the guard was already blowing his whistle, steam was applied to the locomotive as its wheels searched for traction. Running up the platform to the outstretched hand of the  Guard it was safely delivered to an understated "left it a bit late tonight, son" to which my father had no breath to reply.