December 24, 2013

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Is It The Thought Or The Gift That Counts?

Recently I heard the story of a P.A who, after selflessly working thirty hours unpaid overtime to facilitate an office move, was handed an envelope from her boss with a mumbled thanks. Inside was a €50 voucher for Argos (and to add insult to injury, the voucher had been purchased ten months previously). The ‘gift’ was met with incredulity and a resolve never to work a minute of unpaid overtime again. 

A gift as thoughtless as this one can end up costing a business so much more than the value of the voucher.

Leave It To The Experts

If only her boss had gone to the giftware section at Fortune Marketing, our featured business  on this week. Calling on us to ‘Promote, Reward and Incentivise’, Fortune Marketing offers promotional merchandise  and expertise to both blue-chip and SME companies across Ireland. A wide and thoughtful range of branded promotional products promises to deliver a significant return on investment for those who choose and use them cleverly.

The Personal Touch 

Like so many good business owners, John Fortune (and what a great name that is for someone in his line of work!) knows his strongest selling point is how well he engages with the challenges his customers face, and in turn provides them with tailor-made solutions to their promotional and marketing needs. 

John already has his name on the website but could do so much more to add those personal touches that bring more of what John himself uniquely brings to the business. For example, John could outline his philosophy of the business and give the visitor to the website a real taste of what is so different about how he finds just the right promotional item for his customer.

Over to You

What advice would you give to John about what gifts or items to include in his extensive catalogue? Listen back to the show on  Newstalk's Kickstart Your Business blog and let us know what you think. We'd love to hear from you.

December 17, 2013

He Shoots, He Scores

As any football fan sitting on the couch watching a game will confirm, half the fun and the adrenaline rush comes from disputing decisions the manager makes whilst offering expert opinions on the correct gameplay. And if there are other experts sharing the couch with you, all the better!. Now you can compete with the manager on the screen and the other wannabe managers in your life.

It’s A Goal

On this week’s Kickstart Your Business,  we featured Padraig Doolan of BeatYourManager, a fantasy football game that uses sophisticated player performance metrics to enable you to virtually manage your favourite football team and compare your performance against the club manager in real time. The game can be downloaded free onto your android or iPhone or played on your computer.

League Leader

As with any game, either virtual or physical, the main attraction is the sheer fun and pleasure of playing against worthy opponents. 

As Gerard advised Padraig during the show, getting people to play the game, then talk about it,  is the most powerful marketing tool, given how connected football fans are. 

Throw in a little controversy and soon everybody will be talking about the game. For example, imagine inviting a disgruntled ex-manager to pit his wits against the new gaffer...

Over to You
As a football fan or entrepreneur, do you have any advice for Padraig and who would you like to see going head to head on BeatYourManager? Listen back to the show on the Newstalk Kickstart Your Business blog and let us know what you think. We'd love to hear from you.

December 04, 2013

The Gift Of Giving (What People Really Want)

Despite the years spent in recession, there's something remarkable still happening in business today. And it doesn’t add up. On the one hand, business-owners are struggling to attract customers. On the other, when customers do turn up ready to buy, they’re often being given the cold shoulder and told to take their business elsewhere. They’re not being told directly, of course. But all the signs are there and customers are getting the message loud and clear.
Wasting Precious Time

Let me give you an example to show you what I mean.
Recently, I went online to choose a gift for my brother and his wife who were celebrating a special anniversary, and selected a popular, upmarket Dublin hotel. I called to book the package and was told that the person handling package sales was unavailable but would call me back. They didn’t.
I rang the following day. Yes, I was told, they had my details; hadn’t someone called me back? No, they hadn’t, but could I book the package now, please? I was told the person handling package sales was on leave today and they would have someone call me back the following day.
The next day, I finally spoke with the person handling package sales. She took my payment details but when I asked to have the voucher made out without the value written on it (as it was a gift), I was told no, all vouchers were made out with the cash value.
I grew obviously irritated then and asked whether the hotel really wanted the business. She checked with her manager and returned to tell me that exceptionally they would make out a voucher with just the package details but it would be valid for three rather than the usual six months. Under some time pressure now with the anniversary looming, I agreed but was left with a bad taste in my mouth and a determination never to give business to this particular hotel again.
What I Really, Really Want

What kind of business can afford to disappoint a willing customer in a struggling economy?

I believe I can answer that one. Despite common sense suggesting that business-owners are prepared to work doubly hard to generate business in challenging times, the evidence tells us that their hard work is often in vain. In my recent experience, this is down to business owners forgetting the business they are really in.
In the case of the hotel, it’s likely they believed that they’re in the business of selling accommodation. Well they are, in a sort of a way. But that’s not the real business that they’re in. The real business they’re in has something much more to do with the reason that brought me to their doors looking for a gift voucher.
Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, likes to say that “we’re not in the coffee business serving people, we’re in the people business serving coffee”. When I called, the hotel should have been in the people business preparing gift vouchers but proved distracted and in being so sent out a message to me that they didn’t want my business.
Give Them What They Really Want

We must step out from behind the counter to properly consider what our customers want. This is the time to focus again on what lies at the core of our exchange with our buyers. At the heart of every business, there is a simple transaction that is the basis for our brand. If we can repeat that transaction over and over again, to the satisfaction of our customers, then we are truly in business.
We cannot afford to turn people away or leave them standing neglected at the counter. Instead, we must demonstrate that we are not only open for business, but actively welcoming people to buy with us and keenly aware of what they want and need from us. 

December 03, 2013

Playing Mind Games

We’ve all been there; frantically searching the house looking for keys, trying desperately to remember where we last left them. 

And don’t get us started on forgetting passwords or phone numbers. 

The inability to remember things is down to our short term or working memory but the good news, according to researchers, is that we can train our brains not just  to remember more, but to work more effectively and creatively.

Play Your Way To A Better Brain

Even better news, courtesy of our latest Kickstart Your Business feature on Newstalk; Cogs: The Brian Shop offers us the opportunity to play our way to a better brain with an astonishing array of games and puzzles designed to stimulate the brain in a fun and enjoyable way. 

Located in The Stephen’s Green Centre (or on-line at, the traditional shop is a hands-on, minds-on experience with customers encouraged to try out the games and puzzles for themselves. 

Come Out And Play

The website is attractive and well laid out with a simple directory that makes purchasing the right games or puzzle easy. What's missing is that vital element that works so well in the physical shop itself; the invitation to get stuck in and play. 

Creating a playful and engaging experience on-line will allow the games to sell themselves. Who would have thought that shopping on-line could be child’s play?

Over To You

How do you suggest that Conor of Cogs: The Brain Shop could make both his shop display and website even more interactive and playful? Listen back to the show and let us know what you think. We'd love to hear from you.

November 26, 2013

Someone Call A House Doctor

Looking at your home through the eyes of a potential buyer can be more than a little daunting. What we fondly think of as comfortable and lived-in can turn to cluttered and faded before our eyes. But knowing that something needs to be done to make our home someone else's 'desirable residence' and knowing what to do and how to do it, is another matter.

Is There A Doctor In The House?

Enter Placelift, the professional 'house doctors' who specialise in preparing, presenting and styling residential properties for sale or let. Featured on this week's Kickstart Your Business on Newstalk, they have only been in business for seven months, but are already making a name for themselves in the Wicklow, Bray and Greystones areas, helping home-owners to give their place a lift before potential buyers come calling.

Physician Heal Thyself

As Gerard noted during the show, the Placelift website and promotional flyers and brochure are attractive and well-designed but would really benefit from the same 'de-cluttering' that's such a vital remedy in the house-doctor's medicine bag. A jumble of information and promotions vie for the reader's attention, reminding us that whether a space is virtual or physical, less is often more when it comes to that all-important first impression.

Over To You

How do you suggest that Clodagh and the team at Placelift make that great first impression on potential buyers? Listen back to the show on the Newstalk Kickstart Your Business blog and let us know what you think. We'd love to hear from you.

November 19, 2013

You've Got (Even More) Mail!

Being the inquisitive and social creatures we are, it's no surprise we find it hard to resist checking our email on an increasingly regular basis over the course of our working day. We now spend up to two hours a day trawling through two hundred plus emails, wasting precious time and distracting us from the things that really matter.

On Newstalk's Kickstart Your Business this week, our featured business Hiri (pronounced 'heery') may be just the solution to put manners on our email. A well thought-out product, Hiri is an email application, designed for business users, that promises to sharpen up email communication within organisations and claw back some of the lost time dealing inefficiently with email messages.

To Whom It May Concern

So what did we make of Hiri? They've already done a great job with the smart look and feel of their website, but they may be leaning rather too heavily towards the user (who's hugely important, of course) rather than addressing their key customer, the enterprise itself.

Stop, Wait A Minute, Mr. Postman

We suggested to Hiri that the best way to advertise a product is through the product itself. There's a real opportunity to illustrate the power of efficient and thoughtful communication by way of email. For example, through its sign-up facility, Hiri can respond with an email demonstrating clarity, brevity, tone and behaviour (which they tell us are the four cornerstones of excellent communication) rather than the more perfunctory mail that's currently sent out.

Over To You

How do you suggest that David and Kevin at Hiri might better communicate with their key customer? Listen back to the show at Newstalk's Kickstart Your Business Blog and let us know what you think; we'd love to hear from you.

November 12, 2013

To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig

Bringing the Market Place to Life Online

There is something romantic and earthy about the traditional market place where we get to meet producers and stallholders, each one good-naturedly vying for our attention as we meander through the hustle and bustle, savouring the competing sounds, sights and smells.

On yesterday's ‘Kickstart Your Business’ on Newstalk, we were introduced to an exciting new business Set up by Keith McGuigan, gives people the opportunity to buy goods from farmer’s market all over Ireland and provides a platform for local market producers and stallholders to reach a wider audience.

One a Penny, Two a Penny, Hot Cross Buns

Like any business and website starting out, is a work in progress but already their visual identity is spot on. What is missing from the website is the sense of personality and character we associate with stallholders and their produce at local markets.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

We suggested Keith first look at how customers choose to buy from a real market and then host that interactive experience for them online. For example, the buzz of the local market could be better captured with vibrant and eye-catching photography and the personality of the market could come to life with videos of stallholders pitching their wares (rather than just talking to camera).

Over to You

How do you suggest that Keith and his team might better go to market? Whether you listened to the show and / or read this blogpost, we’d love to hear what you think.

November 05, 2013

A Moment On The Lips: How Hot Chocolate Goes To Your Bottom Line

A Guest Post from Anne Tannam, Brand Manager at Islandbridge Brand Development

Earlier in the week, I was sitting in the foyer of a hotel close to Baggot Street waiting for a client to arrive. There was the usual mix of people sitting on the comfortable couches; tourists poring over city-break brochures, business people glued to their laptops, and inquisitive me: people-watching to pass the time.

Looking around, I noticed that though it was a Tuesday and very close to lunchtime, the restaurant beside me held only a handful of customers who, by and large, were eating on their own and in silence.

Hey, Is There Anyone Out There?

As my client had texted ahead to say she’d be another ten minutes, I decided to treat myself to a hot chocolate to hold off the hunger pangs until after the meeting. I tried to catch the eye of a member of staff to order but they all seemed distracted, moving quickly across the foyer with other business to attend to.

I glanced around at my fellow foyer visitors and saw most of them were also sitting there without drink or food and, more tellingly, without any interaction or banter with staff.

A Missed Opportunity

My client then arrived, declined the offer of a drink and we settled down to have our meeting. Afterwards, though hungry, I wasn’t tempted to stay for a bite of lunch and instead, nipped into the deli next door and ordered a sandwich to go (the hot chocolate would have to wait for another day).

As I cycled back to the office with both my helmet and brand manager hat on, I thought about my experience at the hotel and couldn’t help think that they had missed out on a very important opportunity. 

In money and bottom-line thinking, it probably doesn’t seem like much; eight to ten euros on a hot chocolate and a sandwich but the opportunity was so much bigger than that.

When You Say Nothing At All

Simply put, the hotel failed to invite me to become a customer. I was just someone sitting in the foyer of their hotel for an hour. During that time, there was no eye contact, no invitation to purchase and no attempt to establish the type of business relationship that might prompt me to return again or to recommend the hotel to others.

In short, despite the very comfy couch and the soft music playing in the background, I did not feel like a welcome guest. And that has to be the aim of all those working in the hospitality sector and the reason four billion euros was spent by tourists in Ireland in 2012. 

And I’m sure some of it was spent on hot chocolate!.

A Moment On The Lips

Bottom line is, as business owners and managers we must always remember that people are not just buying a product or service from us; they are buying an experience. We are social animals by nature and personal interaction with your customers, coupled with a clear offer and proposition, is likely to yield both far greater results and profit margins for your business and to create satisfied customers who feel welcome and appreciated and therefore much more likely to return again and again to relive the experience.

What Do You Think? What are the opportunities in your business both to make a sale and create a customer, who's likely to return again and recommend you to others?

September 03, 2013

Uncrowning The Customer

In the Dublin of my boyhood, the Superquinn brand was truly a household name. Particularly in our household, where my mother, who knew the value of things, repeatedly chose to turn left out of our home near the Children's Hospital to shop in her favourite store in Walkinstown, rather than right to the nearby Crumlin Shopping Centre with its shiny new Quinnsworth (now Tesco).

I've written previously in Open-Heart Branding (When It All Adds Up) of the extraordinary retail brand that Feargal Quinn built in the sixties and seventies, and his amazing feat of persuading cash-strapped housewives to see the real value in shopping at his stores, where great food, innovative offers and exceptional service were available at a premium. Feargal had so much faith in his own offer that he knew he didn't need to compete on price.

As an artisan brand-builder myself, and a keen student of the great brands, I read and re-read his book Crowning The Customer, in which he describes the simple but difficult task of putting the customer first, and of crafting an offer laden with value which can be readily appreciated by the customer. And by appreciated, I mean ready to pay for it, and pay handsomely too.

And in these difficult economic circumstances, I often use the example of the Superquinn of my boyhood to inspire those clients of mine who are inclined to lose faith in the quality of their own offer in the mistaken belief that customers cannot appreciate the value in it. If Feargal Quinn could persuade the hard-pressed but savvy housewives of seventies' Dublin to spend their money wisely with him, I say, then surely there's a place in your marketplace for products and services that crown the customer in much the same way.

And yet I was unsurprised by last month's news (Superquinn Brand To Be Dropped By New Owners) that recent buyers Musgraves plan to rebrand the 24 Superquinn stores as Supervalu.

Unsurprised, because I believe that Superquinn, having crowned the customer triumphantly throughout the seventies and eighties, lost faith in the value of its own offer when the competition upped the ante in the nineties, and surreptitiously stole back the customer's golden crown to replace it with a shiny but copper-based replica, the classic fool's gold.

I trace it back to an apparently innocuous event, sometime in the late nineties, at the entrance to our local store. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but it heralded the beginning of the end of the great Superquinn brand. There it stood, a simple supermarket trolley, packed with the mix of products you'd typically find on a weekly household shopping list. Attached to it was the legend proclaiming that the cost of the products in this Superquinn trolley was as cheap as those to be found in its Dunnes or Tesco equivalents.

Now, I knew that this was probably true in this case - I had no doubt the local shop-manager had carefully researched and assembled this particular trolley-load of goods so that it would bear comparison - but that wasn't the point. I knew that it wasn't true in general.

In one clumsy gesture, Superquinn had swiped the crown from the customer. Remember that Feargal Quinn had always appealed to the intelligence of the savvy shopper, and in doing so had created a very grown-up brand. No cheap tricks for Feargal. My mother knew that she was being charged a premium, and she was happy to pay it. The last thing the savvy customer needs is to have their intelligence and loyalty insulted.  Because, whilst it was almost certainly true that the particular trolley-load in question was as cheap as its competitors, the customer knew that shopping in Superquinn once came with a bold premium attached: a premium on great food, innovative products and exceptional service that they had agreed was worth paying for.

Superquinn, which had achieved the near-impossible task of creating value in a cash-poor economy, managed to destroy that same value in the cash-rich (and growing richer) society of late nineties' Ireland. Fool's gold indeed.

They may have lured in a few carpet-baggers on the heels of their sleight-of-hand, and perhaps they turned a quick profit, but from then on the Superquinn brand lost its lustre and became just one of many retailers hawking their wares to a critical customer, and competing on price.

And so I was unsurprised to see that the brand's new owners don't see the value in retaining the Superquinn name. In many ways, their own Supervalu brand, which champions local producers and personal service, had already stolen a march on a brand that lost faith in its own values, and the value it offered its customers as a result.

Others too have taken a lead from Crowning The Customer, and Irish retail has a number of young pretenders vying for the Superquinn crown. But as a child of the seventies, I still think it's a terrible pity that one of the few Irish brands from that time that could truly claim greatness, has fallen from grace and become largely irrelevant to the customer of today.

Over To You: Do you think it's possible to create a brand today that doesn't compete on price? Do any other Irish brands (emerging or established) come to mind?

January 09, 2013

Win, Lose Or Draw: The Power Of Branding

While dawdling over a cup of coffee at a favourite restaurant on New Year's Day, I couldn't help watching the football updates on one of the large screens behind the counter.

Naturally enough, I was drawn towards those matches featuring either my own team (which is labouring mid-table) or the big teams at the top of the league.

I say 'my team' despite the fact that I'm not a Liverpudlian, nor have I ever been to Anfield. Still, Liverpool has been my team since a fateful day back in the early '70's, when the first collector's card I pulled from the packet outside the local sweetshop featured the imposing figure of one Tommy Smith who, my pal informed me, was captain of Liverpool and something of a legend. That was enough for me: Tommy Smith was to be my hero and Liverpool my team.

And so, I've followed them since then, and as you'd expect, I look to see how they're doing whenever there are reports on football. But perhaps more surprisingly on the first day of the year, I also found myself rooting for certain teams playing out fixtures that were unlikely to have anything more than mid-table outcomes. And really caring about the results!

I wanted to see Reading thump Tottenham (although they didn't), and Southampton frustrate Arsenal (which they did). I was sorry to see Norwich City trailing to West Ham United, and even sorrier to see Stoke City and Wigan Athletic suffering a mauling at the hands of the two Manchester giants. I was pleased to see Swansea City and Aston Villa play out a draw, as I didn't like to see either lose. In short, I found I had a stake in every one of the fixtures being played that afternoon.

As I lingered there, I was surprised at the strength of my feeling for and against a real mixed bag of teams from places that I've never been and, in many cases, know little about.  To my astonishment, I realised for the first time that I'd developed a quite complex set of allegiances based on little more than a passing knowledge of games being played hundreds of miles away in another country.

Of course, sometimes it was a fairly typical wish to see the giant slain by the journeyman; even better to watch the bitter rival of my team fall foul of the gallant underdog. But there was more to it than that. Unknown to myself, I had developed a fairly sophisticated hierarchy of allegiances, which enabled me - or even obliged me - to back the outcome of a game almost as though I had some real vested interest.

And it struck me that as a customer I'm much the same. I rarely feel indifferent to any of the products or services on offer in the marketplace. I want to see some succeed and some fail. I care about those brands for reasons that are sometimes clear and sometimes beyond me, the equivalent of my randomly opening a packet of football cards and choosing the first team to appear. My job, of course, requires me to make some sense of the allegiances of customers, but I still marvelled at how relatively complex my set of footballing loyalties had become, almost without my noticing.

Why do I prefer an unromantic team such as Reading over their stylish rivals Tottenham? On another day, I'd happily see Tottenham overcome Manchester United (even better if they achieved the unthinkable and thrashed them) and Reading beaten by Swansea. How do I tease out the not-so-obvious fealties that I have towards the twenty-two teams who make up the English Premier League, not to mention the many others dotted throughout the other European leagues who either attract or repel me in the same way? Real versus Barca, Celtic against Rangers, and so on...

In a sense, this is the task facing the business-owner, who must also try to make sense of the tangle of loyalties at work in the marketplace. Underestimating where the customer's loyalties lie leaves the shopkeeper vulnerable to the apparent vagaries of the economy (pick a card, any card), rather than master of their own fate.

For just as surely as I can trace my own affections for Reading back to a time when the team featured a number of Irish players, and my disdain for Tottenham back to their treatment of various managers who I admired, the business-owner can and must trace the likes and dislikes at work in their marketplace.

Otherwise, they'll miss the opportunities at play in their business, just as certainly as the casual observer might have missed the depth of feeling just below the surface of the man dawdling over his coffee in a restaurant on New Year's Day.

Over To You: What do you think? How important is brand loyalty to whether you win, lose or draw in your market?