Thursday, 8 April 2010

Using social media for niche business - have your cake and eat it

I'm always looking out for stories of niche business using social media to drive customer engagement and/or increase sales, so I was interested to learn via The Marketing Donut of two groups using Flickr to increase conversation around cake making and cupcakes. "Cupcakes!?", I hear you question. Well, yes. And you know what, I can see why social media would work for this product. Indulge me.

Who is using Flickr for cupcake indulgence?
The two groups are Cake Biz UK and Cakes UK Style, set up by Karen Labett of Tasty Little Cakes and Svarna Singh of The Little Cakery. If you check the founders' websites, you'll see that social media is an important part of their business with prominent links on the homepage to profiles.

Why is social media relevant?
Making cakes is fun yet challenging. I know from many hours spent as a kid trashing my grandma's kitchen in search of the perfect fruit cake. It is also a social activity because cakes are made to share and deep down, when cooking most of us want to know we've done well, so feedback and discussion is important.

Unless you're an expert, it's also hard to know the best way to bake a cake, how to blend the ingredients and how to get organised. This is where the advice of a wider community is valuable - we've all got some experience but there's nowhere to access the communal perspective.

Furthermore, when planning what to bake for your next gathering, you want to know what it's going to look like. The aesthetics of cake making should not be under-valued, a good looking cake catches the eye. Inspiration is often hard to come by, so tapping into the creative suggestions of other enthusiasts can be highly beneficial.

So, information gathering, sharing and visualisation are important. This is where social media ticks the boxes and Flickr is the perfect fit.

What value does Flickr add to the community?
The article from Marketing Donut highlights the lack of UK websites to cater for cake making enthusiasts and business owners. What these groups have done is identified a need and built a solution around social media to deliver the following benefits:

  • Central location for information sharing and advice
  • Discussion threads are supported to encourage participation and problem solving
  • Image library helps members share photos and display their skills
  • People can share their passion with like minded community members
  • A separate groups exists for people running a cake business - this enables business owners to share knowledge and learn from each other to benefit the market
I love this story because it emphasises how social media can be used effectively for niche business and niche discussion. The challenge is to find a need and then communicate this to the right people. Good luck to Karen and Svarna, let's hope their social media activity can influence and inspire other communities.

Thanks to The Marketing Donut for the article.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Waterstones - showing that Twitter can be fun for customers

There is a lot of coverage of companies getting social media wrong but less focus is placed on celebrating those who do it well. As an industry we need to be more positive and celebrate people who demonstrate creativity and innovation in their usage of social media. Last week I came across a Waterstones promotion available to its Twitter followers - the Golden Ticket Treasure Hunt.

The promotion
  • There are 10 Golden Tickets hidden around the website
  • Waterstone's tweets a clue to each one
  • Followers scramble the site using their clue solving skills to locate the golden ticket
  • Followers then email when they have found it
  • First correct reply wins the prize
  • Different prize for each Golden Ticket
  • Prizes are showcased on landing pages linked to via Twitter
  • Additional clues are given from time to time

The benefits
  • Greater engagement of Twitter followers - during each treasure hunt Waterstones is talking to its followers
  • Driving traffic to the eCommerce website
  • Customers spend more time looking around the site to solve the clues
  • Increase product views and appreciation of range diversity
  • Ancillary sales generated off the back of this activity.

Whilst the format is hardly revolutionary (Willy Wonka anyone?), the delivery was neat and fun. And this is where I think social media has great potential - driving brand engagement by giving people something of interest that they can play with. We all like to be distracted for a while and business doesn't always have to be serious.

I would love to find out the actual impact of site traffic s0 have asked Waterstones via Twitter. I will update this blog if they are able to share the information.

The kind peeps @Waterstones have shared this info:
"We've had double the usual traffic from Twitter, and as you can see we've had 882 new followers in 2 wks"

So what do you think? Clever marketing or not?

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Do you need a mobile strategy?

The latest data from ComScore shows a 30% increase in social networking traffic among smartphone users in the past 12 months. Research from Forrester shows that iPhone users are more affluent than users of other smartphones. The average internet usage for an iPhone user is 100MB, x30 larger than on other phones. There is a lot of discussion about the shift from desktop to mobile and the prediction that in several years time eCommerce will be dominated by mobile browsing.

So this begs the question, do you need a mobile strategy?

The obvious answer is yes but what exactly is a mobile strategy? At a basic level, you can optimise your website for mobile browser compatibility meaning that people using mobile devices can navigate your main website on their smartphone. However, I would argue that this is not a mobile strategy, it is simply enabling browsing via mobile devices.

For me a mobile strategy involves integrating mobile commerce into your customer communication channels to ensure that they can interact with you using their mobile device. This goes beyond mobile commerce through to supporting communication and driving engagement via mobile channels. So what can this include?

  • Capturing mobile phone numbers and using these for customer service including order status updates
  • Targeting mobile users with SMS marketing campaigns
  • Developing mobile apps to provide added value, such as an iPhone app
  • Developing social media presence on mobile friendly sites such as Twitter, Facebook
  • Providing mobile as a response channel for customers
  • Taking micro payments for products and services
  • Optimising your web presence for local search to increase visibility when people browse on the move
  • Using mobile technology to improve internal communication between remote teams.
Of course this comes down to relevance. If your audience is not using Facebook, focus on the other elements of a mobile strategy to add value. It's also important that each element of your mobile strategy is measured to ensure it is adding commercial value. There is no point building an iPhone app if nobody is going to use it.

How do you work out if this is right for you?

First, check your web analytics data - what % of your traffic is coming to the site on mobile browsers? If it's a decent %, then there is clearly a mobile audience out there. Next, compare the performance stats for mobile visitors v other visitors - what paths do they take, how long do they spend on the site, are they repeat visitors, how much do they spend? If you have a decent traffic volume but poor conversion, it would suggest you need to do something better to engage your mobile audience.

I appreciate this is a simplistic analysis - I would recommend you survey your customer base to find out what the mobile demands are. Analytics tells you what is happening, the voice-of-customer data will tell you why.

For further reading, there is a useful post by Graham Charlton on the Econsultancy blog.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Local niche business owner using social to extend his brand

It has been a while since I've had time to maintain this blog but as a freelancer I've decided I should prioritise it a little bit more. This week I found something that got me excited enough to want to blog about it.

I got a call from Charlie, the owner of Henry Herbert, a specialist London tailor who makes shirts, suits and overcoats. Everything is made in England and the twist of difference is that they visit you by scooter for a personal fitting. Personal service is at the heart of what Henry Herbert offers.

Charlie set up his website using Wordpress with a focus on content and blogging about the products and services. The site does not sell direct because it's such a customised service but he's turning to SEO and social media to increase brand exposure.

Early efforts with Google local have paid real dividends, generating strong click through and leads. For a mobile tailoring business that relies on bringing its skills into your home, local search is an ideal marketing channel. Next steps will be to add a listing to Yahoo Local and extend the use of customer reviews on to the main website.

Another opportunity around local is to improve the landing pages for local search, providing content that relates specifically to a London audience.

Charlie has sensibly taken steps to build a social media presence. Word of mouth in this market is important and his Twitter presence (@henryherbert) provides a good platform from which to reach new customers and communicate the brand values. It is early days and the challenge now is to extend beyond simply pushing new blog content to engage with a local and national audience and generate dialogue and conversation.

I really love this business idea. For busy people, the opportunity to have an experienced tailor visit you where you want and take all the effort out of the buying process, is wonderful customer service. It reflects the increasing number of businesses that are offering mobile services, especially in the London area, and the online world provides a wide range of communication channels through which to capture new customers.

So take a look round and let me know what you think. How do you think a local niche business can use Twitter to build brand awareness and engage with customers?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Winter Chill hits the fitness race

February has been a real pain in the arse. Having finished Jan in good spirits and well on my way to reaching half marathon fitness ready for the South Coast Half Marathon on 21st Feb, I suddenly discovered the flu. Not the man flu us gents are so often ridiculed for by the unfairer sex but real, smack in face, wipe you out for weeks type of flu.

So my training has been well and truly screwed. I spent the first two weeks of Feb sulking at home dosed up on Tamiflu, which sounds more liken a ladies' hygiene product than a medicinal cure. To be fair to Tamiflu, whilst they may have cornered the market for flu anti-viral treatment and raked in serous £££ from the NHS, the little tablets do work. Unfortunately, there is a risk. One of the disclaimer side effects is kidney problems; so, I might not have a fever, i'll just experience agonising pain from renal failure. Bonus.

It's only now at the end of Feb (Tuesday 23rd to be precise) that I've been able to muster the enthusiasm to get out and run. And i've picked a freezing day with driving, pouring rain. Marvellous. However, despite the pain and the tiredness and the overall mental desire to quit after 5 mins, I managed to drag my sorry backside round 6.5m and still do it well under an hour. Strangely, though it has ripped the lungs apart and kicked up a coughing fit, I feel mentally much better and stronger. It is amazing the impact that exercise can have on your psychological and mental balance.

So as Feb draws to a close, I can now get back on track. Alas I missed the half marathon on the 21st but there was no way I could have managed 13m after 4 weeks of no running. The next target is the Newham 10k on the site of the Olympic Park on Sunday 7th March. Fingers crossed the renal side effects don't kick in.......

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Running on empty

It has been a tough first month of training to blow away the Christmas cobwebs and shed the love handles. It started so well with some new year enthusiasm but then it snowed. And it got cold, really cold. And my feet started to hurt. And I added Sky Sports to my Virgin Media package. The schoolboy error is haunting my every move.

However, through wind, rain, snow, hale and sheer laziness I've kicked myself into action and hit the road. At the start of Jan I struggled with pace and was managing 6.5 miles at around 8.15 minute mile pace. Having given myself the target to complete a half marathon at 7 minute mile pace, I was a bit gutted.

As Jan progressed, I've gradually upped my distance to 10 miles and comfortably doing this at 8 minute mile pace. However, the killer blow was a recurrence of my old ATB injury that has meant everytime I try to increase the pace, my leg falls apart and I spend days in pain. So after much soul searching, i've made the sensible (for once) decision to stop obsessing about times and focus on being able to complete my races and keep going.

I have to admit, after the initial sulk I'm now really happy that I've made the decision to focus on distance and enjoyment rather than the illusory time. I'm regularly knocking out 10 mile runs and this weekend (Sat 30th) will be the first 12 miler.

I've also being playing regular 5 a-side football on Monday evenings down in Putney and this has helped my core aerobic fitness massively. It is also more fun than running around the freezing roads of Ealing.

So all in all, a positive first month of training and now only 3 weeks to go before my first competitive race, the Portsmouth Coastal Half Marathon on Sunday 21st Feb. If you fancy helping me reach my fundraising target of £1,000 then please visit my webpage.