Our Nation of Shopkeepers Need to Be More Sociable

I had the pleasure of speaking at Internet World in London last week and my final point to audience was the headline from a recent blogpost of mine – social is something you are not something you do.

It was thrilling to then be mentioned on Twitter as having delivered the quote of the day! It’s something I picked up in the US last year and I now use it as something of a mantra in client meetings, in proposals and interviews.

And then I read this week that the UK Government are to appoint Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas to save Britain’s High Streets, through a series of ‘engagement’ events with customers.

The decline of the high street in the UK is quite shocking – it’s not just the UK by the way, but it has failed to deliver just what people want. In an age when books and music can be downloaded and shared and when generations young and old are more than comfortable buying online, the question is surely – “what is the high street for?”

In hard times, those offering huge discounts are clearly satisfying one need – that of saving money. But this isn’t a sustainable model. The prospect of deserted, once thriving commercial centres is very real.

But I’m optimistic about the future. I don’t agree with Ed Miliband’s view that legislation should be introduced to prevent large retailers moving in to homogenise the high street. That’s crazy!

What’s not crazy is to look at what it is that has always been valued by people – an exciting, engaging, friendly but overall human experience.

At Internet World I spoke of the retailers of our grandparents generation who knew their customers so well. That the butcher would save a prime cut for Mrs Miggins because he knew she had family staying – because he’d actually spoken to her about things other than meat!

These are things people have always valued and I would argue value more and more now in these harder times.

Add social media to the natural conversations that shopkeepers should be having with their customers and this approach becomes scalable. Learn about your customers lives beyond their relationship to you. They can be quite interesting people you know!

What is it that gets you onto the high street and off the laptop?

Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

I’m closely following the fortunes of my beloved Chicago Bulls in the NBA playoffs right now. They had the best overall record in the regular season and lost just two of the last twenty three regular season games.

So then to the play offs. In round one, in the best of seven series, they won 4-1. As I write they are leading Atlanta 3-2, with a road trip up next. Basically play off basketball is a different game. They’re finding the play offs tough. They’re not like the regular season at all – they sort out the greats from the regular players!

It gets tough in there! Elbows, arms, heads all clash and guys get hurt.

“You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable’, as coach Tom Thibodeau said last night.

And as I heard him say this, I realised that this is just how brands need to think about facing up to social media.

The social web is a difficult place to be for brands. It’s inconvenient, transparent, random, seemingly out of control. It’s uncomfortable.

But you can’t not show up in the play offs and brands can’t choose not to play on the social web – it’s not their decision. Customers have made that one for them.

So how do you get comfortable? It’s not easy. Remember, winning on the social web doesn’t mean organisational change – it means changing the organisation. It means remaining focused, more than ever on listening to your customers – the right ones, engaging with them, being smart, being human.

Humanising your business mans play off time for many businesses, because the rewards are huge.

Who are the brands that can win in the play offs and go on to win the Championship?

Why Social is Something you ARE, not Something you DO

Converse, the leisure / fashion footwear brand currently has just under 16 million fans on Facebook. Its parent company and global behemoth, Nike, has just over 4 million.

I don’t have the turnover figures for the two brands to hand, nor do I know what their marketing budgets are, but I’ll bet my mortgage on the fact that the disparity between the two is reversed – and then some.

So, why does one win on Facebook and the other, relatively speaking seem to be struggling to attract the numbers that its market share would suggest it should have? Well, closer inspection shows the proliferation of the Nike pages – football, basketball etc., but the prime business for both brands is to sell shoes that are worn for leisure and recreation.

But by looking at both pages, you can quickly see that social media is looked upon by the Converse team as more than simply a channel to talk about themselves. Nike, seem to talk about Nike rather a lot.

I’ve maintained many times that social media is like a cocktail party. Guests arrive and talk and listen and engage naturally on a very human level. Spot the person who simply talks about themself and they’ll be the one with no friends at the end of the evening.

That’s why Converse’s plan to hold auditions in cities around the US for up and coming bands, demonstrates a crucial and yet so seemingly obvious point; that the people who love Converse, have more going on in their lives than wearing shoes. They are into music, fashion, movies etc etc and Converse engage with people on this level.

For British brands, particularly with that slightly stiff approach to communicating with customers, this change in the way people roll is a challenge. An inconvenient, awkward challenge that takes them out of their comfort zone. You can’t go to the cocktail party and then start dancing like a Dad at a wedding because you think it’s cool!

But you can listen to what your core customers are talking about on social media and do something with them in the same space.

I’m talking about humanising your business. Relating naturally to customers and not necessarily just on the familiar territory that you’ve occupied before – catalogue, page advertising etc, but on their patch – their blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

In fact the marketing textbook term, ‘brand awareness’ reveals the current problem for some – but think about it the other way around. People want to know that brands are more than simply being ‘aware’ of them. They want brands to ‘see them’, ‘hear them’ and ‘talk to them’.

How can you socialise your brand? You could talk to us! The prizes for getting it right are magnificent.

[first posted on http://iainflovatt.com]

Bin Laden – Twitter Comes Of Age

Like many I woke up to the great news of the death of Osama Bin Laden this morning.

And as soon as I watched the pictures on the BBC, I turned to Twitter for the more information and insight from around the world.

An everyone was playing their part:

Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land was commenting on how re story was trending, Monte Lutz believed that Twitter was outscoring Facebook on the story by around 10:1, but the most authentic coverage was coming from a tweeter in Abbotabad. The tweets from @reallyvirtual are to be preserved for future generations.

Here was a guy, the owner of a coffee shop in downtown Abbottabad who heard a helicopter overhead which he thought as unusual. ” I need to swat it” he said, clearly annoyed at the late night disturbance. But as time moved on, he clearly became aware that something major was happening. “I’m told it’s not one of ours” “could be a drone”.

Until finally this amazing realisation, “Uh oh, now I’m the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.”

In addition @storify provided a consolidated picture of events as they unfolded.

So I think this; that Twitter today had a great day. It found it’s place and as the growth of Twitter that follows this story inevitably happens, more and more people will call on it for news and updates from people on the ground as a natural reaction.

@reallyvirtual later tweets included this “wondering what music to play in the coffee shop today”.

Life goes on.

Sony Drop The Ball

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear. Oh my.

Imagine having to send over 70 million emails to your customers, not just to say that their personal details my have become the recent property of a hacker, but the real sting in the tail being you couldn’t entirely rule out the fact that their credit card details may also have slipped under the fence.

Now I would number myself as being one who, clearly naively, has bind faith in leaving my personal information and credit card details online. I accept that any company trading online has complied with PCI regulations without even ever checking for the SSL encryption certificate.

I’d happily pay a one man band for a product I really wanted and trust that the parcel would arrive any day soon.

But if the prospect of a hacker picking on such a small enterprise is the equivalent of stealing a packet of sweets from the cornershop, the Sony episode must be the equivalent of breaking into Fort Knox.

Aside from the specifics of this case, the biggest issue it throws up in my mind is the future of cloud computing.

I’ve been discussing the topic of going to the cloud with several business owners recently. And their conclusion bar none, is that it’s really a no brainer.

The prospect of hosting all a company’s data off the premises, no need for server rooms demanding temperature controls and an IT team on call 24/7 in case of loose cables and power outages is a temptation that has seemed to hard to resist.

And I’m sure this bump in the road may only be just that. But it must be a wake up call to those like me trusted that systems were water tight and that the hackers had been outflanked.

They haven’t, but just as with other acts of terrorism, we mustn’t let them derail progress.

We’ll Be Good, Really We Will..

I had to laugh really.

“We don’t want to be bad, we want to be good” the man said. His almost pathetic appeal to the TV cameras sounded more like a naughty boy who’d been told that if he wasn’t a good, he wouldn’t be allowed out to play. As Peter Rabbit said, “Why do it do it? What can it be? There’s naughtiness in everyone, but twice as much in me”.

But this wasn’t a child, this was Philip Clarke, the newly appointed head of Tesco, Britain’s most successful retail brand of the last ten years.

He carried on, “we need to..create more engagement”. This almost simpering message felt like a slap around the face acting as a wake up call.

More engagement? Sharpen customer communications (sounds dodgy!), sort out the details…we’ll soon see if these are merely platitudes, but let’s be generous for now and say well done, you’ve woken up to the rise of humanised business that social media is leading.

But Tesco will need to change beyond belief. For every tweet they might send in the future (they’re not big on Twitter!) someone will show you a farmer having his livlihood threatened by Tesco’s buying culture, for every ‘little bit’ that counts on Facebook, we’ll see protests outside a recently closed pub or business that Tesco want to tun into a Metro within a mile of one of their superstores.

I guess the retailer that bares comparison in the US is naturally Walmart, owners of UK supermarket chain Asda, whose sustainability initiatives are the biggest sign that big brands, huge brands, need to respond to customer’s concerns in a very real way. But Tesco have a mountain to climb.

I recall an article in Marketing Week by Professor Mark Ritson, which was totally negative to the potential benefit to businesses of social media tools. In fact he cited the success of Tesco, who at that time were silent when it came to social media, as the biggest success story in recent British economic history and that therefore they should be the model for aspiring businesses. Facebook and Twitter are purely for celebrities he said. I guess Ritson would see Salesforce.com’s purchase of Radian6 a few weeks ago for $340m as a huge mistake.

He may prove to be right of course, but Tesco – the case study central to his argument, appear for now to have left him behind and to have bought into the fact that what businesses need in 2011 and beyond is to be real, human, authentic and yes – sociable.

In hard times, the pressure on retailers to keep prices low is immense. But if a retailer makes my time spent with them either in store online or on the phone, a pleasant one, respond to me when I ask them to and show me individual attention I will remember that more than my milk costing 2p more.

And I’ll tell everyone all about them.

PS – Just checked Philip Clarke’s Twitter page. He’s doing well. Has over 3,000 followers….but he’s following just 2! And one of them is Tesco!!!!