The Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards 2018 held in Edinburgh on February 22nd. We presented the work we did on machine learning in marketing with Abertay University, Dundee. The audience gave us great feedback and some things to think about going forward. What problem are we trying to solve and how can we use machine learning in marketing as a solution?
What marketing challenges do SMEs have?
Most companies know that marketing has some impact on their business performance. But very few know the marketing activities have the most impact. The result is usually one of two extremes. Either the company spends on as many marketing activities as possible or they conclude that they don’t need marketing after all. Therefore, the challenges are two-fold: What works for my business? How do I prioritise these activities based on a tight budget?
What solution did YO! Marketing propose?
Machine learning in marketing is not widely used yet. It is a newish and exciting way of learning from the past and in real-time. We collaborated with Abertay University to device a model that could identify patterns in data in a supervised way. Using experience and data gathered from 35 companies, we identified critical relationships in the data that could predict the impact (or ROI) of specific marketing activities on overall business outcomes. This means that SMEs can quickly discover what is working to grow their business and focus marketing investment on that. They optimise how they allocate resources and time, and make effective use of a limited budget. Did our solution work?
Was Machine Learning in Marketing a Good Idea?
Abertay University has extensive in cyber-security and data analytics. By working with one of its lecturers, Dr Xavier Bellekens, we combined our marketing experience with machine learning expertise. That was a great idea with many benefits.
We successfully built a model that works, an achievement that is a first in our industry. However, we are limited by data. For a model like this to provide the cutting-edge capabilities that we envisage, we need lots of data. Our current model is a start, and we have a handful of companies working with us to gather more data. If you are interested in what we have built and you would like to support us, contact us for an informal chat.
We’d like to welcome Mike Alawi to our team. He joined us last month as Marketing Project Executive. Here is a blog that he put together for you. Who else wants to be a more successful business? We know we do!
1. Provide outstanding customer service
To excel in customer service, you and your staff need to know the ins and outs of your product or service. You should know common questions that your customers ask and how to respond competently and effectively. Staff training in this area is important. Listen and be responsive. Ask for feedback, ensuring that you use feedback positively. Identify areas for improvement and make specific changes in your business. Let your customers know that you implemented their suggestions and/or acted on feedback. I recently read an article about a Starbucks customer that called into the company’s corporate offices after a mix up with a branch. Instead of simply giving him a refund, the customer service representative told Jason that they needed to “make him whole and give him an experience nothing short of fantastic.” They then filled his rewards card with $50 of store credit. Way to go Starbucks!
It’s a good idea to test different pricing brackets. Let’s say you offer three prices for different levels of a product or service. One priced low, another with all the bells and whistles, and a mid-market price. This range widens the reach of your audience and opens a gateway to new customers, or a premium price on the other end of the scale for those who want the full package. Amazon nailed this strategy with their shipping options. They offer express next day delivery for £4.49, standard 3-day delivery for £1.99 or free no rush delivery in 3-5 days. Each price is aimed at customers with different requirements, expectations and budgets.
4. Be the first to inform your customers of new trends
Everyone wants to be kept in the loop with latest trends. Being first to inform your customers of new trends will increase your credibility as a source of relevant, up-to-date information. It attracts more potential customers to your online and offline channels and results in a positive impression of your brand. People will then regularly look to you for new content making you stand out from the crowd as a successful business.
5. Give your brand a human face by having conversations
Giving your brand a personality that people can relate to allows you to reach more people effectively. Talk about your products, talk about your industry and latest trends. People appreciate content that engages with their interests and makes them feel at ease with a brand. Grüum, a company that specialises in custom shaving kits tell their brand story well. They write about how four friends from Manchester decide to quit their jobs, invest their savings and take on a multi-billion dollar industry. When you buy from Grüum, your first purchase comes with a small note from the founders themselves thanking you for your purchase.
6. Develop multiple ways to get in touch with you
In addition to picking up the phone, maximise the use of multiple channels such as social media, chatbots and events to provide potential customers with more touchpoints with your business. You will also reach a wider audience. Use your website as a hub but engage with your target audience on relevant social media platforms, through networking and selected events.
7. Focus on being the best at the ONE thing that really matters to your target market
Whatever you specialise in, ensure that you can be the best at it so that your stand out from your competitors. It could be your customer service, your cutting edge technology, your flexible pricing or the great events that you host. It might even be your deliberate and continued support for your local community. Being fantastic is one aspect of your service gives you a distinct competitive advantage that becomes difficult for others to copy. These are just some of the ways that you could build a better, more successful business that you can be proud of.
Marketing is often on the bottom of the list for small businesses, and I understand that. The priority is usually to get business as quickly as possible, yet things like building a website tend to be nice-to-haves in some cases. I run a marketing consultancy but I haven’t been immune to the reluctance to spend on “marketing stuff”. In this article, I will highlight 10 essential yet cost-effective marketing tips for even the smallest budgets. These tips will help you build a foundation for your business. Many will cost you nothing, but they will make a significant impact in growing your business long term.
Cost-effective marketing tips for small businesses
1. Email Marketing
If you have a contact list of potential customers, email marketing could be a good way of letting them know about your business. You could start with a small list of people that know you and would not mind getting your email. For this, you don’t need an email marketing service. You could just use your email provider. Remember to keep your contacts’ emails in Bcc so that you don’t share their email addresses with your entire list. As your list grows, consider email providers like MailChimp, Mad Mimi and MailerLite. These all have free plans. The paid plans cost as little as £7 a month if you grow to a list of over 1,000 subscribers. If you get to that point, well done!
2. Business cards
Giving out your business card is a simple way of telling people what you do and how they can reach you. Thanks to companies like Vistaprint, you can get 500 business cards for £15. Other options are Fiverr, an online marketplace for your digital needs. Someone can design your card for as little as £3, and then you could print it elsewhere. I don’t recommend going too ‘cheap and cheerful’ with your business cards but don’t spend too much on it either. I changed my mind about my tag line a couple of times and that meant new business cards. Luckily, they didn’t cost much so I was able to make new cards to reflect my business’ value. Remember that as you evolve, your business will too. Make provisions for the changes that you might make.
3. Networking events
Networking events could cost anything from nothing to hundreds of pounds. The trick is to find those events that are relevant to your industry. When attending a networking event, don’t be shy to give away your business card. But also don’t worry too much about how much business you will get at the event. It could hinder you from just having a good time. You could be pitching all night! I’ve started to see networking events as an opportunity to just be known, help people put face to name. If new clients come as a result, fantastic!
4. CRM systems
When you think about CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems, you might imagine a complex database that does things that as a small business, you are not ready for. However, CRM systems are essential to build your business. One of the first things I did was get Highrise, a simple CRM tool that allows me enter details of new contacts, potential and existing clients. Within Highrise, I can maintain details of all potential and existing client interactions, from first contact to conversion. Needless to say, Highrise is free for businesses with less than 250 contacts. It increases to roughly £15 a month for up to 5,000 contacts. Another CRM system for small business is HubSpot CRM. It’s free, but I haven’t tried. If you have, let me know what you think!
Gone are the high costs of building a website. Tools like WordPress.org and Wix make it easy for novices to build a website. I built my first website a year ago, and it was my steepest learning curve yet! I plan to improve it with expert intervention soon, but as a small business owner, spending on a luxury website might not be an option. But you need a website. You also need to make it SEO-friendly so that potential clients find you for relevant services. These days, a decent website costs from £500 if you contracted a website designer. Try your hands on building one yourself but get feedback. One advantage I’ve found from building my own website is that I have access to the back admin and can always change elements of the site myself. This is invaluable for a business that is growing and evolving daily.
Blogging is even easier than building a website. Without a full blown website, you could use platforms like Blogger and WordPress.com to start writing blogs about your industry, and your solution. You could invite guest bloggers, people who have complementary expertise or a unique view about a subject that your target audience might be interested in. Blogging is free, and a good way to be online and findable. Not blogging about your business is like being on mute in a customer meeting. Why are you there??
7. Social media
We all know it doesn’t cost anything to be on social media. But it might cost a little to be heard above the noise. Still, you could do a lot with £3 on Facebook. The key is to truly understand your target audience and where they hang out. If your clients are not on Twitter, you don’t need to be there. If your small business works with other businesses, a LinkedIn business page could be powerful. Spend time testing different social media channels and see what brings the most engagement. Also consider how much time you have to spend on these channels. For instance, LinkedIn and Facebook tend to require less time while Instagram and Twitter are about constant engagement i.e. 5-8 posts a day for real impact.
8. Google Analytics
Google Analytics is another free tool that every business website should have. It allows you see the sources of traffic to your website, and provides analytics on your website visitors. Google Analytics will show you how many visitors come from social media channels, and from organic searches via keywords. This was valuable for me as I contemplated which social media channel to invest in. For instance, LinkedIn brings over 40% of my social media traffic with Twitter as a close second. However, organic searches is by far the greatest source of traffic to my website. Therefore, I might decide to invest in Google Ads for specific keywords.
PR used to be left to Public Relations experts. But with social media and fantastic new tools like PingGo, PR has been democratised. For £30 a month, you can write your own press release anytime you want! So if you win a new client, expand your business or launch a new product, use PR to tell your story. Identify relevant news outlets and start telling the world the good news.
Not all businesses will benefit from brochures because so much of marketing has gone online. Yet, I believe this shift has made brochures a novelty, and it could be intriguing to receive a brochure from a small business. The less we expect something, the more positive impact it could have on your customers. You get their attention. A well-designed 8-page brochure that simply lays out your value proposition, key products and services, pricing and contact details is a good idea. You could leave it in cafes, doctor surgeries, office receptions etc. It will cost from £150 to get one designed. Assuming you provide all the copy and images, all you have to do is print it. Online printers like instantprint could print 100 copies of a 8-pp from as little as £45 depending on size and paper quality.
Next time you think about marketing for your business, know that it doesn’t need to cost the earth with these cost-effective marketing tips.
What an energetic rush! In the last 12 weeks, I had the opportunity to nurture an idea for a web application as part of an accelerator programme. There were 15 other founders who were also on the journey to grow a business idea. This included Bendifa, Tinto Architecture, Get Soda, GiftID, 10 Trillion Trees, Sequel Composites, The Stylist’s Stamp, LiberEat, Ebar Initiatives and DogLeg Golf. My vision is to reduce the guesswork in creating and tracking the performance of marketing strategies. It marked the end of the 12-week accelerator programme. We had mentors, investors and partners in attendance. Each founder had 3 minutes to pitch their idea to the audience. It was an excellent afternoon, the start of a new phase for the founders.
Pictures from Founders Showcase.
Photo credits: Michal Wachucik/Abermedia/Aberdeen/Elevator UK/Founders Showcase/14 December 2016
Imagine that IBM says, “We are a great company to work for!” Let’s say you believe them. And you add them to your list of companies you’d like to work for. You might even see IBM as a company you would like to do business with. Now, compare how convinced you would be if IBM’s employees say, “IBM is a great company to work for”. Whether or not this is true, it is more convincing when employees engage online with relevant messages. This is employee advocacy. Employees advocating on behalf of a cause, a brand or an employer.
Research shows employee advocacy is a good idea
Research shows that content shared by employees receive eight times more engagement than content shared by brands. Yet only 17% of organisations have formal employee advocacy programmes. B2B engineering and advanced manufacturing sectors in particular, have significant opportunity to digitally engage and interact with customers. Here is a simple infographic showing top nine stats for making a case for employee advocacy:
Because of the level of participation required, success comes down to having a conducive corporate culture. Leadership support, aligned business goals, and training are some of the key elements that help sustain employee advocacy.
The stats show that content provided by technical experts is highly valued, more so than traditional promotional content. Sharing knowledge positively influences employees’ personal brand. It allows them to be credible as thought leaders and experts in their field. Still, it seems challenging to motivate engineers, scientists and researchers to participate online. Professional visibility is one of the most motivating factors for these knowledge workers.
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The benefits of employee advocacy
You are in a room full of people and you are telling them your story. You tell them why you do what you do, your values, what you offer, why they should care and how they can get it. Think about employee advocacy on social media as a way to exponentially increase the number of people in a room. In addition, each of your employee advocates has a room of their own. So think about the number of rooms you could have at any one time and the combined reach of your message…
Culture is notoriously difficult to mould and even more onerous to sustain. But Mick Beavers, Managing Director of Control Valve Solutions gets an ‘A’ from me for his deliberate leadership in cultivating an authentic company culture. I interviewed him on 27th June in their Portlethen office in Aberdeen. Here’s how he has built one of the most admired oil and gas services companies in Aberdeen. Control Valve Solutions (CVS) is a £4M a year business, founded in 2009. It was recently nominated for best customer service. The company culture has something to do with it. It is transparent, authentic and autonomous.
Mick says he stumbled onto his philosophy by accident. It emerged during a very busy time in the early days. He noticed that the more he left people to get on with what they were doing, the more productive they were and the better the business became. Mick says he suddenly realised that he didn’t need to micromanage his staff. He wasn’t worried about people management. He laughs as he explains,
“The simple recipe is not to hire assholes”
In the hiring process at Control Valve Solutions, Mick explains that himself and the team look for people who seem to be coping with life, people who are themselves. Mick himself remembers a time when he was in the job market. He describes several interviews for senior positions where he wasn’t himself. He says,
“I always said what I believed the interviewers wanted me to say…Looking back, the interviewers didn’t create an environment where I could be myself”
It is this relaxed, authentic environment that Mick consistently strives to create for his employees. The company focuses more on personality and appropriate coping mechanisms than on technical ability when hiring new staff. Mick admits that when it comes to personality and technical requirements, there needs to be a balance. One of the key areas of development at Control Valve Solutions has been hiring people from diverse technical backgrounds and conducting training programmes to increase the overall technical competence in the company.
Yet, culture at Control Valve Solutions has generated positive customer reaction such that customers feel comfortable and valued in dealing with the company. Less focus on technical capability has not hindered business growth. When I ask Mick what he does day-to-day to maintain his company’s culture, he says,
“It’s a team effort”
He walks around to see employees every single day he is in the office. He chats to them not necessarily about the job but about how they are doing and perhaps what they got up to on the weekend. Mick says he can pick up when people are having a bad day and acknowledge it. It’s not for him to solve but that acknowledgement goes a long way in making employees feel valued. Mick understands the pressures of the job and explains the reason for his approach,
“Myself and the managers try to make people feel human again, rather than just working away”
Mick has earned the respect and trust of the employees at Control Valve Solutions, occasionally getting involved with issues outside work. While there have been difficult times, he feels honoured to have earned the people’s trust. Mick is a naturally trusting person, which comes across in his dealings with friends and strangers alike. He explains,
“I trust people once they walk in the door but when they lose that trust, it’s gone”
He also explains that there’s certainly a hard side to business. And that leaders need to find the right balance.
Mick is active on LinkedIn and explains that it’s instilled confidence in him. He notes,
“If you write positive things, you feel positive within yourself”
“It’s really important to be positive just now because there are a lot of negative stories on social media because of the way the oil and gas industry is at the moment”
Mick says it’s disappointing to see such stories because we have to stay positive. He admits that he doesn’t like being in the limelight but says it is easy to hide behind social media. Mick finds opportunities to post something in areas of engineering, sales, marketing and leadership. Many in the industry perceive Control Valve Solutions as one of the fastest growing oil and gas services companies in Aberdeen. Mick believes this is partly because the company has done a great job of celebrating its successes on- and offline. Even in very difficult times, the team have found creative ways to push out positive stories about the Control Valve Solutions brand and its best-in-class productivity.
Our CVS mantra H.I.T.S. Stands for: Honesty, Integrity, Transparency & Safety & that’s how we do business w Maersk https://t.co/373pnWSQSK — Valve Tech Vinnie (@CVSLTD) 1 April 2016
Social media has had mixed reception at Control Valve Solutions. Some employees are engaged online and there are some that don’t get it. The marketing team educates employees on the impact of social media on the company’s brand and why it is an important tool for marketing. Mick admits that he first got into social media to wind up industry peers – and he believes he was successful. He laughs,
“I’m surprised I didn’t get a black eye while doing it”
Control Valve Solutions has generated significant external engagement and has a group of employees who are engaged internally. The company’s social media activity has kept its peers on their toes. Mick adds,
“It keeps us on our toes too, we keep getting better. I know that if we need people to come together and make something happen, we have the people within the organisation to do it”
About four years ago when PPI claims became popular, Control Valve Solutions launched their own KPIs for the business. There was a song on the radio that went, “♩ ♬ this month we will be claiming our PPIs, PPIs ♫ ♫”
Mick describes going to the shop floor and hearing the employees singing, “♩ ♬ this month we will be claiming our KPIs, KPIs ♫ ♫” Mick says it showed the team had really taken KPIs onboard. Mick smiles when he says,
“It was great feeling”
It was around that time that the slogan, ‘Living the dream’ emerged on the shop floor. The phrase caught on, with employees requesting the phrase to be put on the newly-introduced corporate clothing. Employees and customers have embraced ‘Living the dream’. Mick says it really sums up the culture at Control Valve Solutions, that the employees came up with this on their own. Sustaining culture is quite a separate matter. Mick says people join the company and immediately notice the authentic environment, compared to where they used to work.
But employees start to take the culture for granted over time. The management team wants to now focus on reinvigorating the culture. Mick explains,
“I think it’s good for the guys to remember how shit it used to be at their last workplace”
Mick sees his role as a supporting one, and advises leaders to keep business as simple as possible. He explains that everyone at Control Valve Solutions understands what it takes to run the company in terms of overhead costs, margins and revenue requirements. The team know exactly what it takes. When things are going well, Mick notes that it is easy to be everybody’s friend. Nevertheless, he intends to continue to be in tune with the business so that people can come to him with both good and bad news. Keeping the communications lines open is crucial to sustain the ‘A’ culture at Control Valve Solutions.
Mick grew up in Derbyshire and credits much of his success with his upbringing in which he was much rebellious as he was challenged. He cites a hunger for criticism and feedback as one of his biggest driving forces as well as a deep suspicion of complacency. It is this attitude which keeps Control Valve Solutions driving forward, always pushing to improve and innovate.
Mick has worked in the valve industry for 21 years with a brief spell working in IT from 2005 to 2007. This mix of IT knowledge and a passion for valves led to the creation of Control Valve Solutions in 2009; a valve company firmly rooted in the development of technology. One member of staff once described the company as ‘A software company that happens to sell valves’. Mick believes that you should always start as you mean to continue because it is much harder to add things to a business retrospectively, especially a focus on culture or technology. That you need to have a solid foundation and vision on which to build from the beginning