Monthly Archives: January 2013

How to Give Away Free Things

I just saw something on Facebook by a small e-commerce site.

It said that they had announced the winner of their recent competition.

The competition was to get 20 ‘likes’ to their profile, or the post that they wrote about the competition, I am not sure, don’t think they were sure either.

The result of this modest like-fest would be that one of the people would receive a free set of products.

Those are good odds.

Good odds for the customer, but what does 20 extra Facebook ‘likes’ get you as a business?

In this case it is the opportunity to oblige yourself to send out your products (the things that pay your wages) for free.

As well as this you get the opportunity to turn a potential customer into a freebie-receiver and 19 other potential customers into losers – particularly sore losers when they look at how good the odds were. What a way to remind them how unfair life is.

Doesn’t this seem mad?

I could do the same thing without bothering to get any ‘likes’ at all.

So why do companies fall over each other to get you to ‘like’ them?

I see no reason.

I hear some of you shouting ‘Graph Search‘ but that sounds like a wild goose that I am not prepared to chase.

So please, enlighten me, why should you seek a ‘like’?

About two years ago I remember reading an article that set out a calculation that said that every Facebook ‘like’ your business gets equates to X amount of revenue over X amount of time.

It sounded convincing and was a good selling point for the ‘like’.

I have since decided that this is bullshit and infact it doesn’t matter how many Facebook ‘likes’ you have, chances are you still don’t know how to run a website.

I have had more clients than I care to remember who do not know who their competition is and what their USP is and yet they are happy to lecture me on their need to encourage Facebook likes, sometimes to the point of stand-off.

I’ll tell you what I’d really like, I’d like it if you would all stop wasting time (and ultimately money) trying to get me to ‘like’ you and instead use the savings to lower your prices / improve your genuine marketing knowledge.

I’d really like that.

Customer Disservice

The other day I wrote a post about the demise of Jessops.

After writing it I was speaking to a friend about the subject and I raised my point that the internet probably isn’t as much to blame as everyone seems to make out.

With this, my friend told me a story that is so astounding that I thought I would share it with you.

It goes something like this.

Just before Christmas my friend went into a branch of Jessops in search of a specific model of camera.

He knew the price that a rival store (Currys) was selling the product for.

Walking up to the desk, he asked the assistant if Jessops do ‘price-match’ – ie. will they match (or hopefully beat) the price offered by a rival store.

The response to this query was yes but the assistant’s skills stopped there, because they didn’t know the process involved to ‘match’ a price.

Cue manager.

Explaining his question, my friend posed the riddle to the store manager who was now standing in front of him.

The answer, again, was that Jessops could indeed price-match against a rival store.

With that, my friend explained that Currys was selling the camera for a lower price – this finished in him asking, “can you match that price?”.

This is where the story gets good.

The manager said that they could match the quoted price however in order to do so they will need proof.

Fair enough.

Except that this proof had to come in the form of a receipt from the rival shop.

That’s right, the Jessops manager told my friend that in order to match (not beat) the price at Currys my friend would have to go to Currys, buy the camera, return to Jessops with the ‘proof’ and then they could match the price.

The manager even explained that following the events above my friend could then return the spare camera to Currys, thus completing the price-match process.

What loony planet is the Jessops store manager in question living on to think that someone would buy a product from a cheaper shop in order to pay the same price at Jessops and then return the original purchase?


If this isn’t proof that Jessops dropped the customer service ball prior to their demise then I don’t know what is.

As a parting shot, upon leaving the shop my friend told the Jessops manager, “this place wont last January”.

On another note, it is worth mentioning that HMV has also gone into administration this week. More sad news for the many staff.

In contrast to Jessops, I think it is fair to say that the fall of HMV is perhaps more attributable to the internet.

The core product that HMV sold (music) changed from being consumed via physical media to being purchased as a downloadable product.

HMV has an excuse, I can’t find myself accepting that Jessops does.

A review of Jessops

The Jessop Group went into administration last week.

Sad news for the 1000’s of members of staff who are now, as a result, unemployed or facing unemployment.

Sad news as well because, I have to say it comes as no real surprise.

I heard an interview on the radio this week with a man who runs a camera club in Oxfordshire. He was keen to stress how interest in such clubs has wained in the last few years and people signing up for his club is at an all time low.

Naturally, in the quest for finding blame and angle as the news does so diligently both were assigned in careful measure, the newsreader summarising the interview by accepting the explanation that ‘people just aren’t interested in cameras anymore’.

I am not so sure that this really is the reason why Jessops has found itself in such trouble.

First of all, I don’t think that we can accept declining interest in a camera club as sufficient evidence of a general lack of demand for cameras. I am sure Amazon would agree.

I for one am a big fan of my DSLR camera but you wont find me hanging around with twitchers in the local town hall.

So what did cause the downfall of Jessops?

Many will be quite comfortable handing all blame and responsibility to one culprit; the internet.

It is hard to disagree with this point of view. With the likes of Amazon offering price competitiveness and speed of delivery as standard it is difficult to say that this was not a contributing factor to the downfall of a once high-street giant.

But I feel that there is a much more damaging culprit at play here.

Poor marketing and general lack of care.

Now let’s be clear, I do not have any insight into how Jessops was run or marketed from the inside, but I can certainly see it from the outside and  have to say it was boring, lazy and lacking in competitive edge at every level.

Let’s start in-store.

I went to Jessops only two weeks ago (before they went into administration) to ask a member of staff to help me by checking how much money was on a gift card I had received (I know).

I should be so lucky. There were three members of staff present; the first was chatting to his friend who had taken up residence in a chair infront of the counter. The second was a young lady who was doing a good job of looking busy. The third was the alpha male who was speaking to a potential customer about a camera.

It transpired that none of the members of staff were able to check how much was on the gift card. Even more frustrating was the can’t-do attitude and general void of customer service. The staff were uninterested at best and rude at worst.

The final response from the alpha male when asked how to check how much money was on the gift card was “you can’t”.

That was it.

Conversation finished.


This situation is astounding for two reasons; the first is that you probably can check how much is on the card the second is that the staff were so blunt it left me (the customer) with no place to go except back out of the door.

Needless to say, this is not how you should run a shop.

So, strike one, shame on the people in charge at Jessops for allowing this to happen. If high-street retail is to fight a war with the internet then surely one place it can easily win the battle is in face-to-face customer care.

Jessops comprehensively lost this.

Then there is Jessops’ advertising. Remember those ads that flashed in-front of your eyes during prime time TV?

No, you don’t.

Because they were crap. They were indifferent and they offered nothing special.

I don’t remember them either, that is why I know they are crap. I am their target market; I am interested in cameras and I have disposable income.

As Dave Trott says: 90% of advertising is not remembered.

Jessops did a great job of landing in that 90% as far as I am concerned.

The job of a high-street retailer is to find the gaps that internet retailers cannot fill with a bit of predatory thinking. E-commerce can beat you on price but it can’t quench the thirst of an impulse buyer in season.

The internet can offer articles and videos but it cannot answer your questions face to face.

Instead of reacting to online retail in a positive way and making it a central part of its marketing effort, Jessops continued to be normal, boring and easy to forget.

Jessops even had a website, but as an online marketing expert I feel qualified to say that it wasn’t very good.

It was a competent website but it certainly didn’t do anything special. It didn’t make shopping for a camera enjoyable, it just made it possible. There was no USP that could set it apart from Amazon-et-al.

I think Jessops was lazy.

I think (as a consumer) that the people behind the company lost touch and energy and this showed.

It is about time that retailers accepted that competition from online retailers is strong, but e-commerce is not impossible to survive next to.

Start offering something remarkable before you become an Oxfordshire based camera club.

I have recently been talking about the need for process and clarity in all forms of work and communication. Nothing stifles creativity like something complex. That is why this spreadsheet is a work of art. Not only is it a great piece of work for link builders, it also displays how lots of information can be categorised to make it easier to present and digest.

Link to link building spreadsheet.

Go binary

I have recently been working with a creative team and dealing directly with the clients who appoint the creative team.

This has introduced me to the project brief that the team has been using.

The problem with the project brief the team has been using is that it is sporadic. It has lots of good ideas and I am told by the team that it makes the project much more simple for everyone.

I disagree.

They say it is simple because in a long ‘kick-off’ meeting with the client, the project brief is completed (typed up) with all of the client information and good ideas that jump out of the meeting. That’s it. Finished. Simple.

The problem is that it doesn’t make a compelling read.

Instead it is a badly written transcript of an unstructured conversation. Not simple.

This is why simplicity is harder than complexity and therefore more valuable. If the project brief was really simple, someone would have had to spend some real time and effort making it really easy for anyone to read and understand.

I am a believer in the necessity of process. If something you do at work cannot be made into a process it is useless.

Without process you can never confidently say that you have done a good job.

Chances are that you wing it and do a good job, because you are a maverick, but open yourself to scrutiny and without a process you can’t stand up and explain your work in simple terms.

Simple ideas make work repeatable and valuable.

So back to the brief, if it is just a semi-structured transcript how can it follow a process?

It can’t, the brief doesn’t require the team to make any decisions about the project at all and therefore provides no value as a project brief.

A good brief should simply set out what the aim of the project is so that the project leader (me) can assess the effectiveness of the project when it is completed.

Whilst pondering how to improve the project brief I was also absorbing all information that I could find coming out of Dave Trott.

Trott has presented an idea about using a “binary brief“.

Binary is about yes or no, on or off, 0 or 1.

Market growth or Brand share?

Current users or Trialists?

Brand or Product?

Binary makes the project brief easy to read and forces it to answer tricky questions head on.

It is all about taking the hard decision early, not leaving it to the creative team to decide. Otherwise decisions get passed on from one person to the next until they are forgotten.

It doesn’t have to use Trott’s 6 things, it can be your own, but it is taking complicated things and making them simple.

I learned this when Chris Horrie taught me Journalism. Teachers at school teach us to write long essays. Horrie taught me that the best writing is concise.

Complexity is the hiding place of a bad idea

Occam’s razor says an idea that makes the fewest assumptions is probably the best one to go with.

This means that if you have a simple explanation and a complicated one you are much better off going with the simple one.

Never is this more noticeable than when looking at the use of language.

Dave Trott said that “people disguise bad thinking with long words”.

George Orwell wrote an essay on the subject; Politics and the English Language.

“Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement”

The process of dressing up a simple statement makes it complex and yet in my experience people take pride in the effort of dressing up a simple statement.

It is something I am forced to contend with in my job every day.

Clients and colleagues don’t always want the simple answer because it doesn’t sound like enough work has gone into it.

Instead they want the answer to be dressed up and short words replaced by long ones.

Time and again I have seen pieces of writing worked through, the editor carefully replacing simple words with longer, less-common words.

Even worse, whilst working in Guernsey a rival company launched itself into the market with an elaborate ‘manifesto’.

The ‘manifesto’ proceeded to break all of the rules set out by Orwell in his 1946 essay.

Not a problem in itself however the essay finished with a quotation:

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

The quotation comes from Orwell, who’s image is now emblazoned on the office wall of said company.

Complexity hiding a bad idea in action.