All posts by Paul Wood

Unique Selling Puff

In my work as an online marketer I get to hear a lot about businesses.

One of the most common topics of conversation is the ‘USP’ (unique selling proposition / point).

There are two key things here:

  • Proposition is singular, not plural
  • Unique – not the same as anyone else

Yet every time we leave a meeting, the client has provided us with a long list of ridiculous things.

One tourism client I met recently had about 20 ‘USPs’.

One of them was; “beautiful location”.

Unless my client owns paradise I am pretty confident this is inaccurate.

I can forgive the client for not understanding the concept of what a unique selling proposition is but I certainly cannot forgive my colleague who diligently notes down this drivel.

The result of all of this puffery is that we end up with a project brief that weighs in like a novel and contains more waffle than a Dutch bakery.

I recently wrote about the common problems encountered with a project brief and how a ‘binary’ approach should be taken to make it more actionable.

A good place to start using ‘binary’ is with your USP.

One USP we are trying to push with this project.

One clear brief.

One happy team that understands the big picture.

Hash Tag New A-Class

There is a new advertising campaign that is blighting my prime-time TV viewing at the moment.


The campaign is advertising the new Mercedes A-Class.

Weighing in at an on-the-road price of £18,970.00 the advert poses this opportunity: “you drive the story”.

That’s nice, although I am a little unsure what the story is.

The advert on television features rapper-turned-actor, Kano along with some brooding, spy-drama music and lots of suggested peril and antiheroism.

It is all rather exciting, intriguing and appealing to young people.

My question is; why?

All of the research suggests that the new car market, particularly in the Mercedes price range is dominated by people who are old enough to have worked for longer than 5 years and saved enough money to survive 2.4 children and the property ladder.

As the fantastic Bob Hoffman points out: “Half of all consumer spending is done by people over 50″.

Which begs the question; why is Mercedes wasting time creating a Twitter (hash tag) friendly advertising campaign for a product that is only attainable in any real volume to a much older market?

This, to me, is proof that even the large companies can make massive mistakes.

It is easy to assume that a company as well known as Mercedes knows exactly what it is doing.

The facts seem to point in the other direction.

As Dave Trott said in a talk I saw him do, it is wrong to write off an advertising campaign because ‘I don’t like it’. I don’t like the Go Compare opera-buffoon adverts, but I accept that they are extremely effective.

So, in the case of the garish Mercedes A-Class campaign I won’t say I don’t like it (I don’t), instead I will say that it is ineffective and destined to fail.

“TV advertising used to work like this: you sat on your sofa while creatives were paid to throw a bucket of shit in your face. Today you’re expected to sit on the bucket, fill it with your own shit, and tip it over your head while filming yourself on your mobile.” – Charlie Brooker, The Guardian, 05.09.12

A little knowledge is an expensive thing

Albert Einstein once said that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”.

I say “a little paid search knowledge is an expensive thing”.

Paid search advertising and in particular Google AdWords has a pretty bad image amongst the clients I meet.

Most of these clients are SMEs who have a very tight marketing budget and many of them are of the opinion that Google AdWords ‘doesn’t work and is a waste of money’.

As an online marketing expert I know that this is not true and that Google AdWords does indeed work.

I have seen some businesses do very well by using Google AdWords.

So why is there so much dislike for AdWords amongst the people I meet?

I believe it comes from the fact that the clients who I meet and dislike AdWords ‘know how it works and haven’t had any business from it’.

Now unless you are one of the companies that works in a vertical that just doesn’t attract search engine visits (not many SMEs fit this category) then the fact that you are getting no business from AdWords suggests that you don’t know how to use it.

Take for example an AdWords account I reviewed last week.

It was a near perfect representation of what-not-to-do with an AdWords account.

This rendered the account a money wasting machine; a very effective one at that.

This is where I have my problem.

Seeing this kind of marketing waste makes me annoyed.

First I am annoyed with the client for being so ignorant and not bothering to learn how to use something that costs a lot of money if done wrong.

Then I get annoyed with Google.

I have seen more ineffective AdWords accounts that will clearly never yield results than I care to remember.

Google actively encourages small business owners to sign up and use their paid search advertising service but I don’t feel it does enough to make sure that people don’t completely mis-use it and waste money.

On accounts where lots of money (thousands of pounds) is being spent Google does get in contact with the advertiser to offer help, but what about the smaller business?

It may not be thousands of pounds but it is still a high percentage of the business’s advertising budget.

The most frustrating part of this story is that a group of clients still insist they know what they are doing and write off Google AdWords as a marketing fad.

A dangerous opinion.


Scrunch or fold or waste money on a crap advert?

Andrex wants to know whether you scrunch or fold.

No, I don’t know what that means either.

Apparently there is a debate raging: whether it is better to scrunch or fold your toilet paper.

This particular debate seems to have bypassed me, but if it had have caught my attention I am pretty sure it would have happened in my local after roughly four and a half pints.

Andrex disagrees, they think prime time TV is the place to pose the eternal question.

Splashing valuable marketing money Andrex has put together this cringe inducing spot:

It is worth remembering at this stage what it is that Andrex wants to achieve.

They want to sell toilet roll.

It is an eternal truth that the aim of marketing is to sell things. Simple.

Therefore, Andrex wants us to think of them when you need to wipe your bum. They want you to use too much Andrex when you wipe your bum so that you have to go out and buy more Andrex to wipe your bum again next time.

That is it. Nothing will make the Andrex Puppy more happy than to see his profits rising as his toilet roll flies off the shelves.

For most companies the aim is to sell their products and that is why the most effective adverts aim to present a good reason for you to buy their product.

Andrex begs to differ, instead their new advert is not aimed at giving you a good reason to buy their product but is giving a (not-so-good) reason to visit their website and ‘vote’.

This begs the question: why spend money producing and placing an ad that doesn’t try to sell your product?

I can only assume one reasonable explanation, a social meda expert has gotten their way into the company.

Only a social media expert would advise such a thing.

Having spent time with social media types it has become clear that to them ROI is only a part of the puzzle and that ‘relationships’ and ‘community’ are just as important.

I disagree.

Who cares about having a relationship with the people who make paper for you to wipe your bum? I just want to buy it (for a reasonable price), use it and make sure it doesn’t make me sore, nothing more, nothing less.

Then there is the thought that the ‘call to action’ posed in said advert actively requires the viewer to go online, type ‘’ and then vote!

I did vote, out of curiosity, and to my surprise I still wasn’t given a good reason to buy Andrex, I was just presented with the same old Facebook guff that every other big brand is pushing at the moment.

Never has there been a better specimen of crap advertising.

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.