The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Member Blog: Marketing Automation – Friend or Foe?

I have been reading a lot recently about marketing automation and the rise of the bot in social media, much I think fuelled by Facebook announcing the Messenger chat bot development kit at a recent tech conference. All this got me thinking about the place of using technology in marketing and brand development to automatically communicate with your contacts when they get in touch.

On one level, considering that marketing is all about developing an engagement with your target market, it scares me. But on another, when you consider its role in delivering timely customer service messages, I can see it has a role.

The Good
There are times, when people engaging with your brand simply want a quick answer to a simple question:
What are your opening hours?

Or a quick response to a request:
I want to sign up to your newsletter, please send me your e-book.

In these cases, automation is the obvious answer. It allows you to deliver immediate responses 24/7 improving the customer experience and, in most cases, these are circumstances where people expect an automated response and don't particularly need to speak to someone. Furthermore, having to wait for a human to respond to answer a simple and common question can be frustrating. Not good for the brand image.

In other words, the motivation for automating customer anf marketing communication should focus on the benefit to the customer. Good AI (Artificial "Intelligence") will definitely expand the scope and effectiveness of automation in these scenarios.

The Bad
Where marketing automation is used badly it is usually about cost saving.

A good example of this is email campaign automation, or abandoned shopping cart emails offering discounts after you put stuff in your shopping cart then never check out.

Whilst these can be effective, all too often they try to be too clever and attempt to second guess the reason the user did what they did, leading to inappropriate or ill thought out messages being delivered.

In the case of abandoned cart discounts, users quickly know to expect this and rather than checking out, abandon the cart and then wait for the follow-up email so they can get a discount!

The Ugly
But the marketing automation that scares me is that which uses AI to try to fool you into thinking you are talking to a person when you are not!. This approach says to me that:

"You are not important enough to me for me to put resource into actually talking to you,
but I want to make you think that you are"

Marketing is about engaging with your target market, and building a rapport that adds value to them as a customer, re-enforcing the value that you add as a brand. To do that well, you actually need to talk to your customers.

With the rise of the Social Media Bot, and the focus on metrics (Followers/Likes/social reach etc) I can see a situation where digital marketing becomes dominated by bots talking to each other, sending the metrics through the roof, but where are the the real conversations? They get lost in the noise!

Marketing Automation - It's all about the Stats
Stats should be used to drive marketing, and not the other way round.

This is a phrase I have used a few times recently, and it's when people forget this that they start to use automation in inappropriate ways.

Stats are usually about measuring engagement on a purely quantitative level focusing on the numbers of engagements rather than their quality. Whilst there is no doubt that marketing automation, and bots in particular, can drive the stats and make the numbers "bigger", in practice these engagements have little or no true marketing value.

Every business should be aware of its brand and building your brand is the best way to deliver success in the long term. To this end, it is better to put more effort into fewer, valuable engagements that truly add value to the people who matter (Those who are likely to use your services/buy your products).

Whilst this (focus on the real stuff' approach will inevitably mean that your Twitter/Instagram followers/Facebook likes/web traffic will grow more slowly, the real people who make up those statistics will be people who really add value to your business.

Whilst I am sure Mr Zuckerberg genuinely believes that the promotion of chat bots on his messenger network will add value to its users. Sadly I think they will simply be used by those "marketers" offering more marketing magic wands.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Member Blog: When do you know you’re ready to move your business from bedroom to boardroom?

These days many businesses begin as a home venture – overheads are low and it seems you have all you need when you can kit out your box room as an office very cheaply. However, there comes a time when a home office won’t cut it anymore and if your business is headed in the right direction, you’ll likely begin needing more space and less distractions! 

With that in mind, Dave Sunter, Business Development Manager at Stonebridge Offices, with flexible serviced offices in central Manchester, outlines considerations for moving from bedroom to a more professional space.

Interruptions and distractions
It may have been appealing to wander down the hall from your bedroom and sit at your desk when your business was in the very early stages, but often working at home can become rife with interruptions and distractions. Even business owners with the best intentions can be pulled away from important tasks by children or partners who demand their attention, especially if family members are at home between usual working hours. If you’re missing deadlines, important calls or neglecting clients as a result of interruptions, this will be affecting your bottom line – it’s time to find some space away from disturbances.

Ensure you have a digital presence
You’ll no doubt be aware of the importance of having a website for your business, but it’s also key to ensure you bolster this with an engaged presence across social media. Platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn can grow your brand and your following exponentially. Take steps to ensure you’re getting your services in front of the right audience and use it as a tool to network – you never know where your next client lead will come from and if you’re relocating to a new office in the city, you can update them digitally.

Communal energy
Don’t underestimate the value of working around other like-minded people. Often, business owners working from home can become isolated and lonely, which can manifest as a lack of motivation. An office environment gives you other people's energy to feed off, as well as being able to ask them for advice and support. If you hit a slump at 3pm you can take yourself away from your environment and recharge in a communal kitchen or break rooms before returning to your desk. Often working from home causes stress as home and work lives clash, so having an office space in Manchester, away from the house, relieves this. Communal office buildings provide the opportunity to develop your social life too, meeting new people with similar goals and issues, providing much needed moral support.

Plan, plan, plan!
What are your reasons for moving to an outside office? Is it to have a professional environment or increase your productivity? Is it because your business has grown and the workload can no longer be managed by yourself alone? Asking yourself these questions will determine how big a space you need – you will then need to ensure you’ve included all costs in a thorough budget. Make allowances for forecasted increases in revenue, but ensure you’ll have cash remaining after your outgoings in case of late payments or unexpected expenditures.

It can be daunting to make the change from running a business that has very few overheads to one that has several monthly payments to make, but ultimately, your own, dedicated office space will reflect positively on you and your business - making you look professional and polished to existing and potential clients. At Stonebridge’s Bartle House office, based in the heart of Manchester, we offer high quality office space, furniture, telephone and high-speed internet connections for one monthly cost, and for contracts from one day to one year, making the move as easy as possible.

Stonebridge Offices is a fully serviced office environment with premises in Leeds and Manchester, and was recently awarded the Independent Business Centre of the Year Award at the annual BCA Gala Dinner. The company offers flexible working space and meeting room hire, helping an eclectic range of companies to set the right impression.

For more information on Stonebridge Offices please visit

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Patron Blog: 10 questions to ask your business energy provider

  • About to renew with your energy supplier?
  • Did your business pay too much for energy last year? Are you struggling to reduce consumption? 

Chamber Energy Solutions can explain how to save your business time and money by asking various questions to your supplier. Boost your profits and competitiveness this year. Find out what these questions are, visit:

However, the easiest way to get the right answer to these questions is not by spending time chasing energy suppliers but by going to one place: Chamber Energy Solutions. We can save you time analysing your power and water bills (to see what’s hidden) and take the hassle of trying to contact energy suppliers.

We can give any business total insight into power, gas and water consumption and put it in the palm of your hand with our utility insight app.

Whatever the size of your operation, we can help manage the entire portfolio energy procurement process, secure the right contract and manage the switch. By tracking your renewal dates, we can contact you with a new tariff at renewal so you don’t fall out of contract.

We found bingo hall operator Shipley Brothers the right contract and helped it save around £56,000 against budget for electricity, and it can now switch strategy to suit market conditions during it.

The energy market is complex. No single energy manager can know everything.

We have the expertise in-house at Chamber Energy Solutions to understand energy, your position in the market and how to manage risk.

On top of this, we have a Utility Management Plan that can help you control your utilities once and for all, helping you reduce energy and water costs so you can concentrate on what you do best: running your business.

Krispy Kreme, the global doughnut experts, saved £84,000 thanks to a Strategic Utility Management Plan.

Call us on 0333 000 0132 or email

Friday, 3 June 2016

Member Blog: Content Marketing in the real world

By David Wright LLB FCIM Chartered Marketer at BSA Marketing

There is a lot of talk about ‘Best Practice’ around content marketing; but what happens in the real world?

I felt an interesting starting point would be to see what Google has to say on the subject. A search for Content Marketing threw up 55,900,000 results in 0.67 seconds. 

Interestingly there was only a single paid result – so maybe people are learning that Adwords Keywords need to be targeted!

Anyway the #1 spot was: What is Content Marketing? – Content Marketing Institute. A useful first step, or so I thought..

I think this says a great deal about Content Marketing; There is a lot of talk but sometimes the action fails to live up to the hype.

There is no question that sustained, considered content marketing may be very effective but it is also hard work. Consistently delivering high quality, engaging and relevant content takes planning and application.

Having published almost 500 articles over the past 8 years,we understand the challenges so perhaps it isn’t surprising to find that although people start off their content marketing journey with the best of intentions, after a few weeks, or months, the distractions grow and the commitment wanes; yet the basic truth continues:

Sustained Content Marketing is a great approach to cost-effective

Too often (like so many marketing services) content marketing is pitched as an easy win. I recently saw a brief from a marketing services company that included the phrase:
‘A blog section is really important. It will help (if regular content is added) to improve search ranking

Those 5 words, added in brackets – seemingly as an afterthought, are actually the essence of the statement. Adding a blog is easy. It is delivering well thought out and crafted content month after month that requires planning and persistence. If that delivery fails, the core of the marketing communication fails with it.

Also is the sentiment right? Should content be focused on search ranking or should it be about engaging with your market? – As it happens, engaging content can boost search ranking as a spin off benefit anyway!

So what is the situation in the real world?

We took an audience of local SME business – people attending a recent B2B networking group so presumably aware of the value of marketing themselves and engaging with other businesses – and researched this sample to look at their online presence.

Specifically we searched for their websites and looked at how (if at all!) content marketing was implemented.

The results make interesting reading….

  • Business has a website – 94%
  • Site has News/Blog – 56%
And of the 56%….

  •     News posted within the past 2 months – 80%
  •     News posted in the past month – 42%
  •     Consistent content posted for over 12 months – 10%

These figures tell a story that is common across SME businesses. Marketing gets started but it isn’t sustained. Even to start with, people aren’t posting particularly regularly and within a year, the above figures suggest that 90% of News/Blogs aren’t being updated.

The danger is that a company website, which looks smart, modern and up to date when it is launched, begins to tell a different story. If you see a website with a news section and the most recent news article is several months old, what sort of impression does it make with you?

It is only when new, engaging and relevant content is regularly added that your website as a platform to communicate with your market to ‘tell your story’ and spread the word that content marketing can truly deliver.

So we have a dilemma. Ask most SME business owners whether they think sustained, proactive content marketing is the right approach and they will answer Yes; yet in reality, marketing that is actually done is short term. Businesses are regularly moving from one marketing approach to the next.

I believe there is – and the answer is considered commitment.

This means making sure that you have a plan you believe in and commit the resources to make it happen. But in saying this, I must stress the importance of not over committing. If you try to spend too much time or commit too much budget, keeping your content marketing running will be difficult, if not impossible. Things will slip and the short-termism will be back.

By keeping your commitment more modest (even ‘easy’) it is much more likely your content marketing will sustain and succeed.

If you want to find out more about effective content marketing, do get in touch